Representationof Lovesickness in the Caizi Jiaren (Scholar-Beauty) ThemedChinese Fiction
The Caizi Jiaren genre typically involves a romance between abeautiful girl and a young, handsome scholar. The genre was quitepopular during the early Qing Dynasty and the late Ming Dynasty. Theconception of the Caizi Jiaren-type story can be traced backto the famous Han Dynasty love affair between Sima Xiangru and ZhuoWenjun, tales from the Tang Dynasty such as Liwa Zhuan [TheTale of Liwa] and Yingying Zhuan [The Tale of Yingying], orMing and Yuan operas such as Mudan ting [Peony Pavilion] orXixiang Ji [Romance of the Western Chamber]. In the latteropera, the term Caizi Jiaren itself appears. The loversrepresented in the Caizi Jiaren often meet secretly, elope, orare simply too destined to be together despite parental opposition.There is little difference between Caizi Jiaren, as comicromances, and other stories from various cultures, which involve ayoung man and woman destined to be together, and who afterencountering obstacles to their union, finally overcome them andunite in marriage. However, the uniqueness of Caizi Jiaren derivesfrom the fact that rather than being stories reflecting universalconcepts, the genre comprises a set of books that have gained aspecific historical identity.
Comparisonof Differences between Chinese and Western Cultural Ideals on Love
There are significant differences in the expression of the culture oflove between China and Western societies such as the U.S.A. Theaspect of individualism vs. collectivism is one that plays a largerole, considering that Western cultures are more individualistic, asopposed to Eastern cultures, which are more collectivist . The sameconcept applies to love, where Western cultures consider romance asthe main foundation for relationships between men and women. In thiscase, therefore, the personal good overshadows the public, orfamilial importance. For Eastern cultures such as those in China, thefocus is on the maintenance of a stable society via continuity offamilial structure rather than on personal desires and needs. Thisculture means that romantic dreams are balanced against family andpublic expectation, thus resulting in a culture where:
Divorce rates are quite lowoften below 6%
The dating process involves few partners and longer relationships.
People typically associate love with concepts such as responsibility, long-term attachment, commitment, and duty
The differences in the love cultures of China and Western countriesare also expressed in their poetry. It is the norm for Western poems,which dwell on human relationships to place a focus on romantic love.On the other hand, even though numerous Chinese poems also mentionlove, they do not allow this singular emotion to eclipse all otherhuman relationships . One finds that Chinese poetry will place thefriendship and grace between minister and prince, and the affectionbetween friends at a comparable status to love, which is hardly thecase in Western verse. In Chinese poetry, the notion of friendship isfar more valued, and spoken of, than that of love.
Another difference in the manner in which love is poeticallypresented is in the timing of the romance. In this regard, mostWestern love poems involve the period prior to marriage, and hence,they are filled with declarations of love and praise of beauty. Thisgives Western love poetry an “admiration” outlook, for example,Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s short poems and Shakespeare’ssonnets. On the other hand, Chinese love poems focus on the periodafter marriage, and hence, the best poems lament a death or describea reluctance to part. Angst, or yuan lies at the heart ofChinese love poetry, and is represented by works such as Li Bai’sChangxiang si [Thinking of my Love], Liang Xuandi’s Dangfuqiusi fu [Autumn Thoughts on a Floozy], Cao Pi’s Yange xing[Ode to Those Serving in Yan], and others such as Baizhou [TheCypress Boat] and Juan’er [The Cocklebur].
Lovesicknessin Chinese Literature
The prevalence of the theme of lovesickness in Chinese love poetryand general literature is also explained by the differences betweenthe cultures of love in China and Western societies. For example, thetheme of the uncontrollable nature of love features in both Westernand Chinese poetry, the two cultures take different directionswhereby the latter deals with the objective aspects of love, whilethe former deals with the subjective aspects. Shakespeare’s theMerchant of Venice has one character comment on the blind natureof love, hence giving leeway to the individual to evade moralobligations, a factor hardly present in Chinese love poetry.
The phenomenon of lovesickness is common to love poetry from aroundthe globe, and is often associated with the initial phase of love,which is either referred to as “limerence” or “infatuation”in the famous essay, Love, and Limerence by Dorothy Tennov.Cognitive preoccupation with the object of love or intrusive thinkingabout that object is what majorly characterize lovesickness,resulting in an obsessive idealization of the beloved. Although thisconcept was quite common in the yuefu ballads, whichoriginated in the Qin dynasty, the idea was majorly developed andpopularized during the Yuan opera, after that gaining ground andgrowing vigorously during the Ming dynasty.
