History of China in Chinese Literary Works
China is one of the most ancient countries of the world, and its history is reflected in the Asian literature. Both works Journey to the West and The Battle of Coxinga depict historical events, which took place in China at various times of its history. Thus, the author of Journey to the West describes the famous travel of Ch’en Kuang-jui for sacred scriptures of Buddhism to India. This is a real epic work, which became a literary masterpiece, as a beautiful legend about life and deeds of the real historical personality of Ch’en Kuang-jui. The second work, The Battle of Coxinga, was written by the famous Japan play writer, Chikamatsu Monzaemon. It is about the real historical event of the liberation of China from the Tartar invasion at the 1640s. The main character of the play, Coxinga, was a real historical personality, and the author described his life and struggle in the realistic form. Both works depict Buddhist China and life there at the seventh and seventeenth centuries. The goal of the paper is the comparison of both texts and historical events for making conclusions about life in China of the Ming Dynasty. The main idea is that the China society was a sole patriarchal family, in which each member knew his or her own place and role, what and how act for the common wealth and prosperity. Such a tragic event as committing suicide was a part of both moral and religious norms, and it was not considered as a crime against a personality. Moreover, personal relations between citizens of China depended on the China’s rulers.
Journey to the West was written by Wu Cheng’en in the sixteenth century, when the Ming Dynasty ruled there. The author depicts events, which took place in China in the seventh century when a monk of Jingtu Temple, Ch’en Kuang-jui left Chang’an to bring sacred Buddhist scriptures from India. The main character had multiple adventures on his way, and various spiritual forces helped him to achieve the goal. Anthony Yu, a contemporary translator of the work, reveals the major virtue of Buddhism. Ch’en Kuang-jui rejected the help of Monkey King, who had killed six robbers with a heavy steel rod. He asked, “How can you be a monk when you take life without cause? We who have left the family should ‘Keep ants out of harm’s way when we sweep the floor, and put shades on lamps for the love of moths” (Yu, 1977, p. 308). Hence, according to Buddhism, nobody can kill even a moth because it is considered to be a sin. At the same time, committing suicide was considered as a normal deed in Buddhist countries. Even killing own children for the sake of the Emperor’s ones was not considered as a crime. It was a major contradiction in the Buddhist religion, which emphasized the real tragic situation in the life of the Chinese. At those times, a human life was not cherished in the country, but the Chinese, as well as other Buddhists, had made cults of domestic and wild animals according their religion.
A play, The Battles of Coxinga was created by a famous Japanese play writer, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, and its first night took place on November 26, 1715 in the Japanese City of Osaka. The events, depicted in the play, happened in China in the 1640-s, when hostile Tartar tribes wanted to seize China by eliminating the ruling Dynasty of Ming. The ground for it was a promise, given the Tartars by General of the Right, Ri Toten for grain, which saved the Chinese from famine. Counselor Go Sankei with his wife, who recently born the son, did their best to save the dynasty, but both women perished. Go Sankei saved Emperor’s son, but he had to kill his own. From the point of view contemporary laws, Go Sankei committed a crime. According to Buddhism, Go Sankei should not kill his child, but his title and devotion to Emperor forced him make this decision. Thus, the author turned him into a hero, who had followed the famous national Japanese Samurai Code of a personal duty before the ruler. Therefore, it was not a crime from the point of view of Monzaemon.
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The next moment in both works is a place of women in the Chinese society. As it was shown in the works, they were the most rightless people in China. For instance, any will of a husband should be fulfilled without delaying. Any objections were prohibited, and the Chinese authorities punished women for it. Moreover, a family of such a woman suffered from disgrace and accusations. In Journey to the West, a daughter of the chief minister, Wen-chiao and Ch’en Kuang-jui became husbands. Chi’en Kuang-jui got an official post and went with his wife and mother-in-law to other town to work. While their travelling, the mother-in-law felt ill, and they had to leave her to stay in the inn. Two boatmen killed Kuang-jui and thrown him into the river. One of them forced Wen-chiao to become his wife and arrived in the town and took the office instead of Ch’en Kuang-jui. Wen-chiao gave birth to a son of Ch’en Kuang-jui, but the boatman made her get rid of the child. Therefore, she had to put her son on a piece of wood to save his life. In result, monks from a Buddhist temple found her son, who lived there for eighteen years. The mother-in-law lived in the inn for eighteen years as well because nobody took her from there. The most interesting thing, her husband did not send servants to find her. Therefore, she had to live in poverty and starvation. The submission to the fate, helpless before difficulties, and obedience to the husband were the major virtues of women under Buddhism.
