A Severed Family Severs Tradition
In Pa Chin's Family, he tells the story of the large extended Kao family that lives, all four generations together, in a compound in China around the time after the May Fourth Movement. The Kao family, a rather wealthy bourgeoisie family, has deep roots in traditional Chinese culture, mainly in the older generations, and as the family line goes down, the reader can see that the ties to tradition are strained from the offset of the book. Each of the older family members has a stake in following tradition because, by natural progression, they are the next in line to inherit the wealth and, more importantly to most, the prestige that comes with being an elder or the head of the family. The younger children, however, see tradition as a barrier and in direct opposition to their individual wants and desires.
Early in the book the reader can see the sides forming and characters beginning to take certain stances. Pa Chin, following in the tradition of radical authors like Lu Xun, uses these characters as a vehicle to discuss the political climate in his country and the obstacles and solutions to these obstacles that anarchists such as himself must address. Not only can Pa Chin's anarchist ideology be seen in his writing, but also the struggle, assumedly his struggle, to balance his engrained sense of Confucianism and his want of individuality, tradition versus progress, and his contempt for superstition.
Pa Chin does a good job of developing his characters and in using them as instruments to get his larger points across. The three main characters in the book are the brothers Chueh-hsin, Chueh-min, and Chueh-hui. Each brother represents one of the dominant ideological positions in China at the time. Chueh-hsin is conservative and unwilling to disrupt the family and traditional values, Chueh-min is moderate and appears indifferent at the beginning, and Chueh-hui develops into the main character and a main source of untamed radicalism and contentious action.
Pa Chin singles out these three characters and makes Chueh-hui into the hero of the story, since he is the only one willing to severe his ties to the constraints of contemporary society and stand up for his beliefs. He flees from the wrath of tradition, leaving behind him the dominant practices of arranged marriage, filial piety, ancestor worship, and the possession of concubines. Ultimately, Pa Chin backs Chueh-hui's exit from the family, not because the family needs to be destroyed like some anarchists, such as Han Yi, at the time were saying, but because of its inherent flaws and its destructive nature.
It is my belief that Pa Chin wanted the family to be restructured, which can be seen in his depiction of the three brothers and their relationships with each other. I claim that Chueh-hui loved his brothers more than anything and always wanted to be in their presence. Whenever the other two were busy, he was lonely and wanted nothing more than the companionship of one of his brothers, usually Chueh-min. Chueh-hui did not want his family destroyed. He loved his family; he wanted egalitarianism and the right to determine his own future, not a dictatorship.
Chueh-min also became a hero in the book, but not until he decided to rebel against tradition, especially arranged marriage. Pa Chin designates his cause as noble and even has Venerable Master Kao forgive him for his transgressions. Venerable Master Kao, before his death, shows the true meaning of family that Pa Chin believes in, not an overarching structural entity, but a group of people that love each other and want to be around each other. Pa Chin also shows what family shouldn't be with his portrayal of Chueh-hsin.
Chueh-hsin's ultimate failure is belief in superstition. This belief is the cause of Jui-chuech's death, Cousin Mei's depression and ultimate death, and could have lead to Chueh-min's arranged marriage and despair, had he not fought against it. Li Shi-zeng, an anarchist like Pa Chin, considers superstition, "a form of tyranny over the mind." Pa Chin probably feels the same way because he portrays Chueh-hsin's life as endless depression and misery entrenched in struggle after struggle. Not until the end of the book does he feel relief and happiness and that is when he approves of his brother leaving and even offers him help. Thus happiness lies in one's ability to free himself/herself from the oppressive family structure. Destruction of that specific structure is necessary, but not destruction of the family as a whole.
Tradition and Revolution: The Struggle of One Family
In his novel Family, Pa Chin examines the trouble the early-to-mid 19th century youth of China were having balancing their collective desire for social and cultural revolution with respect and appreciation for, as well as fear of, their elders.
In his novel, Pa Chin details the abovementioned struggle within the Kao family. The Kao family can best be described as traditional and bourgeoisie, in relation to post-May Fourth China, in that four generations live under one roof, with the wise grandfather as ruler of the family. Through the three brothers in the family, Chueh-hsin, Chueh-min, and Chueh-hui, Pa Chin is able to bring to life the very real struggle happening in China at the time. Chueh-hsin, the eldest brother of the family embodies many Confucian ideals still held to high esteem by the family, and struggles to reconcile the desire to please his family with his inclination, however vague, towards wanting to join his brothers in their quest for revolution. While each of the younger brothers are lobbying for social and cultural change, it is the youngest, Chueh-hui, that is the true rebel. The female characters in Pa Chin's novel are also mostly of strong character, particularly the Kao brothers' cousin, Chin. Chin wants desperately to be considered on the same level as her male cousins, yet is careful not to overstep her mother's boundaries, simply another illustration of the difficulty reconciling social revolution with tradition.