The feeling of lovesickness in Chinese love poetry typicallycoincides with that of homesickness or being touched by the memoriesof a better past . The theme of lovesickness took on a definite formin the 6th Century CE in the manner of an everlasting, yetunfortunate love. This form of lovesickness is represented by theterms xisangsi and xiangsi bing that were originallyused to communicate nostalgia for a particular place, and byextension, the people dwelling there. These terms, however, evolvedto be primarily used in reference to love. An example of utilizationof these terms in reference to love, prior to the Qing and Mingdynasties, is borrowed from the poetess Yu Xuanji. She extensivelyuses the term in works such as Chunqing Zi’an [Spring lovepassion, to Zi’an], Ge Hanjiang ji Zi’an [Beyond the riverHan, to Li Zi’an], Guiyan [Female Resentment], and JiGuoshu [To Guoshu].
An interesting aspect of the lovesickness theme and poetesses isdrawn from traditional China. When reading through poems by femaleauthors in traditional China, one encounters words such as "powderand rouge" and embroidery." Such usage may imply that thewomen make time for their poetry in between fulfilling their duty andtasks as women. However, it may imply more that the poetesses werefully cognizant of the gender differences in both creation andreception of poetry. Therefore, an essence of self-imposed limitationand modesty seeps through the writings of such poetesses. Withrespect to such writing limitations, an entire subgenre was coinedwhich encompasses a majority of traditional Chinese women’s poetrykuei-ch’ing [moods in the boudoir]. This genre tends to relyheavily on the themes of love and lovesickness, which are frequentlysymbolized by the image of spring. In this case, therefore, the waitfor the start of spring is comparable to the wait for the return of aloved one. Similarly, spring scenes are painfully reminiscent ofunfulfilled love or absentee lovers, while the passage of springmirrors the fading away of beauty and youth.
The theme of lovesickness, due to its aspect of unreciprocated loveis often associated with negative emotions such as despair, anxiety,emptiness, loneliness, poor health, or even death. Furthermore,unreciprocated love generates suspicion, jealousy, depression, andviolence. Two factors are the cause of such emotional torment:idealization and uncertainty. The former enhances illusion andexpectation, while the latter drives the pitch of intensity from oneextreme to another, strengthening the sense of anxiety anddeprivation. In some instances, lovesickness was the cause of actualphysical disorders, for example, loss of appetite and insomnia. Anexample of this is derived from the collection of stories Xianyinloubintan [Conversations with guests at Xianyinlou], a tale is toldof a young scholar who forgot to eat and sleep due to ardent thinkingabout a certain woman.
Relationshipbetween Lovesickness and the Caizi Jiaren Genre
The birth of the Caizi Jiaren genre marked areconceptualization of manhood for the Chinese man, particularly withrespect to lovesickness . When Confucius describes traits of thejunzi [gentleman/ideal man], he notes that above all, filialpiety is a cornerstone. A junzi should, therefore, behave withrespect and should display courtesy, which means restraint fromogling or staring indecently at women. An example of such behaviorbeing displayed by young men is borrowed from Xixiang ji [Romanceof the Western Chamber], where Zhang, the young scholar, lustfullywatches Yingying, the beautiful female, while in the temple. Thisparticular scene set a precedent in the genre, as it was replicatednumerous times in later writings.
Dominant Chinese ideology, based on Confucian philosophy, regardswomen as mainly tools for the perpetuation of the family line andholds that a junzi should not be distracted by women from hisworthy course. This ideal is further broken in Xixiang Ji, whereone scene has Zhang kneeling down to Yingying and Hong Niang,Yingying’s maid, several times in the play. The message given bythis behavior was one of worship of young women as well as atemporary gender reversal. Traditionally, and as per the Confucianideals, vulnerability to lovesickness and commitment to sentimentallove, such as that displayed by Zhang and male characters from otherCaizi Jiaren writings, are primarily feminine. Hence, despitethe disgrace attached to men displaying such emotion, particularlypublicly, these emotions gained were promoted to a desirable statuswithin the Caizi Jiaren romances .