In the book of The Battles of Coxinga, these virtues are depicted in the scene, when Coxinga was departing for China with his father and mother. He left his wife and Sendan in Japan. As Komutsu states, “I feel now like the women for whom they named the Watching Wife Mountain of China and the Scarf-waving Mountain of Japan. I shall not move” (p. 222). Komutsu said that she would never leave the place waiting for her husband. Therefore, Komutsu and Sendan lived there until Coxinga took them to China.
The next tragic moments depicted in both books, are the suicides, committed by women. Thus, in Journey to the West, Wen-chiao killed herself for the disgrace, which she had taken while living with the boatman. The author explains that Wen-chiao could not do it before because she was pregnant, and she could not kill her child. Nonetheless, she saw a dream, in which she would meet her relatives. After meeting with her husband, son, mother, and father, Wen-chiao committed the suicide. It was her duty before the family and parents.
In The Battles of Coxinga, Coxinga’s mother and step-sister killed themselves. Thus, firstly the mother saved her step-daughter, intervening into Kinki’s discussion with Kinshojo. He wanted to kill his wife to avoid gossips. As a matter of fact, Kinki agreed to help Coxinga with liberating China from the Tartars. He had a multiple army for this purpose, but people’s opinion would be crucial. They could think his wife to command him. Thus, the only thing to avoid gossips was to kill Kinshojo. Therefore, it was a major reason for the young woman to kill herself. Of course, her Japanese step-mother could not bear this grief, and committed the suicide also.
In both works, relatives endured their grief on parting with their beloved and dear daughters and mothers. They cherished religious and national traditions, considering it was better to endure the grief and live as respectful persons, than to be disgraced for the rest of their life. Chikamatsu proved with his humanism that such fragile people as Kinshojo and Coxinga’s mother changed the course of history, and China was liberated by the forces of good. Their deaths united in the grief both families of Coxinga and Kinki, making them allies in the struggle against Tartar invaders. At the same time, a deep belief to get happier life via reincarnation gave them hopes and power.
The role of women in the Chinese society was very important despite their rightlessness. According to the national hierarchy, women had ranks, which gave them right to have servants. As a rule, the real master of these servants was a husband, and his will was the order for the whole family. At the same time, his wife could give orders to them. Furthermore, girls from the richest families could choose their husbands, as it is described in Journey to the West. Of course, in this case, the chosen man could not reject from his future wife. As a matter of fact, he became a master, and his future wife was obliged to fulfill all his orders.
In The Battles of Coxinga, the author described how Chinese women fought against enemies. As a matter of fact, they could take part in fights as ordinary warriors. It proves the statement that Chinese women were servants for their husbands. In this case, their fighting was an ordinary errand of their masters. Of course, in the case of death of the husband, the woman could not exist as an equal right member of the society. She had to choose one way: to commit suicide or become a slave in a rich family. As a rule, these women served for men killed their husbands.
Committing suicide was not considered a crime in the Chinese society because it was the shortest way to rich a new perfect life. Furthermore, the suicide will liberate women from possible enslavement by enemies of their family. In both books the Buddhist ideology described in the scenes of suicides, when relatives were in grief, but at the same time, they had a strong hope for meeting with their women in the future life. Therefore, the Chinese did not consider death as the end. They believed in their future life, which could become after their death.
After analyzing both books, one can make the conclusion that the Chinese women did not have any right to doubt or object any will of their masters irrespective to their rank in the society. They could have slaves or servants, give them orders, punish them, but at the same time, only their husbands were real masters. Moreover, women had to commit suicide for the sake of their husbands. The Chinese men could not listen to their wives’ opinions because gossips would turn them in laughing stocks, which was the greatest disgrace. In this case, only death of their wives could save men from all bad lucks. Both books are real masterpieces of the world’s historical literature.