Chueh-hui seems to possess little more than contempt for his family, his frustration ultimately driving him to leave his home and its traditional ideals and practices. Chueh-hui believes that "a real man ought to cast off family ties; he should go out into the world and perform great deeds"(21), an idealized notion which he ultimately brings to life. This belief of Chueh-hui's may leave us to wonder exactly what it is that Pa Chin is promoting or suggesting in his novel. Through the development of the character of the youngest Kao brother, is Pa Chin suggesting that the youth revolutionaries of China abandon their families completely, to form entirely new ones in which their liberal ideals can be implemented, or is the author more sympathetic in his views, wanting not to destroy existing families, but simply to reform them? Judging from the above mentioned quote, made by Chueh-hui, it would not be difficult to logically suggest that Pa Chin, known to support many anarchistic ideals, was agreeing with Han Yi, when he states that "those wishing to draw open the curtain for social revolutions must begin by destroying their own families". Though Pa Chin may have subscribed to Han Yi's ideas, Chueh-hui does not actively destroy his family-he removes himself from it entirely, instead. This act, though undoubtedly devastating to the young man's relatives on some level, also exhibits a certain degree of sympathy for the traditional family, on Pa Chin's behalf.
Ultimately, it is difficult for me to decide whether to view Chueh-hui as a hero and martyr of sorts, abandoning all things comfortable and familiar to pursue what he believes in, or as a simply selfish young boy, hurting and shaming his family in order to gain what he wants, rather than actively working to achieve the change he so passionately desires. Can any social and cultural change truly come from simply abandoning all things old and traditional? While Pa Chin states in Family that "The old saying is true-It's easier to move a mountain than change a man's character", one is still left to wonder whether it’s worth giving a try.
A Spectrum of Modernity
Family, Pa Chin's tale
of friends and family, the old and young, the traditional and the modern
follows the Kao Family through their ideological struggles and consequential
family strife. The story illuminates the spectrum of modernity that was
surfacing, growing, and changing during the period after the May Fourth
movement. Although Pa Chin writes of fictional families and fictional
people, each of the individuals, especially the three Kao brothers, Chue
Hsin, Chue Min, and Chue Hue, represents the changing ideological perceptions
of China, as a whole. From Yeh Yeh, the eldest in the family, to Chue
Hue, the variability of views on traditionalism to modernity is shown.
Chue Hsin, the older of his two brothers, is trapped between tradition and modernity. He, like many in China after the May Fourth Movement, has had traditionalism inflicted upon him, keeping him bound to old ways even when his ideologies may conflict. Chue Hsin had been thrust into the position of father, looking over his brothers Chue Min and Chue Hui, after the death of their own father. Needing to provide for his brothers while maintaining favorable relations with Yeh Yeh, the head of the entire household, Chue Hsin's personal, more modern beliefs had to be placed aside. He had to put away his modern magazines and abide by the rules of modern China. Chue Hsin represents all those who were put into such a position. He represents all those who have had to succumb to the pressure of traditionalism. He has to put aside his own values for the greater good of his family. The greatest evidence of his battle between modernity and traditionalism is evident in his marital relations. Despite having fallen in love with his cousin Mei, he married, because of a family arrangement, another woman, Jui-chueh. His disregard for his own happiness and his desire for the stability and appeasement of his family exemplifies his, like many others', sacrifice of modernity for the stability found in traditionalism.
Chue Min, the second oldest of the Kao brothers, bridges the obligation to traditionalism that Chue Hsin has and the dedication to modernity and revolution which his younger brother, Chue Hui has. Chue Min is representative of those who have rejected traditional China's restrictive ways but are unsure that revolution and an absolute rejection of traditionalism are necessary. These people, like Chue Min, are willing to embrace some aspects of modernity, such as equality between the genders. Chue Min works extremely hard to prepare his cousin Chin to attend a co-ed school. Prior to the May Fourth Movement, co-ed education was unthinkable, rejected completely by traditional Chinese values. Chue Min has indeed benefited from this movement, and he embraces revolutionary literature and many revolutionary ideas. However, he is unwilling to dedicate himself entirely to the cause. He, like many young Chinese men and women, is willing to reap the benefits from the hard work of others, revolutionaries, without taking revolutionary action himself. He is moving towards modernity, but revolution is too drastic an action for him to accept. He is the bridge between new and old which much of the Chinese youth found themselves faced with.
Chue Hui, the youngest of the three Kao brothers accepts modernity whole-heartedly. He embraces change and rejects entirely traditional values. He shuns the family model, comparing family to prison. He snubs ancestral worship, favoring the present over the past. He represents those who are willing to dedicate themselves to revolution, to change. He represents youth. He represents conflict. He represents self-fulfillment. His drive towards self-fulfillment is seen in his love for a bondmaid, Ming-Feng. Acknowledging his love for her represents the complete dismissal of tradition. In loving Ming-Feng he is refusing to follow traditional class structure and is disregarding his elders and the tradition of family hierarchy in his refusal to follow Yeh Yeh's orders. His love for Ming-Feng is just one part of him, but it is what establishes him as being truly dedicated to modernity and revolution. He, unlike his brothers, embodies progress and all those who embrace and work for this progress.
