Yin-ying’s Story by Yuan Zhen
Although Zhang behaved abominably by abandoning her after learning her impassioned feelings for him, I think that Ying-ying maintained control of her life in most parts of the story. This means that she was not totally a helpless victim of Zhang at all. During her initial meeting with Zhang, for example, she exhibited a rebellious nature openly going against mother when she was asked to come forward and meet Zhang. Although she relented in the end, she came in unsuitably dressed for the occasion. The story described her as wearing everyday clothes and her hair not properly combed. This initial introduction of the character to the readers showed a young woman who is certainly not a wilting lily by any measure. Ying-ying had a mind of her own and followed her heart’s desire although this was mixed at times with the instinct to defend her feminine honor in accordance with the social norms of her times. This was manifested in a confusing depiction of her character, which swung from being highhanded and aloof to being intensely passionate.
Ying-ying was not only a very talented young girl, but she was also highly intelligent who was also perceptive. Perception, I think, is the foundation of control. When a person understands the motives of the other person, he or she ought to understand the limits of what he or she can give to the other that can be reciprocated without having to suffer a broken heart. When a person can anticipate the possibility of being unreciprocated with his or her affections and yet, still persists on endowing the other with it and the other repels it then the former is not a helpless victim, but simply a fool or a gambler. For example, during the second time of their separation, the textbook cited as her saying to Zhan that she understood that he will be gone for good because he had already conquered and seduced her. She said that this was the proper thing to do, perhaps, because that was the expected thing to do in their society – for men to treat women they have seduced with low regard. She must have expected this from Zhang considering that he had shown no seriousness in pursuing their affair officially. She had earlier asked him to ‘regularize’ their relationship, according to the textbook, but months had gone by and he did not present himself to Ying-ying’s mother to ask for her hand or present his real intention.
The reality that Zhang was unlikely to pursue his love for her was also reflected in her letter of response to the former, despite Zhang having written her a presumably romantic letter. This showed that despite her age – 17 years old – she was surprisingly levelheaded and practical. In that letter cited by the textbook, she said that she understood that Zhang had given his studies priority and as a scholar was expected to treat love as a lesser thing. Despite his letter, she did not entertain any romantic notions that she occupied his thoughts all the time, but she was grateful that he had thought of her even for ‘at least a moment,’ according to the textbook. Her realistic perception of things and of her role in Zhang’s life points to the fact that Ying-ying was not a helpless victim of Zhang. She was too intelligent, too perceptive and too realistic to be anyone’s helpless victim despite her age.
Ying-ying’s musings in her letters, her action, her statements and her deep and knowing sadness even when Zhang did not outright tell that he had no intention to come back to her all belied the angle that she was a helpless victim of the latter. She understood too well what was going on and Zhang’s real intentions on her. As a matter of fact, it was she who had shown the ability to manipulate Zhang, especially in the beginning of the story. She pointedly ignored him in the beginning and thereafter, lured him by responding to his letter to secretly meet her only to berate him for his action. She also took the initiative to be with him in his chamber to spend the night with him. In all those instances, Ying-ying showed control of the situation and not the naiveté of a helpless victim. She had only herself to blame for not listening to herself.
“The Tang Dynasty.” In Anthology of Chinese Literature, 540-549.