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Pu’s Red Beans and Chang’s Lust, Caution Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 3rd, 2020


This paper is aimed at examining how the themes of love and revolution are examined in Chinese literature. This is one of the themes which attract the attention of many writers.

In particular, it is necessary to focus on the novella Lust, Caution written by Eileen Chang and Zong Pu’s short story Red Beans since they can throw light on the ethical dilemmas that people can confront during the period of dramatic social changes within a community. One can argue that the characters depicted by these authors lived at the time when different social groups could feel bitter hostility toward one another.

It should be noted that these literary works describe the experiences of Chinese people in the forties. In particular, Eileen Chang focuses on the time when China was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II. In turn, Zong Pu discusses the events that took place on the eve of the revolution led by Mao Zedong. In turn, both authors explore the experiences of women who have conflicting values and priorities. In particular, the authors explore the conflict between love and moral convictions of a person and his/her social ideals.

These writers show that love can help people overcome social and political barriers. In addition to that, both authors demonstrate that this conflict can particularly astute at the time of revolution when an individual has to take sides with one of the conflicting parties.

Nevertheless, they also show that people can make very different choices that eventually shape their lives. In some cases, people choose to sacrifice love for their sake of their ideals. This is the decision chosen by Jiang, a character of Zong Pu’s short story. In contrast, some individuals are not ready for this step. These are the main details that should be explored more closely since they are important for the analysis of these literary works.

Love at the time of revolution and dramatic social change

To a great extent, both authors show that love can transcend social, ethnic, and political barriers which seem almost insurmountable at first glance. For example, one can speak about the romantic love depicted by Zong Pu short story. It should be mentioned that this author compares two kinds of families in China. These people have different opinions about the political and economic life of China. To some degree, their differences can be attributed to social inequalities and their status within the community.

Moreover, these people have different visions for the political and social development of China in the future. However, the two lovers seem to defy this division, which seems almost irrelevant to them. These people do not believe that such differences should be a barrier to them. The main character of this short story Jiang falls in love with a young man, named Qi.

Admittedly, Pong Pu shows that class differences affect their relations. In particular, Qi is willing to discuss various aspects of Western culture; for example, he can speak about Beethoven and Chopin (Pu 254). Nevertheless, he is not concerned about the questions regarding social justice and the future of the Chinese society, which is about to undergo a significant change. Overall, he takes such issues as exploitation or social inequality for granted.

More importantly, Qi sees the fight against injustice can be explained primarily by the naivety of a person. In his opinion, this struggle will eventually be futile. Therefore, this character remains oblivious to the political aspirations of Jiang. In his opinions, such aspirations are not likely to come true. These are the main attitudes that this man adopts.

In turn, these issues are of great importance to Jiang. In the beginning, Jiang is not strongly involved in the revolution, even though she is yearning for social change and improvement in the living conditions of people. However, her attitudes change profoundly when she learns that her father was murdered. She believes that it is not permissible for her to remain indifferent.

Therefore, she joins the demonstrators with a renewed zeal. To some degree, this event strengthened her resolve to support the communist protesters; she believes that they can bring changes to China. In turn, Qi’s attitude keeps them arguing and quarreling whenever they meet.

Nonetheless, this conflict does not stop them from loving one another. In turn, love can be viewed as the force that makes people more tolerant of each other’s opinions, even though these opinions appear to be incompatible with one another. These are some of the main issues explored by Pong Pu in her short story. This literary work can be a valuable source for the study of Chinese history.

A similar issue is examined by Eileen Chang in her novella Lust, Caution. It should be kept in mind that the main character Chia Chi is supposed to take part in the assassination of a person who chose to cooperate with the Japanese administration at the time when this country occupied China. One should keep in mind that Yee is the head of the intelligence department.

Moreover, he works closely with officials who support the occupation of China. The action takes place after the fall of Hong Kong and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Thus, this person can be regarded as a collaborator or even a traitor. This is one of the details that should be taken into consideration.

