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Unorthodox Behavior Reflection in Chinese Stories Essay

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Updated: Dec 17th, 2021

China has always fascinated people all over the world due to its intricately shaped architecture, picturesque nature, customs, and traditions that greatly differed from Western ones, or even was unique and sometimes frightening. Chinese literature has greatly contributed to the consolidation of this perception with its profound novels that for many years attracted the attention of scholars. The major obstacle that prevented access to this treasury of literature was the difficulties with translation from Chinese, as the novels were written in different dialects. Besides, the characteristic feature of Chinese novels is the enormous number of characters and events.

In this paper I’m going to concentrate on three Chinese novels, namely, A Madman’s Diary, The New Year’s Sacrifice, and The Story of the Stone, the first two written by a prominent Chinese writer Lu Xun and the latter one by Cao Xueqin. It must be stressed that The Story of the Stone is regarded to be one of the Four Great Classical Chinese Novels. Studying the content and the Chinese traditions and beliefs I’m going to find out how unorthodox behavior, the theme of madness are reflected through the intense feelings and different experiences of the characters.

Let’s first dwell upon A Madman’s Diary a novel that is characterized by the first-person narration of the pivotal figure. The diary itself is introduced through the additional characters, the older brother of a madman who shows the diary to his friend. The diary presents the story of the years the madman spent insane, revealing the appalling details of his practices of cannibalism, which he perceived as a normal way of behavior. More than that, he’s obsessed with the idea that the people around him are cannibals and he is next to be eaten: “My sister was eaten by my brother… and now it is my turn” (Hsun 98). The last thought that comes to his delusional mind is “to save children” (Hsun 99). The author intervenes with the classical Chinese style and raises the theme of cannibalism. The madman is presented as resistant to Chinese society that is likened to cannibalism. By the end of the novel he realizes: “I have only just realized that I have been living all these years in a place where for four thousand years they have been eating human flesh” (Hsun 98). Thus, the madman sees the disruptive nature of traditions and his madness turns from his defect to his insight.

The New Year Sacrifice tells a story of the old widow who was prohibited to help with the sacred ritual of the wedding during New Year’s Eve. Lu Xung depicts the tragedy of a woman that can’t oppose the difficulties in life. She’s depicted as a sacrifice to tradition, meaning that she was married twice. In return for this sacrifice, her family gets a profit. Besides, the traditions are so valued that it crosses all boundaries. A good example of this can be the comments of the narrator about the unclean dishes that the ancestors can reject during the rite (Xun 28). But the protagonist of this story suffers deeply from different losses as the rituals that are imposed by religion and society leave no slightest opportunity for her to be happy. The theme that runs through the story is the way the Chinese traditions and rituals, deeply rooted in the society, are unable to change for the better; and it is the characters that have to experience intense sharp feelings that reveal the deficiencies of traditions.

The Story of the Stone or Dream of the Red Chamber written by Cao Xueqin presents a detailed history of a powerful Chinese family who lived under the rule of the Qing dynasty that fell from the highest position in the society to the law one. The preface of the book, the story of the stone, sets the mood of the whole book. In this novel, Bao-yu, the stone incarnation, repeats the destiny of the stone. His family closely follows all the traditions and rituals, trying to be an ideal and only proves that it’s not right. Bao-yu, alongside having “the honor of the family”, breaks some traditions, such as marrying, keeping responsibilities to his family, and his own commitments (Cao and Hawkes 151). Thus, as if being “mad”, he opposes family traditions, which eventually turns into a family’s fall.

Highly acclaimed, emotional, and insightful Chinese novels handle different universal issues and present invaluable storage of human knowledge.

References

Cao, Xueqin, and Hawkes, David. The Story of the Stone: The Crab-flower Club. Penguin Classics, 1986.

Hsun, Lu. Selected Stories of Lu Hsun. China Books & Periodicals, 1994.

Xun, Lu. New-Year Sacrifice and Other Stories. Chinese University Press, 2002.

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