Although Pa Chin's story Family can be read as single snapshot of a Chinese family, it extends from the individual characters to represent a spectrum of modernity. Each character, although acting for themselves in their respective situations, acts also in the name of a greater cause. Each character's actions represent the actions of many, of real people living in real Chinese society, dealing with real problems. Each character's beliefs as well represent a greater belief shared by Chinese people living in such a transitional period in China's history. Through observing Pa Chin's characters' actions and beliefs, one can see the actions and beliefs of all of China as they compete and conflict not just in a family, but in a nation.
Chueh Hui as a Misunderstood Hero
Kyle G. Christensen
Throughout the novel, Family, Ba Jin created one character who would hold fast to his values and maintain a very progressive attitude toward all of his endeavors. This characters name was Chueh Hui, the youngest of three sons in the traditional Chinese family life. All three of the sons maintained a somewhat progressive or liberal mindset towards the traditional ideal, but to a different degree for all of them. However, while some of their liberal thinking wavered in times of great stress and pressure, Chueh Hui held fast to his beliefs.
Chueh Hui's opinion of the traditional family is best described in the quote: "Home, a fine home! A narrow cage, thats what it is!" This quote could be misinterpreted quite easily as a blatant attack upon family as a whole; but it is much more important than that. It is a verbalization of the disgust Chueh Hui has with the hierarchical system under which he lives within his family, the traditional style that puts someone at the head of the family with absolute power, even if they are known to be wrong in their decisions.
It would be a momentous disservice to the work of Family and to Ba Jin
if one were to reduce the novel to a foolish boy who constantly fought
to destroy the family unit because it is much more than that. Chueh Hui
highly values the relationships he has with the members of his family,
the ones that deserve his respect. And within his own generation, he has
developed very close relationships.
"The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure."
This philosophical standpoint basically uses the idea of promoting happiness to the most people as a basis for determining the best route of action available. Examples of Chueh Hui's utilitarian belief are abundant, one being the incident where he donated to the poor beggar child: "...emotion possessed him, and he drew out two silver half-dollars and placed them in the beggar child's moist hand." This exhibits the utilitarian ideal because he gives what would be a minute sum of money for Chueh Hui to a beggar child to whom the sum is vast. Perhaps the best display of this is when Chueh Hui decides he must leave his home.
While this departure from his family in what appears to be their greatest time of need when first examined could be misconstrued as absolutely heartless, it is truly an act of moral goodness. There are two options presented to Chueh Hui. The first consists of remaining in the family unit that is both oppressive and superstitious to the point of placing lives in danger. Thus watching the family fall apart and the people of it become more and more used. The second option available is the one he chose: to leave and support the revolution in another location. He chose the wellbeing of others and the goal of social and family reform over his own comfort within the house of his family. By selecting the second option, he has proved himself a hero, instead of remaining at home and acting cowardly.
In Ba Jin's Family, the Kao family represents the struggle going on within China as a whole and ultimately presents an image of hope for the new generation. Using the brothers of the Kao family, Ba Jin suggests what the right course of action is for the new generation.
Ba Jin depicts this mainly through the events surrounding the brothers of the family: Chueh-hui, the youngest and most rebellious, Chueh-min the middle child who eventually shares his younger brothers values, and Chueh-shin, the oldest brother forced into becoming the family's fatherly unit. While there are many other important characters in the story such as Ming Feng, Chin, and Venerable Master Kao, the brothers prove to be the most essential element. There are very few events in which one of the brothers is not involved and provides a sense of connectedness despite the deteriorating state of the family.
Each of the brothers also provides a different way of reacting to the enforcement of traditions. Chueh-shin is a lost cause from the beginning. Though he once had a promising future and a chance to marry the woman he loved, both were stripped from him when his father passed away, leaving his family to depend upon him. Because of this, Chueh-shin accepts himself as a martyr and forever damns himself to be a victim, entirely without backbone or with the ability to take action. Chueh-shin is Ba Jin's example of what the younger generation should avoid at all costs.
Chueh-min and Chueh-hui are portrayed as more admirable. Unlike Chueh-shin, both brothers find the courage and strength to act out against the enforcement of tradition. Chueh-min is far from the most enthusiastic revolutionaries but his lack of passion in terms of ideals is made up for by his love of Chin and Chueh-hui. Ba Jin demonstrates this through several examples such as Chueh-min's talk with Chueh-hui shortly after Ming Feng's suicide, where he promises never to lose touch with Chueh-hui, and his refusal to agree to an arranged marriage because he is in love with Chin. One could argue that without the ones he loves Chueh-min could easily have gone down Chueh-shin's path.
Finally, Chueh-hui is probably the most driven character in the entire book and while is not without flaws, Ba Jin makes him appear the most admirable in terms of beliefs and action. From the very beginning Chueh-hui is an active revolutionary whether it be joining a student protest or compiling a magazine. His one major mistake is when he lets down Ming Feng but instead of letting it destroy him he uses it as a motivator to pursue his ideals with greater passion. He also proves more devoted to his family that he appears. Chueh-hui helps Chueh-min avoid his arranged marriage despite potential feelings he has for Chin, and when Venerable Master Kao is on his deathbed Chueh-hui is the only one around. His final action, which is leaving to carry on a life outside the family compound seems to be Ba Jin's voice of how to act in if placed in Chueh-hui's position; do what you can to help them but leave before they drag you down with them.