Famous storiesabout Lovesickness in Chinese Literature
There are numerous stories and literary works that heavily featurethe aspect of lovesickness. The above mentioned Xixiang ji isan excellent example from the Yuan dynasty. It was authored by WangShifu and narrates the love tale between Cui Yingying and ZhangSheng. The latter is the young, and handsome male scholar while thelatter is the daughter of a former chief minister. They encounteredeach other in a temple where Zhang quickly fell in love with her. Themajor obstacles to their union came in the form of a local bandit andYingying’s mother. While the former kidnapped Yingying with thehopes of making her his consort, her mother promised to marry her towhoever could rescue Yingying. Zhang accomplished this feat with thehelp of his friend, but Yingying’s mother retracted her promiseciting Zhang’s poor socio-economic status as her reason.Characteristic of the Caizi Jiaren genre, they finally gotunited through the help of Hong Niang .
The next story to be featured is deservedly Hong lou meng [Dreamof the Red Chamber], as famous in China as Romeo and Juliet isin the Western world. It is regarded as one of the country`s fourgreat classical novels and was authored during the Qing dynasty byCao Xueqin. The story features a young male, Jia Baoyu, the heir of aonce vast fortune, but one which has dwindled due to falling out ofthe Jia family with the Emperor. He has an emotional connection toLin Daiyu, his sickly cousin with whom he shares a love for poetryand music. Despite their love and affection for each other, Jia wasbetrothed to Xua Baochai, another of his cousins who was exemplifiedas the ideal woman. Lin’s lovesickness turns tragic when she drownsherself in a pond, leading Jia to seek a life of piety as a templemonk. Despite the immense popularity of the book in China, as well asits literary stature as the country’s greatest novel, the book isvirtually unknown in the Western world .
Another famous literary work featuring lovesickness is Changhen ge[Song of Everlasting Regret] by Bai Juyi. It features the tragiclove story between Emperor Tang Xuanzong and his concubine, YangYuhuan. The latter was initially wedded to the Emperor Tang`s firstson, but she came into his favor and became his concubine. The firstaspect of lovesickness is demonstrated here since the complicatedrelationship between the Emperor and Yang meant that he could onlyinitially long for her from afar before he commenced his advances.The Emperor became so enchanted with Yang`s beauty that state affairstook a back seat, leading to An’s rebellion in 755. Emperor Tang’sdisgruntled soldiers and officers forced Yang to hang herself,blaming her for the rebellion.
The Peacocks Fly to the SouthEast is a famous long poeticnarrative featuring the themes of love and lovesickness. It wasauthored by Xie Lingyun, an ancient Chinese poet, and describes atragic love tale between Jiao Zhongqing, a man from a decliningofficial family and Liu Lanzhi, a girl from a poor family. Due to thedifference in the socio-economic status of both families, Jiao`smother forced Liu to leave her marriage, after which returned to herfamily home. This poem features lovesickness of the tragic and fatalnature as earlier described. In this tale, Liu eventually drownsherself in a lake to avoid remarriage to another man who was beingforced upon her by her elder brother. A twin tragedy occurs in thisstory since Jiao also commits suicide as a an expression of hisfaithful love for Liu.
CaiziJiaren: An Analysis
Chinese people of the past, of all classes, ages and both sexes, hadthe epitome of romantic love represented in the union of the geniusand the beauty. Thus the Caizi Jiaren genre, which ordinarilyinvolves entails romantic love between a young male scholar, caizi,and a beautiful young female, jiaren. Physical beauty isbut one of the positive attributes given to the main characters. Atthe core of Caizi Jiaren narratives is the central, singularplot thread, which is the marriage between the caizi andjiaren. A key feature in this genre is the presentation ofobstacles, both moral and physical, which prevent the two lovers frombeing together. There are a number of recurrent themes in CaiziJiaren works, including ritually correcting behavior committedaffection celebration of father-daughter relationshipsfairy-talesque elevation of women discourses on the nature oftalent and, injurious wielding of power by some people in power, aswell as its concomitant retribution.