In contrast, Chia-Chi is very patriotic, and she cannot understand the “disappointing apathy of average Hong Kong people” who do not want to rebel against the Chinese occupation (Chang 18). Such an attitude is completely unacceptable to her. This is one of the emotions that overwhelm her. Nevertheless, Chia-Chi unexpectedly responds to this individual. The main problem is that instead of hatred towards this person, she feels something similar to affection or sympathy.

In particular, she struggles with the following question, “Surely she hadn’t fallen in love with Yee?” (Chang 37). The protagonist understands that she loses control over her feelings and actions. Furthermore, she admits that the ruthlessness of Mr. Yee is the main reason why she falls in love with him. This is the paradox that she cannot fully grasp.

Again, this novella shows that lovers can represent dramatically different views on society and ethics. In particular, it is possible to argue that Mr. Yee and his wife are comfortable with the status quo, while other characters like Chia-Chi cannot accept this situation.

These people want China to restore its sovereignty, and they want to achieve this goal at any cost, including the assassination of people who support the puppet government of China. In turn, Eileen Chang succeeds in illustrating the dilemma that the protagonist has to encounter when she has to deal with Mr. Yee. Moreover, the readers are to emphasize the suffering of this person. This is one of the main differences that should be disregarded.

Overall, this discussion suggests that the themes of love and revolution are closely intertwined in these literary works. In both cases, one can speak about the ability of love to transcend ideological, social, and political obstacles that act as dividing lines between individuals.

There is another aspect that should not be overlooked. In particular, the lovers have different attitudes toward revolution and the transformation of the community. For example, Jiang can embrace the revolution, while Qi wants to preserve the status quo. He cannot find any motives for taking a more active part in social life.

Similarly, Mr. Yee does not want China to undergo any social changes. He can accept the idea of the Japanese occupation of China. Therefore, the writers strive to show how love can make people disregard their differences, at least for a while. This is one of the major similarities that can be distinguished.

The conflict between love and ideals

Nevertheless, there are important differences that should not be overlooked by the readers. At first, one should look at the character depicted by Zong Pu. There is a strong sense of conflict between what Jiang values and the behavior of a person who she loves. This is why she experiences an intense inner struggle.

Additionally, she concludes that individual interests should not outweigh the struggle for the common welfare. In her opinion, such an attitude is not acceptable from an ethical viewpoint. This is one of the reasons why she refuses to go to the United States with Qi because she feels responsible for the development of her homeland. She says that if Qi wants to stay with her, he has to “stay in China” (Pu 270). In turn, this ultimatum is completely unacceptable to Qi because he does not want to make sacrifices for others.

Furthermore, he does not want to live in the post-revolutionary country in which his way of life can be threatened. Additionally, he does not want her lover to become one of the “masses” (Pu, 273). Qi and Jiang argue about their different ideologies almost daily.

This disagreement turns out to be the cause of their separation since Qi does not want to join the revolutionists, who can exercise strong influence over Jiang. Moreover, he believes that she is an extremely naïve girl who does not fully realize the consequences of her actions. In his opinion, she will eventually regret her decision while she is not willing to accept this argument.

This is one of the main points that can be singled out. One should not assume that Qi is a callous person. Although Qi displays extremely self-centered attitude to other people, he is a very generous and clever person who can think critically.

Nevertheless, despite the qualities of this individual, Xiang does not want to stay with him. Therefore, one can say that the characters of this short story cannot reconcile their social convictions and love. This is one of the issues that should be taken into consideration.

On the other hand, love prevails over Chia-chi since she helps Mr. Yee to escape potential assassination. Mr. Yee and Chia-Chi plan to meet secretly, and this meeting was supposed to be a trap for this person. Thus, one can say that Mr. Yee is completely at her mercy. She can help the conspirators kill him, and in this way, she can contribute to the liberation of China.