A Fork in the Road
Many youth of China in 1931 were struggling in the wake of a cultural revolution, a time when the question was arising among them: Do we as young people have to suffer, to deny ourselves identity and personal dignity in order to respect Confucian family tradition? In the first half of the twentieth century, China's traditional society was being pressured to change and adopt modern Western ideals, and in the most turmoil were the young people, who recognized that their lifestyle could change—that they did not have to sacrifice themselves to a corrupt social system—but that this change would come at the expense of the family's respect, which they were always told was of the greatest value.
In Pa Chin's fictional novel Family, Cheuh-hui Kao, the youngest and most liberal-minded of three brothers, is constantly noticing and attacking the "contradictions" within his family: believing in progress but practicing old tradition, or believing in the maintenance of old tradition but practicing what conflicts with those values. These contradictions are present in every character of the story, including the most radical Cheuh-hui and the most conservative Venerable Master Kao, and are what signify the cultural struggle of the time. This is Pa Chin's way of showing that all men have the desire both to be free and to belong; it is dangerous and difficult for an individual to pursue his or her self-interest without regard for family, while the consequences of an individual living a life defined and controlled solely by the family is eternal suffering and self-loathing.
Pa Chin portrays his characters as very human; not one of them shows true consistency in their actions versus their opinions on social modernization or family traditions and rituals. The Venerable Master Kao, the head of the household and keeper of Confucian order within the family, is criticized internally by his grandson Cheuh-hui for "patronizing female impersonators" and for his fondness of his "coarse, unattractive" concubine that is an ironic taste when considering Master Kao's fondness of elegant books and art (65). Though the grandfather claims his every word is final, he eventually cancels the arranged marriage for the middle Kao brother, Cheuh-min, after Cheuh-min runs away in opposition to the idea. "I was wrong," the old man admits (289). Even the "crusty Confucian moralist" shows kindness and compassion to his grandsons after they try to defy him. It is here that Pa Chin shows hope for social progress; despite Confucian order, many men know what is best for their family even if it contradicts those firmly set rules.
The contradictions found within the youth of Pa Chin"s novel, such as in the Kao brothers' female cousin Chin, represent the opposite end of the spectrum from Master Kao's contradictions. Though Chin is considered very brave and admirable in her efforts to attend a co-ed school and publish articles about cutting her hair, she calls herself weak when she realizes she does not have the courage to actually cut her hair—even if it would pave the way for their "future sisters"—because of how her family would react to it. Chin says, "I love my future, but I love my mother, too" (197). It is this struggle within Chin that illustrates how many youth of China in the 1930s wanted so badly to exercise freedom of choice, but respected their family's opinion to such a degree that they could not disobey it. Being a member of the upper class, Chin is handed many opportunities for academic success, but she still can not have all that she desires because that would entail hurting her mother, of whom she is very fond. Chin could break free—that is a real option—but she chooses not to. This is not Pa Chin rejecting traditional family values altogether, for he does not portray Chin as completely victimized by these values.
In Family, Pa Chin presents Chinese youth overcoming the old social order as well as succumbing to it. In this sense, he is not directly attacking the role of family in Chinese society, but rather realistically portraying how the youth deal with the conflicts they face concerning the role of family. Whom should they appease: themselves or their families? It is difficult for Chinese youth, or any youth, to completely reject one of these options, and many find that they can not do so. Pa Chin illustrates this through the use of the characters of Family, and it is up to the reader to decide who is better off in the end.
I found Pa Chin's Family all very sad. He depicted the situation of familial tradition found in China at the time with an anarchical overtone. Anarchists felt that the family structure needed to be broken apart and all of the traditions that went with it. I cannot agree fully with the anarchists, because this representation of the traditional Chinese family does not make me want to cry out for the destruction of the family unit, but rather for the betterment of it.
What this family seemed to need most was not to break apart, but to start saying when they truly felt affection for one another, to support each other when in their hearts they desired to. I feel their goal should have focused more on abandoning fate, superstition and filial piety from the family structure.
Each brother represented a certain level of rebellion against the traditions of the time. Chueh-hsin was the oldest and least radical, Chueh-min slightly more, and Chueh-hui the most severely rebellious. However, as the grandfather Chueh-hui had always felt so constrained by reached his death, he was the one who showed the most understanding towards the old man. When a witch doctor was brought by the family to chase away demons from grandfather Yeh-yeh, Chueh-hui scolded his family saying, "you say you respect him. Why don’t you let him rest? I saw the way the witch doctor terrified him last night." This is a perfect example of what Chueh-hui seems to be seeking. Not necessarily a lack of family, but a family that can set aside their traditions and superstitions to stop and really know how to care for each other.
Chueh-hsin only loved and wanted the best for his brothers and wife, but lost their faith and his wife's life because he tried to take care of them with superstition and tradition, rather than what his heart told him to do.
