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 Stories : Family
FAMILY  by Peter (paper for HIS9A 5/17/96)

During twentieth century China, many of the old traditions and values upheld by the elder generation were questioned by the younger generations. In Pa Chin's "Family", the struggles of the younger generation toward these traditions portrayed their dissatisfaction as they acquiesced to the wishes of their elders. The novel described the situations and conflicts that three brothers of the younger generation faced as they challenged the power and principles of the elder generation. In addition, the three brothers' actions and personalities represented a progressive movement toward change as each brother symbolized a transitional stage of the Chinese people, from those who clung to the old ways to those who wanted change in China. These transitions represented the progressive movements away from the controversial old ways as the new generation, frustrated and weary, wanted to live in a more humane and free society.

Of the three brothers, Chueh-Hsin was the oldest. He is the prime example of a victim of the old ways. Being filial and obedient to his parents and other elders, he can be considered as the quintessential Confucian son. He conceded to everyone's wishes. When his father arranged his marriage he did not protest. Instead, he complied and gave up his true love, Mei. In addition, his dreams and desires of further education were also finished. Chueh-Hsin felt that he must please his elders. "Whatever people told him to do, he did, as if these acts were duties which he was obliged to perform." When his relatives, out of superstition, told him to exile his wife, Jui-Chueh, to the outer limits of the city to give birth, he complied again. Due to the hostile conditions Jui-Cheuh died upon giving birth.


Chueh-Hsin indeed suffered greatly from these "old ways". Although dissatisfied with the elder generation, he could not and would not rebel. The principle of filial piety had been planted in him so deeply because he loved his parent so much. In addition, he also had to carry on the responsibilities as the adult of his household at an early age when his father died. He never had a chance to fully grow and develop the courage to stand up for himself. Chueh-Hsin represented the early Chinese who clung on to the old ways. As a result, he lived a very unfruitful and sad life as none of his dreams were fulfilled.

Sadly, Chueh-Hsin is just one of the many early Chinese people who complied and upheld the old ways. They all believed that they were doing the right thing, being a true Confucian son. Unfortunately, their elders were not as Confucian. They did not care about the happiness or the goals of their children. All they wanted was to show off their children as trophy and objects of their great accomplishment. In actuality, their only accomplishment was merely giving life to the child. In Chueh-Hsin's case, his parents may have been Confucian as they installed many great characteristics in him. But, due to his Confucian beliefs, he was unable to break free from the cycle of the old ways.

On the other hand, his second younger brother, Chueh-min, was not as unfortunate. Having witnessed the sufferings and unhappiness of his brother; Chueh-min did not wish to follow in his older brother's foot steps. In addition, he was also influenced by the rebellious uprising of the progressive movement. When his grandfather, the iron fisted patriarch of the family, made a marriage arrangement for him, he rebelled and ran away from home. He was deeply in love with his cousin, Chin and did not want to give her up. Furthermore, he did not want "Chin to become another Mei."


Chueh-Min's actions represented the first progressive steps of the younger generation in its rebellion against the old ways. Instead of conceding to the arranged marriage like Chueh-Hsin, he decided to choose his own spouse. This was a giant step toward self preservation of the younger generation. The elder generation had always treated human lives as possessions that can be used as gifts or tools like money. In arranged marriages, the persons involved were mere puppets. " Those who had been puppets in their youth, today were making puppets out of others." This was the "old ways". Chueh-min set precedence when he refused to succumb and sacrifice himself for the sake of pleasing his elders

This major progression, however, was not easily achieved. Chueh-Min had to hide out in his friend's house "like an escaped prisoner, not daring to go out for fear of being caught." Nevertheless, he successfully accomplished his goal. The younger generation had loosen the tight strangle hold of the elder generation. This can be considered as the intermediate stage for the younger generations' struggle toward the "free" society.

In breaking out of the grips of the old ways, Chueh-Min can be considered as being un-Confucian. But, is being Confucian and letting your elders lead you to a life of eternal sadness better? Rather than to repeat his brother's mistake, Chueh-Min disregarded the Confucian principles to some extent. He was not selfishly thinking of himself. Instead, he was determining the fate of Chin's life also. Thus, he is righteous in that he saved Chin from a life that would have resembled Mei's.

Chueh-min, however, was not as radical as his younger brother, Chueh-Hui. The Third Young Master was "the humanitarian". Chueh-Hui despised every aspect of the "old ways". He would not ride on sedan-chairs , constantly ridiculed his older brother, Chueh-Hsin, for being so docile, and strongly supported the new youth movement as he and his fellow classmates started their own progressive paper to further spread their ideas advocating change in China. He had seen the sufferings and struggles of both his brothers. Thus, he grew frustrated and bitter. He could not understand why Chueh-Hsin still clung to the old ways. After all the torment his brothers went through, he was not going to become another victim of the old ways.

Unfortunately, he also suffered as he lost his beloved Ming Feng, a bond maid of the Kao family. They were secretly in love. But, their feelings for each other were constricted due to the difference in their social status. When Ming Feng committed suicide in order to save herself from becoming the concubine of an elderly gentry, Chueh-Hui was devastated. As a result, his hatred toward the old ways increased. He always hated being part of the gentry class. The ill treatment of the lower class especially the servants often outraged him. Thus, he was molded into the idealistic figure of the new generation. As Chueh-Hui reached his late teens, he became weary of his family and left. Escaping the wrath of his family with the help of his brothers and friends, he was finally free of all the injustice and thus be independent to live in a more humane environment without any restrictions.

In essence, Chueh-Hui portrayed the dissatisfactions and frustrations of the young generation against the traditions and values of the elder generation. Rejecting the Confucian virtues, Chueh-Hui took matters into his own hand and ignored the requests of the elders. With the total dismissal and disrespect of the elders, the new generation finally broke free from the continuous cycle of oppression and reached the free society.

Even though all Chinese strive to be Confucian, these are the principles that had trapped them. As shown by the progression of the three brothers, the frustrations of the young generation finally were released. From the oldest to the youngest, each gradually realized their mistakes as they all suffered from the "old ways" of the elder generation. Along each transition, the Confucian principle of "respecting and obeying your parent and elders" slowly diminished. Thus, the young generation was finally able to free themselves and live their own lives as the words and orders of the elder generation became less influential.