However, Chia-Chi is overwhelmed with the pressure and mixed feelings that she has for Mr. Yee. The main character does not perceive this man only as a villain. In addition to that, she cannot be guided by political or social ideals because they are not the only priorities for her.

The main tragedy is that Mr. Yee does not appreciate her decision. In particular, he decides to sacrifice Chia Chi and her fellow students to protect his job and the integrity of the institution he heads. To some degree, this cruelty profoundly shocks the readers of this novella. It is also important to speak about the experiences of Mr. Yee’s wife. This individual is fully aware of her husband’s role in the nationalist government. Therefore, she understands the moral flaws of her husband.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Yee loves her husband; and she is extremely concerned about his safety. In turn, one can argue that a person can turn a blind eye to the faults of this person. This is one of the major details that can be distinguished.

Thus, this novella portrays love as an omnipotent power that can prompt a person to take both irrational and even unethical decisions. These decisions may be difficult to justify from an ethical viewpoint; nevertheless, many individuals prefer to overlook these limitations. This is the main message that Eileen Chang wants to convey.

Therefore, it is possible to argue that Eileen Chang and Zong Pu shows that the conflict between love and convictions can be resolved in different ways. Zong Pu depicts an individual who wants to retain loyalty to her country. Moreover, she expects her beloved person to display the same qualities. This is one of the peculiarities that can be singled out.

In contrast, Eileen Chang describes an individual who remains relatively apolitical. She does not believe that certain political ideas can be used to justify murder or cruelty. Chia-Chi is willing to take resolute actions for the sake of her homeland; nonetheless, she does not wish to kill a man who he loves.

Moreover, she chooses to overlook many of his shortcoming, including his mercilessness and callousness. This is one of the main differences between Jiang and Chia Chi. The women, depicted by the writers, are patriotic; moreover, they want to improve Chinese society. Nevertheless, both of them understand that people’s convictions can be shattered profoundly. This detail should not be overlooked by the readers of this text.

Nevertheless, there are certain details that one should take into account while analyzing Jiang’s behavior. One should not suppose that she is driven only by ideological concerns. The memories of Qi continue to haunt her, and she does not treat this man with indifference. Xiang is perfectly that she may never meet him again.

On the whole, her choice brings both joy and bitterness to this character. She is aware of her righteousness; moreover, Jiang works for the communist party, but at the same time, this sense of bitterness does not leave her. Therefore, this person is much more sensitive than it seems at first glance. One should keep in mind that both characters were involved in the revolutionary struggle against their will. The characters want to lead normal lives, and they do not want to be confronted with ethical dilemmas.

The main problem is that they live at the time when it is difficult for a person to remain indifferent or oblivious to the life of the country. This is one of the main themes examined by Eileen Chang and Zong Pu in their literary works. The female characters, which are described by these writers, are very individuals with a very complex inner world. Nevertheless, they make different choices.


Overall, it is possible to argue that these literary works are moving and thought-provoking. The authors try to bring out the dilemma between love and social conviction of an individual. In turn, revolution serves as the background to relations between two characters. In both cases, the writers show that love can overcome barriers that can emerge at the time of revolution. The two female characters feel affection to people who represent the social groups that resist the ideas of change within the society.

Their lovers do not accept the idea of revolutionary change. This is the main reason why the female characters struggle with ethical dilemmas since they need to choose between their ideals and personal sympathies.

On the whole, it is possible to argue that these literary work can throw light on the conflicting emotions of Chinese people who lived through the period of political and social turmoil. These individuals may have different attitudes about the transformation of their country. Nevertheless, love permeates the experiences of these individuals and profoundly affects their choices. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.

Works Cited

Chang, Eileen. Lust, Caution: The Story, New York: Random House LLC, 2008. Print.

Pu, Zong. “Red Beans.” Writing Women in Modern China: An Anthology of Women’s Literature from the Early Twentieth Century. Ed. Amy Dooling. New York Columbia: University Press, 1998. 248-274. Print.

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