Chueh-hui felt that Yeh-yeh had "turned into a crusty Confucian moralist" as he got older and that Chueh-hsin was slipping backward day by day as well. He describes his family compound as a narrow cage, but it seems to me that Yeh-yeh and Chueh-hsin felt just as trapped by the obligations of tradition. Towards the beginning of the book Ming-feng—the family maid and the love of Chueh-hui—sighs, "Fate, everything is decided by fate." This seems to be one of the main problems. Duty and fate made both Yeh-yeh and Chueh-hsin feel obliged to take on a role that forced them to numb themselves in an unhappy position as the heads of the family.
On Chueh-hsin's wedding day, he describes how he is treated like a puppet, but that "it seemed to him that in all the world there was no place more wonderful than the Kao family compound." Yet only a paragraph later, he describes life as "bearable, without happiness, without grief." What a sad way to live, never letting yourself feel joy because you have forced yourself to take on the role you are convinced is your duty to fill.
Pa Chin's book ends with Chueh-hui's departure and describes, "he turned to watch the on-rushing river, the green water that never for an instant halted its rapidly advancing flow." I think this is the perfect line to end with. It can reflect both the anarchists' "onrushing" determination to keep trying to break up confining family unit, as well as the never ending cycle the traditional family has been stuck in.
Ba Jin's novel Family depicts life in China during a time of turmoil – The May 4th Movement of 1919. During the May 4th Movement it was a great time of change in society and this change is depicted in the story through three brothers in the Kao family. The story also shows how China's traditional culture put restrictions on everyone and how some struggled to break free from those boundaries. For the three brothers, you can see how each has his own dream and how each has to struggle to reach it. Coming from a wealthier family, the two younger boys are educated in a school that accepts Western culture and ideas and teaches them – which ultimately leads them to wanting change in their family.
Chueh-hsin, the oldest of the brothers, had dreams to further his education and marry the love of his life, their cousin Mei. His dreams were ruined by his father arranging a marriage for him, despite his feelings for Mei. Since he wanted to be good son and not cause conflict, he said nothing and learned to love his new wife. After his father's death, he became the man of the family, having to look after the rest of his siblings. Being the head of the family he had to listen to what he was told to do and not fight it. Growing up in earlier times, he was still too bound by tradition and filial piety to fight for what he wanted. Chueh-hsin in a way reflects the very beginning stages of the May 4th movement as he is still following the rules of his Yeh-yeh and society. His two brothers looked up to him greatly but also felt sorry for him that he didn't get what he wanted. Seeing what happened to their brother, they didn't want this happening to them.
As more and more in the society were being influenced by the Movement, more and more people wanted to rebel and start a change. Chueh-min is a part of this time and it reflects in his actions. Chueh-min, the second eldest brother, fell in love with their cousin Chin. After seeing what happened to his brother, he didn't want that happening to him – so he ran away to ensure his marriage to Chin. Though he lost the respect from his Yeh-yeh for running away, he had what he wanted. Yeh-yeh was very upset but on his deathbed he acknowledged Chueh-min's wishes. This softening of Yeh-yeh's rules illustrates that keeping family together is more important than tradition and gives hope to the youngest of the brothers, Chueh-hui.
The youngest of the brothers, Chueh-hui, is the most revolutionary of the three. By now, the Movement was at its height and Chueh-hui was ready to fight for change. Being involved in the student march to fight against the actions of the soldiers gave Chueh-hui a taste of what a little rebelling can get you. Learning from both of his brothers he saw how his eldest brother was sad because he didn't fight for what he wanted, but Chueh-min still respected his family, but fought for love – getting away with what he wanted – causing his desire to revolt even stronger. Yeh-yeh saw how rebellious and willing to fight for a change Chueh-hui was, so he restrained him to the family compound – which only increased Chueh-hui's hate for the family structure and life. Once Yeh-yeh passed away, there was no longer anything to hold him back, so Chueh-hui fled to Shanghai in hopes for a greater change.
Through these three brothers you can see a level of reform gradually getting stronger and stronger and the years progress. Chueh-hsin grew up in earlier times, more set in tradition causing him to be more unwilling to rebel. As the times changed, you can see how more and more the boys are influenced by their surroundings and by what is being taught. Each son brings about a greater amount of revolutionary views and practices in trying to break free from the traditional life of post May 4th Movement.
Family as Prison
Ba Jin represents the Kao family as a traditional and functional system in which all of the members must obey the rules. He creates the Kao family to represent the traditional lifestyle in which the family does not allow any type of new ideals to enter. This story took place in the midst of the revolution, where new ideals and actions were taking place. The family held on to its old morals and the relationships between the family members within it came into conflict. The issue of tradition versus revolution of the youth is a constant factor in this story. The ideas of freedom and individualism are not allowed to mingle with the family’s traditional ways. The youngest brother, Chue Hui, was the ultimate rebel within the family who went against the traditional ways. He often felt as if the family was a prison that he was trapped in forever. The old Chinese family traditions and new revolutionary or western ideals were in conflict.