In the Caizi Jiaren genre is presented a complex, and somewhatcontradictory perception of the female. Not only do the women havecompeting levels of talent with the men, but they are also endowedwith great beauty. Therefore, numerous Caizi Jiaren storiesfeature exceptional women and girls who themselves aspire to live upto the ideals of a junzi. The fathers and male guardians inthe stories are thus preoccupied with locating suitable male partnersfor their daughters, an action that, via discussion and mutualresilience, works to strengthen the father-daughter bond. Thisenhanced bond results in situations where the girls rise tochallenges such as running households in their fathers` absence. Agood example is derived from the novel Haoqui zhuan in whichthe heroine, Bingxin, is so beloved by her father that he entrustedthe entire household under her management. In most of the stories,the absence of male competition is a major contributory factor forthe elevation of these heroines to a super-exemplary woman andquasi-son status.
Love at FirstSight
“Love at first sight” is a significant feature of Caizi Jiarenstories. It is typical for passionate longings to swiftly take holdand grow once the caizi and jiaren have set eyes oneach other . More often than not, the lovestruck effect is moremarked in the male. It is the immediate attraction and subsequentlovesickness that convinces the female of the man’s credentials asa lover.
Another significant feature of Caizi Jiaren stories is theobstruction of love, or the obstacles faced by the young loverstowards their eventual union. These obstacles quite often appear inthe form of parents of guardians who are against the marriage. Theobstacles can, however, materialize as a vast array of factors fromcircumstances, to moral considerations and societal ideals.
The concept of marriage to two women is so recurrent in CaiziJiaren stories that it is worth examining. In literary history,the bigamous man ordinarily married his first wife while still poor,and the second after gaining some status. In some stories, this takesthe form of the man beoing offered the beautiful daughter of aninfluential individual, as in the famous opera Pipa ji [TheLute]. Although free to decline such an offer, the man may do so atthe risk of the influential individual’s wrath. In other stories,the man may fail to reveal the existence of his zaokang zhi qi[husk wife], resulting in a situation where the latter dies ofgrief and poverty in some tales, or the second wife helps reunite theman with his first wife in other tales. Another way of interpretingthe bigamy is that it acts as bridge between the man’s initial fateand his subsequent revision which are akin to arranged versusself-determined marriage. Another way of looking at it is as acompromise between the ideals of superior women and men. Whilesuperior women would undoubtedly demand monogamy, polygyny is thedesire of superior men. Therefore, bigamy is as far as the chastesuperior man is as willing to go.
Poetry also plays a large role in the Caizi Jiaren stories.Issues regarding narrative, education, and women intersect in thepoems of these stories, and in most cases, poetry commences and endseach chapter. The noble youths and young women in the Caizi Jiarenutilize poetry to express their feelings, mock the less-educated,search for soulmates, and display their erudition. Poetry is used bythe narrator to introduce pithy or wise common sayings to supporttheir case or to comment on the characters’ nature. Furthermore,the central theme of love and lovesickness is effected throughpoetry, since true lovers are attracted to each other by theirpoetry. The ultimate test of moral worth and talent is preserved inpoetry, and hence, bad characters do not possess the gift of poetry.Poetry functions at a double level within Caizi Jiaren talesthat of the story and discourse. At a structural level, commentarycouplets are utilized in breaking up the text and introducing novelthemes. Furthermore, poetry provides link passages and backgroundfillers, including asides concerning themes. The quatrains andcouplets used to complete each chapter provide a summary or overviewvia non-characterized, impersonal narratorial voice.
The emergence of lovesickness in Chinese literature can be tracedback to aspects of the Chinese culture. For one, the collectivistculture of the Chinese that places family and society over personalwants and desires is major reason behind the development oflovesickness. In this regard, since family plays a large role indetermining the marital lives of young men and women, theirindividual romantic pursuits will be overlooked in order to adhere tothe family’s or society’s wishes. Thus, lovesickness was bornsince the love shared between two individuals could not materializeas a result of many obstructions between them and their love. Thecollectivist culture further contributed to the birth of the lovesicknotion due to the close relation between the concepts of lovesicknessand homesickness. As earlier observed, Chinese literature does notplace emphasis on love over other human emotions, and concepts suchas friendship are even more revered than love. Therefore, it was easyfor the lovesick notion to be applied in literature as it was notonly limited to estranged lovers but also to family and friends aswell. Yuming notes this point in his examination of the NineteenOld Poems which heavily feature lovesickness. This lovesicknessencompasses all people separated from each other including friends,lovers, and spouse . The theme of grief over life’s vicissitudesand brevity is also connected with the lovesickness expressed in theOld poems. These poems are quite successful in employingdescription of scenery and other literary devices to express thefeelings of lovesickness.
