mjj (flemmings) wrote,

I thought it was a vanity table but feliciter says it's a pile of wood

Or, a possible reason why Xi Shi is about to off herself at the end of Woxin Changdan. It's because she's referencing 1950's Taiwanese popular literature. And she doesn't do it in the end because she's referencing some earlier, or possibly later, tradition; and Woxin is having its cake and eating it too.

Chapter 3, all about Chiang Kai-shek's Hawt Manly Lurv For Gou Jian, or 'overidentification gone rampant.' With a look at various Taiwanese presentations of the story, and their emphasis on those Confucian values which the Godless Communists sorry-pardon-wrong-rhetoric the 'traitors to our glorious past' Communists were stamping out on the mainland and the 'heirs to the true tradition of China' Nationalists were then inculcating among the collaborationist Taiwanese.

So we are considering a play written in 1958 by Chen Wenquan, called Gou Jian and Xi Shi. This is the play in which Gou Jian tells the defeated Fu Chai, suing for peace, that Fu Chai killed his loyal minister and failed to avenge the death of his father. 'Given these breaches of the cardinal rules of loyalty and filial piety, the message concluded, Yue had no choice but to destroy Wu.' Uhh. OK. 'I am absolutely required to enact Heaven's vengeance on you for not killing me.' As realpolitik this makes sense, as a moral attitude it turns my stomach: possibly because from a westerner it would be rankest hypocrisy. That it makes sense in Confucianist thinking says something about that particular system.

You may then figure what happens with the Xi Shi story.
Chen proceeded to list a number of ways in which he had modified the story as customarily recounted. It was most unlikely for example that the love between Fan Li and Xi Shi would ever reach the stage of their having "improper" (aimei) relations. And certainly Xi Shi would not (as tradition sometimes suggested) have had a baby whom, on the journey to Wu, she abandoned in a river. Fan Li and Xi Shi lived in a time when Confucius was much in vogue. Since Xi Shi was well raised and Fan Li was an important state official, their behaviour could not possibly have been so reprehensible. Moreover the tradition that after Yue's conquest of Wu, Fan Li changed his name and, taking Xi Shi with him, floated off among "the three rivers and five lakes" was not to be credited. Given a woman of Xi Shi's high moral character (J note: what do you call the fallacy of assuming the truth of what you're supposed to be trying to prove?), it was most unlikely that she would have agreed to remarry. The fact is, for one in her position, the only recourse was to commit suicide.
Cohen comments wryly on Chen's "exaggerated portrayal of fifth-century B.C.E. China as a world profoundly shaped by Confucian values (hardly an apt characterization of the conduct of the contending states of the day)".

And I say, go the traitors to our glorious past Communists.

It's not always that bad in the Taiwanese works of the period, but I think Xi Shi having been Fu Chai's mistress and then going off with Fan Li can pose problems, moral or psychological, in some people's minds-- problems which are best solved by having her ready to off herself when once she's said farewell to Fan Li. And I suspect that we're also supposed to think Fu Chai was so kewl that no woman could go from his arms to another man's-- even her official fiance's-- without regret and heart-scald. Hrmph.
Tags: woxin

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