Love and Marriage

My original (1st essay) for history class this term.


China is known to be one of the oldest civilizations still in existence today. The Chinese have had a long history of habit due to their culture’s deep roots in Confucianism, and its ties to the son’s duties to his parents. The book Family, by Pa Chin, takes a deep look into the generational gap between the ancient ways of filial piety and a new, modern way of thinking. One of the habits, or traditions, that play a consistent role throughout the novel revolves around the issue of arranged marriages. Although the west embraces the idea of marrying for love, the characters in this story deal with the challenges of their filial society, the sacrifices that some must endure, and the family’s obedience when it comes to arranged marriages.

Most of China’s history was greatly influenced by Master Kong Fuzi, who was the founder of the great concepts of Confucianism. Confucianism greatly revolves around the philosophy of life, and the attempt to understand what it is like to be human. Instead of focusing on the supernatural, the followers of Master Kong focused on their duties as human beings to one another through morals and principles. One of the most important aspects of his teachings that played a great role in Chinese history and politics was the role of filial piety, or one’s duties to one’s parents.

“For Confucianists, the key problem is bringing human behavior into         conformity with ‘heaven’ or the cosmic forces that control nature. They       believe that the solution to this problem lies in ordering behavior on the         basis of seniority and gender relationships in the family.” (Miller 19)

The novel takes place during the 1930s, which occurs around the middle of the Chinese Revolution that lasted from 1911-1949. This story follows the lives of three brothers who are members of the prosperous Kao Family. The boys were already enrolled in school, which was a change from the previous generations of Kao family members who experienced at-home tutoring. Later in the novel Family, the oldest patriarch, Venerable Master Kao or “yeh-yeh” (grandfather) strikes at the idea of not being privately tutored, as the cause for his grandchildren to become disobedient. “’Going to school has ruined [Chueh-min]. I wanted you boys to take private tutoring at home, but you wouldn’t listen to me. Now look what’s happened!’” (Pa Chin 257). From this, you can gather that the oldest patriarch in the family holds the greatest authority. Gavin W. Jones agrees in his article for Asia Research Institute of Singapore, as he reiterates, “[t]he history of arranged marriage reflects trends in gender and inter-generational relations. Traditional arranged marriage placed considerable power in the hands of parents, and in particular the father” (Jones 4).

During this era, a lot of changes were occurring in China, and although many of the older generations did not agree to these changes, the younger generation grew excited. The oldest sibling of the three grandchildren, Chueh-hsin, was still very loyal to his filial duties. As a prime example of Chueh-hsin’s dedication, he easily set aside his individual desire for a woman that he loved, by the name of Mei, and agreed to marry the woman his father chose for him.

“He was deeply in love with Mei, but now his father had chosen another, a girl he had never seen, and said that he must marry within the year. […] No one knew. He did not fight back, he never thought of resisting. He only bemoaned his fate. But he accepted it. He complied with his father’s will without a trace of resentment.” (Pa Chin 37)

As his younger brothers, Chueh-min and Chueh-hui, grew up seeing their older brother become a prisoner to his filial duty, they educated themselves more about the changes happening around them, as well as about modern/western societies, and began to desire a life that allowed them to love and marry whoever they desired. Chueh-min eventually falls in love with his cousin Chin, while Chueh-hui also grows a desire to be with their bonds maid, Ming-Feng.  Later in the story, as Chueh-min runs away as a form of disagreement with Yeh-yeh, his brother Chueh-hsin writes him a letter, and pleads for him to return home for the sake of the family. In order to make a stand, Chueh-min responds with a letter explaining the predicament that he’s in:

“Yes, you all want me to come home. That would solve your problems. There would be peace in the family and another victim would be sacrificed. Of course you would all be very happy, but I would be sunk in a sea of bitterness….” (Pa Chin 262)

It was primarily due to the continuous onslaught of change, the implementation of schools, urbanization, the involvement of women in economic activities and many other things that caused the weakening of the system of arranged marriages.

“The system therefore crumbled when faced by changing reality, in the form of extended education for girls, […] and the lack of a compelling reason why parents should continue to be the ones making the choice of spouse for later-marrying daughters.” (Jones 5)

Although change can be stimulated by various elements, Jones believes that education plays a significant factor in the decline of arranged marriages. Based on a study in 2000 of Thailand, the more educated a woman was (between the age of 35-39) the more likely she was single, whereas the less educated the woman was, the more likely she would already be married. The exact opposite was true of men, however in various countries in East Asia (Jones 6). These statistics seem to reflect the relationship between Chin, a very strong-spirited young woman, and Chueh-min in the book, Family.  Although the statistics show that educated women, like Chin, are most-likely to remain single, educated men, like Chueh-min, are most-likely not to remain single. Earlier in the story, Chin, who persuaded her mother into allowing her to attend an all-girls school, became ecstatic when she heard about the possibility of an all-male school allowing room for female students. As soon as she had the right moment, she spoke to her mom about her desire to attend the school: “’Ma, times have changed. […] something new comes into the world every day. Girls are human beings the same as boys. Why shouldn’t they study in the same classroom?’” (Pa Chin 32). This statement does a great job expressing the notion that the uneducated individuals treated females as lesser than that of human beings. If this were true, it can be speculated that an educated woman would be most interested in an educated man who sees her as an equal human being.

Although arranged marriages continue to be practiced around the world today, more cultures have embraced the same kind of change embraced by the Chinese Revolution. While arranged marriages fell apart around East and Southeast Asia, after various influences from the west, areas such as South Asia continue to hold strongly onto the traditions of the arranged marriage system. Although this may seem odd, Jones states that most of the “young people in South Asia recognize that their parents may be the best ones to choose their marriage partners.” He also continues on to say that, “By contrast, in East Asia, the arranged marriage system has collapsed, but it has been argued that nothing has emerged to replace it” (Jones 5). Even though modernization brought forth the individualistic beliefs of the west, it can also be blamed for societies with higher numbers of single men and women.

We are all born into a family. During most of China’s history, however, this meant a strict adherence to the desires of the patriarch of the family, even if it meant going against your individual desires. Chueh-hsin showed his filial piety by habitually abiding to every request his family bestowed upon him, whether it was the last request from his father on his death bed, the authoritative demands of his grandfather, or the rebukes and remarks of his elderly family members. This Confucian based society created loyal servants like Chueh-hsin and caused them to be prisoners of their patriarch’s decision regarding arranged marriages. Fortunately, changes in society during the Chinese Revolution paved the way for habits to be broken in an inevitable pursuit of happiness. Although the change didn’t occur overnight, the struggle benefitted people like Chueh-min, Chin and Chueh-hui, who were all educated, as well as willing enough to take a stand against the injustices and sacrifices made by people like Chueh-hsin, Mei, and many others. Although arranged marriages are still being practiced today, many more people have benefitted from this change and modernization, allowing them the freedom to actively or inactively participate in the art of arranged marriage.

[[References available upon request.]]