The emphasis on family values and traditions are strongly enforced in the Kao family, as well as the majority of the families in that time period. Certain expectations were put on each member of the family and each person has to fulfill his or her part to contribute to the family's stableness and happiness. The elder was the one to be respected as well as obeyed. In this case, the main elder and head of the household was the grandfather. He was the one to make important decisions regarding whom the sons should marry, where they should attend school, or what each of their futures should be. He was the provider of the family and each of the family members had to report to him of any major decisions that were to be made. The youth of the family, Chueh-Hsin, Chueh, Chin, and Cheuh-hui, were the ones that would uphold the family after the head of the family passed away. Their jobs were to be studious and successful contributors to the family and to one day even become the head of the household. Cheuh-Hsin is the perfect example of an ideal son in a traditional Chinese family. He graduated from the top of his class and was betrothed to a daughter of a decent family. He then received a respectable job and lived a decent life with his wife and child.
Even though this kind of lifestyle seems ideal and satisfactory, Cheuh-Hsin was in no way content or satisfied with his life. Before marrying his wife, he already had another girl that he loved. He was forced to give up on her in order fulfill his duties and contribute to the family. He sacrificed his future and dreams in order to please his elders. This kind of sacrifice is usually very common in old traditional China, but in the setting of the book, the early 1900s, young people had new ideals and morals to think about. The May Fourth movement, in 1919, contributed greatly to these ideals. The ideas of independence, personal freedom, freedom of expression, and new ways of living were presented. Rebellions among the youth were occurring and the new generation of youth was emerging. Cheuh-Hui, the youngest brother in the Kao family was within this new generation of youth. He felt trapped and suffocated in his traditional house. Outside of his home is where he is truly happy. He is apart of a rebellious group with his friends whom all have the same ambitions and goals as he does. He protests on the streets against the old ways and wants desperately to escape it. He refuses to accept the fact that he has an obligation to the family and does everything he can to oppose it. He even has a forbidden relationship with the housemaid and vows that he was going to marry her. This kind of behavior and conduct was never respected or allowed in the traditional family. He is a prisoner in his own home and does everything he can to escape, which he does eventually. He leaves for Shanghai at the end of the book, which symbolizes his final achievement of freedom. He was the only one who escaped, and symbolizes the future of his bloodline. He has defied the old traditional ways and has broken through the barrier. He represents the breath of fresh air in a place engulfed by tradition. He sets an example for the future generation of Chinese youth. The new ways have finally overcome the old and he has finally escaped his family prison.
A Collision of New Values and Tradition
Pa Chin's "Family," first published in 1931, was widely read by the young people of China during the 1930s and 1940s while China's New Culture Movement was going on. "Family" was particularly successful with the youth because of its ability to relate to the rigid constrictions that Chinese society placed upon the characters in the story. Using his novel as a catalyst, Pa Chin calls for a revolution against traditional norms and urges the youth of China to fight against the old patriarchal family system that had been present in China for so long. Pa Chin, a devout anarchist, fought for the destruction of the traditional Chinese family and encouraged the Chinese youth to rebel and turn their backs on ancestor worship.
The Kao family is primarily made up of three brothers and their grandfather, the Venerable Master Kao. The brothers belong to a family of scholars whose eldest member, the Venerable Master Kao, believes that they should focus on studying hard and bringing honor to their ancestors. The Venerable Master Kao is a stern man who claims, "My word is the law." He places an extreme amount of importance on ancient Chinese tradition and the fact that it must live on.
The three brothers within the Kao family represent three different political degrees. The eldest brother, Chueh-hsin, is extremely conservative and deeply rooted in old Chinese tradition. Since the death of the brothers' father, Chueh-hsin has been the leader of the Kao family. Therefore, he believes that he must set an example for his younger siblings by adhering to tradition and rejecting new values. Chueh-hsin wants freedom like his brothers, but realizes that if anything bad happens, as the eldest brother, he will be blamed and held accountable.
The middle brother, Chueh-min, is stuck somewhere in the middle between a conservative political stance and a liberal one. He represents a moderate point of view. He is not nearly as liberal as his younger brother, but, at the same time, is not as conservative as Chueh-hsin and is willing to run away from his family to escape an arranged marriage.
The youngest brother, Cheh-hui, is the most radical of the Kao brothers and the brother that Pa Chin seems to choose to make the hero of "Family." Cheh-hui jumps at the opportunity to take part in student-led protests against traditional Chinese values. Cheh-hui specifically demonstrates his rebellion against these values in his flirting with the servant girl, Ming Feng, a woman that would never be considered suitable by his grandfather for marriage. Cheh-hui strongly desires to be one of the young Chinese rebels fighting for a new and modernized China, an action that greatly frustrates and angers the Venerable Master Kao.
Although they are very different in their views of Chinese society, all of the brothers are torn between the importance of family and the desire for their own individual freedom. This struggle is what Pa Chin's "Family" is primarily concerned with. It deals with the conflict of tradition vs. the youth revolution. Pa Chin, using "Family" as a platform to express his ideas, urges for the re-construction of the traditional Chinese family and a rebellion against its outdated and constricting ideals.