Lovesickness has a major impact on all the characters in the variousCaizi Jiaren stories. In the first place, the nature of therelationship between the two lovers often determines the moodaccompanying the lovesick feelings. In the case of reciprocated love,the lovesick individual will typically experience positive feelingsof longing, love, desire, and hope. In the case of unreciprocatedlove, however, the lovesick character will more typically experiencenegative emotions such as despair, anguish, heartbreak, anduncontrollable desire. In such cases, where there is unreciprocatedlove or where there are obstacles to the love between the maincharacters, the lovesickness manifests as physical symptoms such asinsomnia and lack of appetite. An example is drawn from Xianyinloubintan where one of the male characters forgets to eat or sleepdue to his romantic preoccupation with a lover.
From the various stories and narratives, there can only be twosolutions for lovesickness. In the first, the lovers will unite orre-unite, hence ending each of their individual lovesickness. Thissolution is quite common in Caizi Jiaren literature and can beseen in examples such as Xixiang ji. The other solution tolovesickness is tragic, and typically involves the death of one orboth of the lovers. Three of the Caizi Jiaren stories featuredearlier are perfect examples of this solution. They include Honglou meng, Changhen ge, and The Peacocks Fly to the Southeast.The Caizi Jiaren fail to provide any other solution to thelovesickness other than these two, as there rarely ever comes any newlove interest to cure the lovesick individual of their affliction.
Comparisonof lovesickness by select female literary characters
In Xixiang ji, the lovesickness experienced by Yingying wasthe result of being barred by her mother from uniting with her lover.She experiences feelings of longing and heartbreak from being keptaway from her lover. Her lovesickness is resolved when Hong Niangagrees to help her meet with Zhang. Similar to this story, PeiSahojun Qiangtou mashang [On Horseback and Over the Garden Wall]also features two lovers, Pei Shaojun and Li Qianjin, who areembroiled in lovesickness. The latter is expressed through poeticexchanges occurring in the garden while the maid of the jiarenacts as a go-between .
In Mudan ting, the heroine, Du Liniang, falls lovesick afterbeing approached by a young scholar, Liu Menmei in a dream. Thefailure to see her lover and be united with him causes her to confineherself to her maidenly chambers, and she eventually dies as a resultof the longing and heartbreak. The tale has a happy ending as Liumanages to resurrect Liniang from death, and they finally becomeunited despite Liniang’s father’s initial opposition. As forQiannu’s Soul Leaves Her Body, the heroine, Qiannu, islovestruck from being separated from her lover. The lover, Zhang,has left for the capital in order to complete his examinations.Qiannu, however, tires for waiting for him and decides to follow himthere. She experiences a division within her being into two: herspiritual and physical self. While he soul unites with her lover andeven starts a family with him, her physical body remains at home,weak, sickly, and waiting for the return of the soul to her body .
Love Poem vs.Love Token
There is a differentiated use of love poems and love token. Whilelove poems simply refer to poetry dwelling on the topic of love, lovetokens are more than just the message passed across in the poem andalso encompass the physical representation of the poem itself. Inthis case, if the poem is written on a loose leaf of paper to bediscreetly handed out to the recipient, this becomes the love token.
The Caizi Jiaren genre was and still is, a significantlove-centered genre of literature. This genre typically features thelove story of a caizi, a young male scholar, and the jiaren,the beautiful female. There are a number of elements central to CaiziJiaren, the first of which is ‘love at first sight’. Anotherdominant feature of this genre is poetry, which is not only usedstructurally to enhance and compliment flow within the variousstories, but is also a major theme of the genre. The lovers in thegenre are almost always literary skilled, and thus, use theirliterary prowess to communicate with each other secretly. Alsocentral to this genre is the use of obstacles to prevent the union ofthe two lovers. Such obstacles take the form of various factors fromabstract societal ideals to more concrete opposition from familymembers. The theme of lovesickness is one that features heavily inCaizi Jiaren stories, and as observed, has roots in thecollectivist culture of the Chinese. The lovesickness presentedwithin the stories typically culminates into a happy ending with theunion of the lovers, or a tragic ending with the death of one or bothof the lovers.
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