We will write a custom Essay on Literature: Border Town by Shen Congwen and Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang specifically for you
301 certified writers online
Love, courtship, and marriage determine the shape of a relationship in any society. In Chinese society, women indulged in flirtation and moved towards marriage not for love but better circumstances. The institution of love, courtship, and marriage are presented in two stories set almost at the same time but in different place and context in China.
Chinese cultural landscape in the two stories, Border Town by Shen Congwen, and Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang, show a different space. In one, the female protagonist, though facing social and familial disgrace for her divorce, decides to become a mistress of another man, while in another a young girl courted by two men, remains sad and alone due to unavoidable circumstance.
Love and marriage in the Chinese society as depicted by Chang’s protagonist Bai Liusu is determined by compromise and social climbing while that shown by Congwen is based on emotional liking to the other person. However, the sexual undertone is ever-present in the narrative that is based on the life of a female protagonist.
In this essay, I will argue that the authors, through events of love, courtship, and marriage, portrays female sexuality, but their treatment of love and marriage are different. The essay will first present the comparison of the character of Liusu and Cuicui and show how the two characters perceive love and relationship. Then the paper will present an exposition of the perspective of marriage and love presented in the two stories and compares them with the ideas of love and marriage presented in other scholarly works.
Theory of Love, Courtship, and Marriage
Love, courtship, and marriage present a unique study of the chemistry of a society. In traditional societies, parents usually controlled the social mingling of boys and girls as a union considerably affects the familial institution (Yan 29). Nicole Eustace points out that the institution of marriage holds a different meaning to different couples (520).
The connection between love and status associated with marriage is important to women. However, for some, a marital relationship means financial security. Marriage to some women could imply a “state of bondage” (Eustace 523).
Yan points out that in the nineties, the development of identity has become a part of the courtship process in China, which was absent in the traditional Chinese society (50). The sense of individual rights that were earlier absent in Chinese society has become more important. Intimacy has become an important quotient for courtship and love in the present Chinese society.
Love, Courtship, and Marriage in Chinese Literature
The stories by Chang and Congwen are set in China in the forties just after the attack on Pearl Harbor when Japanese forces mostly occupied the country. Both the stories revolve around the plots of love and marriage of the young Cuicui in Border Town and the divorcee Liusu in Love in a Fallen Land.
The strong theme of courtship and marriage reverberates in both the stories but the treatment is different. Liusu is divorced and unwelcome and broke, living in her parental house, but is unwelcome as her family does not want to take up the responsibility of a divorced daughter with no money. Her family was almost forcing her to remarry or return to the family of her former, abusive husband, for financial security. On the other hand, Cuicui’s grandfather, who wants to find a suitable match for her, cares for the orphaned girl.
The cultural norms of the Chinese society did not entertain the idea of a woman remaining single even in the early forties. Therefore, the divorced Liusu was directed by her brother to return to her former husband’s family and engage in mourning. This one of the most common choices that divorced women had in Chinese society.
While the other option, left for Liusu was to remarry. In traditional Chinese society, marriage helped a woman assume her identity as she entered her original home in her husband’s household. The presence of the episode of divorce in Chang’s story problematizes the idealistic traditional conditions of the social identity of a woman in Love in a Fallen City. Thus, the state of Liusu, a divorced woman, is one of continuous ridicule in the hand of her relatives and society.
She is one who has miserably failed in her marriage and ceases to have an identity. Thus, from the traditionalist perspective, the best choices for Liusu are to return to her former family or remarry. Her condition in her ancestral home is stifling, and she feels judged even by the portraits of her ancestors (Chang 37).
Therefore, when she is introduced to a rich bachelor, Liuyuan, Liusu in her desperation to be separated from her family and their suffocating judgmental attitude towards her, she takes an unconventional step to visit Hong Kong with him, and later become his mistress.
Thus, this action of Liusu contradicts the traditional ideals of Chinese femininity. Logically, this rash step differentiated Liusu from the traditional Chinese heroines. Liusu, therefore, wants to free herself from the antagonistic stifling environment of her ancestral home and find independence in a life unaccepted by the traditionalists.