Family of the Iron House
| Pa Chin's "Family"
is a critique on the absurdity of traditional Chinese culture and the struggle
which the common Chinese citizen faces every day. Cheuh-hui Kao, the youngest
of the three brothers, represents what the youth of China is subjected to
every day. Absurd superstitions eventually lead Cheuh-hui Kao to leave his
family and travel away from the family. Pa Chin created three brothers in
the story. The oldest brother represents the traditional and conservative
values, the middle child represents a more moderate position to Chinese
tradition and culture, and Cheuh-hui Kao is the youngest and most liberal
of the three.
It is important to note that Chueh-hui Kao does try to show his family that the traditions that they practice are not logical and that these customs should be thrown out. The family never listens to him or, if they ever do, they never take him seriously. Cheuh-hui Kao's grandfather might be one of the strictest people that Cheuh-hui Kao has problems with. The grandfather had always been criticized by his grandson for his practices and rigid views on having the final word in any family matter. The interesting turn in the story is the grandfather's seemingly unfounded compassion for his grandson. When the grandfather is on his death bed, the only person who is there when he actually dies is Cheuh-hui Kao. This is surprising because of how completely opposite the two are. Through this story, Pa Chin has been showing the reader how tradition is bad in Chinese culture and that the figurehead of the tradition, such as the grandfather, should not be tolerated or respected. What is interesting though is that through the symbolism of Cheuh-hui Kao staying by his grandfather's side, Pa Chin is telling the reader that, in the end, although they practice a culture that is not beneficial or logical, these people should still be respected because they are after all people too. Pa Chin is also telling the reader through such characters as the grandfather that there might be a chance that these traditions can change and there is still hope for reform in Chinese culture.
The last straw for Cheuh-hui Kao's tolerance of family traditions is when the wife of the eldest son dies after childbirth. With the grandfather dying, the family did not want the woman having a child because of the superstition that the beginning of life and the end of life should not be occurring at the same time in the same place. The wife leaves to a house away from the home and due to negligence, dies after childbirth. Cheuh-hui Kao cannot comprehend how his brother, who had stated that he truly loved his wife, sacrificed her in the name of upholding Chinese tradition. Cheuh-hui Kao realizes the madness that goes on within the family and decides that he has no other choice but to leave.
In class, some have stated the thought that Cheuh-hui Kao abandoned his family and should not be seen as a hero. I tend to disagree because I believe that to be able to prosper in life; one must break away from anything that is a complete contradiction of what one stands for. Cheuh-hui Kao had nothing to gain from staying with his family and realized that there was definitely no way for his family to change their views about the traditions that they practiced. Through this story, Pa Chin is telling the reader that in order to escape the self-destructive practice that is Chinese culture; one must break away from anything that represents it. Pa Chin also shows hope in the reformation of Chinese culture through the grandfather, but still takes a strong stand in stating that one must leave everything to get away from this self-destructive culture.
Through the novel Family Ba Jin is able to express several themes, the most prevalent being a strong depiction of a patriarchal power system embedded in the customs and culture of China. Ba Jin shows, through the story of four generations of one family, the effects of how Chinese tradition constricts the actions of this family. Also through this novel, these traditions are brought into question and tested on a moral basis. The story takes place during a time of revolution and great change and this theme is carried into the change in the family through the generations and the struggle between grandsons and grandfather to bring change to a family. During the time of the May 4th movement values and cultures were torn down and changes in the beliefs of a culture came about very rapidly. This time is perfect for this story as it brings the revolution to a much smaller scale and into perspective.
Chueh-hsin, the oldest of the brothers, finds it most difficult to break away from tradition. Even in love he allows tradition to hold him back. He falls in love with his cousin Mei Ping but ultimately is forced by his grandfather to marry another woman. Possibly because the oldest tradition is most imbedded in him or because he wasn't really exposed to a western education, but for some reason Chueh-hsin falls easily to tradition and respect for his family and allows his life to fall in line with the desires of his grandfather. Again tradition hurts him as he is forced to separate from his wife as she gives birth and she dies because tradition keeps her from proper resources that could have helped her survive.
The middle son Chueh-min shows more of the progression and societies desire to change. He represents the revolutionary, the one who starts change so others can make a difference. Seeing his brother forget the woman he loves ultimately influences him as he falls into the same predicament. Chueh-min refuses to marry his arranged bride and weds his cousin. This break from tradition rattles the foundation of the family as the grandfather is angered by his actions but eventually it subsides and the family is together again. The youngest, seeing the beginning of change through the faults of his oldest brother and the beginning of change from Chueh-hui, becomes very rebellious, not only leaving his family but traveling to create change on a larger scale during the time of the May 4th movement.
Chueh-min and Chueh-hui carried the major role in this story of questioning the norms set upon them by their father and grandfather. Seeing their brother eventually fall to them didn't discourage them from bringing about change. Chueh-min started by simply following his heart to the woman he loved. Chueh-hui had bigger dreams and eventually left the family to start change on a larger scale. It was people like these who brought about the May 4th movement itself. Demanding change and questioning tradition is just one of the themes expressed in Family, by Ba Jin, but through analysis of this novel it seems to be the most important and prevailing of themes.
Family Book Review
Family, by Pa Chin, takes place in China during its shift from traditional to more modern values. The main characters in Family are Chueh-hsin, Chueh-min, and Chueh-hui. The main characters are all brothers and their interactions between each other, family members, and society create a complex plot that questions the logic of tradition.
The older people in Family, Yeh-Yeh and Chueh-hisn, believed that tradition should stay. They were not wrong in this belief; they were just young once and had to look up to their ancestors, follow superstitions, and also follow Confucius. Yeh-Yeh and Chueh-hisn felt it was only right if the younger people followed in their footsteps. This view was the reason why it was so hard for China to shift away from tradition. Chinese traditions mostly benefited the elderly. Sooner or later everyone becomes old, so eventually everyone is benefited.
The younger brothers, Chueh-min and Chueh-hui, did not believe in China's ancient ways, and who could blame them? They were born into the world as captives; they owed their lives to the elderly. Because of this, they fought away tradition. The two boys enveloped themselves in western culture, literature, and ideas.
What Chueh-min and Chueh-hui learned through the western ways brought turmoil back to their village. Yeh-Yeh did not accept this western way of life. Yeh-Yeh believed in tradition. He wanted Chueh-min and Chueh-hui to follow Confucius and serve their place in the family. However, the west taught Chueh-min and Chueh-hui individualism. They no longer wanted to worship their ancestors or work their way up socially as they age. This rebellion against tradition was present with most of China's youths. The youths wanted co-ed schools, no more arranged marriages, an end to superstitions, and an end to Confucianism.
Anarchists, the people behind the Ancestor Revolution, believed there should be no ancestor worship. The more extreme Anarchist believed there should be no marriage and no family, which represented the views of Chueh-hui. He was constantly feeling trapped and wanted the family system to be completely demolished. The less extreme Anarchist represented the family views that Chueh-min had.
Superstition played a role in Family, even to the extent where a life was lost. Because of traditional Chinese superstitions, it was a bad idea to have a baby in a house after someone died in it. When Yeh-Yeh died Jui-Chueh was forced by her husband Chueh-hsin to leave the house because she was towards the end of her pregnancy. If Jui-Chueh gave birth to her baby in the house, the baby would be cursed. Jui-Chueh ends up dieing while giving birth to her child.
All the deaths in Family were caused by China's traditions—they were all victims of Confucianism. Even the people that didn't die in Family, but believed in tradition, were hurt. For example, Chueh-hsin loses his wife and the respect of his brother Chueh-hui.
Family represents the reformation of China and the effects it had on family structure. China's traditions might have had logic in the past, but when China's past becomes the present, traditions changed.
Changing Obligations to Family
Pa Chin's Family is an amazing embodiment of the confusion and sometimes contradictions that many Chinese people must have felt in 1931, while the communist party was growing quickly. On first reading it, it seems as though Family was propagandizing change, the hero being the young Cheuh-hui, the rebel who leaves the oppressive family structure to find himself and learn himself in a new, free China. The story isn't that simple though. Cheuh-hui has two older brothers, Chueh-hsin and Cheuh-min. If Chueh-hui represents revolutionary ideas then Chueh-hsin represents traditional Chinese values and Chueh-min represents a middle ground between the two other brothers.
These brothers are interesting and the source of some of the complexities of Pa Chin's writing. Both of these older brothers are characters that one could easily sympathize with, characters that are neither unlikable nor portrayed as flawed, merely characters in a story. More so than in the satire of Lu Xun and Yu Dafu, Ba Chin captures the intricacies of emotions present in times of change.
Looking at the oldest brother, Chueh-hsin, we are presented with the character that is entrenched in the tradition and institution of the family. It is not that Chueh-hsin completely agrees with tradition but rather he is the most involved with it because he is the head of his family, and because of this he must work within the confines. Change is at Chueh-hsin's door but answering it would leave everyone who is dependant on him and his leadership without a foundation. Similarly the educated gentry in China at the time the story was written must have been going through complex conflictions between duty to their family and understanding of the need for change.
Chueh-min is the character I feel is the most interesting and intriguing; Chueh-min often acts as the go between of his two brothers and helps for compromises to be made. Chueh-min to me represents the ideal balance between embracing western ideas and maintaining the positive aspects of Chinese culture. Chueh-min finds the love that he feels for his family and his family feels for him is amazing, and Pa Chin makes a point of developing the strong relationships between members of the family. Chueh-min's main problem is with the traditional arranged marriage system, which he realizes after he falls in love but is promised to another woman, and runs out to marry his love.
I feel that the essence of the Pa Chin's story of dealing with change is captured in the character of Chueh-min. Though Pa Chin is not advocating against change, he is also not totally agreeing with the idea that tradition needs to be eliminated in lieu of westernization. I think that Pa Chin accurately and realistically captures different ways in which people deal with change and weigh and give value to aspects of their life that they feel are important.