Get your first paper with 15% OFF
Unlike Liusu, Cuicui is a young country girl. She is not refined in western ways and not comfortable in the urban landscape. She feels at home in her small village where she lived with her grandfather. This is a tragic romantic novel of a young girl and a boy in love, but due to destiny is separated for life. Cuicui is the girl born out of wedlock from a mother who gave in to love song of a passing soldier and then committed suicide to bear her shame (Congwen 57).
Though the grandfather and Cuicui’s guardian in a seventy-year-old man, he has accepted this illegitimate child. Cuicui is courted in a serenading contest between two brothers, who both had fallen in love with her. However, the story complicates due to the suicidal drowning of the first son, and the second son blames the old man for the death of his elder brother.
However, the second son continues in his pursuit of Cuicui, but mistakes her shyness as her antipathy, and leaves town. After the death of her grandfather, Cuicui remains alone in the village, taking care of the ferry business and awaiting her estranged lover.
The characters of Cuicui and Liusu are completely different. Cuicui is young and shy. Though she is born out of wedlock, a taboo in the Chinese society, but is not ridiculed by her family (her grandfather) but loved considerably. On the other hand, Liusu becomes a social pariah because of her divorcee status.
Liusu shows recklessness in her escapade with the young bachelor who was courting her niece for marriage and her extreme revolting nature becomes apparent when she agrees to remain in Hong Kong as his mistress, knowing well that he has no intention to marry her. Liusu is convinced that the only way she can escape her trapped life is by becoming a mistress. However, at the end of the story, we see that with the war, both the lovers become more emotionally involved and marry.
Cuicui on the other had is a young girl who experienced a sense o f sexual awakening with her engaging heart with the second son. The courtship of Cuicui and the second son are more juvenile and bashful. Cuicui, unlike the coquettish Liusu, is a shy girl and often does not reciprocate to the love entities of the second son.
However, fate destroys her chances of marriage, and she is left alone. The difference in their behavior may be attributed to two reasons – age and society. Liusu was a woman in her thirties, who was married once, and was completely in control of her sexuality while Cuicui was a young girl who was experiencing her sexual urges for the first time. Further, Liusu lived in a city and was accustomed to the modern western norms, which made women forthcoming and independent, but Cuicui belonged to a village and was shy and timid.
In the story of courtship and love, the relationship between Liusu and Liuyuan was based on a mutual benefit. Liuyuan was a playboy who enjoyed the company of refined modern women, which he found in Liusu. Liusu, on the other hand, was after financial support and independence from her family, which she found in a relationship with Liuyuan.
Cuicui’s courtship with the second son befitted the romantic imagination of the pastoral world where the lover courted the bashful young mistress with songs of erotic love. This adheres to the argument presented by Eustace that demonstrated that different couples had a different motivation for courtship and marriage. Though both stories suggest a strong sexual underpinning in the episode of courtship, they are treated differently, to suit the nature of the characters.
The story of courtship and marriage between Liusu and Liuyuan shows the traditional need for Liusu for financial security in her desire to enter into a relationship with her playboy lover.
This confirms the traditionalist desire to enter into a marital relation. However, Liusu does not befit the picture of a traditional virtuous woman. On the other hand, Cuicui fits the image of a virtuous woman though born out of an illegitimate alliance. Her aged guardian, conforming Yan’s argument, closely guarded her relationship and courtship with her suitors.
On the other hand, Liusu went beyond the societal bounds to enter into an affair with another man willingly. Therefore, the love and courtship presented in the two stories are different and presents a different picture of love, sexuality, courtship, and marriage, even though they are set in the almost the same time. The analyses of the two stories demonstrate a difference in the characterization of the protagonists and the relationships that develop through love, courtship, and marriage.
Chang, Eileen. Love in a Fallen City. London: Penguine UK, 2007. Print.
Congwen, Shen. Border Town. Trans. Jeffrey C. Kinkley. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Print.
Eustace, Nicole. “” The Cornerstone of a Copious Work”: Love and Power in Eighteenth-Century Courtship.” Journal of Social History 34.3 (2001): 517-546. Print.
Yan, Yunxiang. “Courtship, love and premarital sex in a north China village.” The China Journal 48 (2002): 29-53. Print.