How were the life experiences of Liu and Ning impacted by the historical events and changes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries?
Liu from ‘A man awakened from dream’ and Ning from ‘A daughter of Han”’ are both the protagonists of works of autobiography by Harrison and Priutt respectively, in an effort to depict the impact of Chinese history on its people during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Since Chinese history was sharpened by communist tones, it becomes challenging to understand the true meaning of waking up from a dream. It is important to understand the fact that late nineteenth century and early twentieth century played important role in the Chinese history and experts on Chinese culture and history refer to this time period as a lapse in the Chinese history due to its politics, specifically the years between 1899-1919. The events in this time frame make the understanding of Chinese history challenging.
On the other hand, when life was rapidly changing in the late nineteenth century, Ning Tai Tai faced the hard realities of life as being a woman was more challenging than being a man as Liu to survive the social change. Although Pruitt aims at highlighting the goodness and resourcefulness of Chinese people in this autobiography, the major theme of Ning’s life is depicted as a woman’s struggle in radical Chinese society. Ning was discriminated right from the beginning of her life in a radical China because she was a daughter and not a son. She was married in adolescent years, which made her prone to abuse at her husband’s hand. Her fate was in control of her husband, who could do anything to her, considering her a weak individual. Ning had to go through great sorrows and heartaches as her life was spent in keeping her family close in the hard times of war, political unrest, and heart-wrenching poverty. Although Ning was not able to spend an average Chinese’ life, yet she could explain the life of people in this era as she worked in different Chinese houses as maid. Her employment in the house of a Chinese army officer reveals that the Chinese army was just as corrupt as any other army in the world (Ning and Pruitt 34). In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Confucian morals could not do much in maintaining justice and compassion in the hearts of Chinese army. She reveals that typical Chinese men in those years could keep a mistress for their pleasure. However, she described the domestic upheaval when the wife and the mistress quarreled as they couldn’t stand each other. Ning’s story describes the poor life of a widow in Chines society during late nineteenth century. The political unrest and war casted adverse impacts on her life but her wisdom and persistence just as Liu allowed her to sail through the storm that she faced. She had to witness the selling of her daughter twice by her drug-addicted husband to an army officer. However, she struggled to retrieve her back, to manifest the level of strength in an average or below average Chinese women during those crucial years. Ning spent some of her days in begging to raise her family, which she did with great disdain and shame. But during this whole time, she did not forget to hope and smile. She did not feel frustrated and knew that one day, thing would work out for her family and her. Ning learnt wisdom and strength from stories while she worked in various Chinese houses. Her life was never transformed in monetary terms but her wisdom, compassion, hope, and faith in herself and her destiny grew with every passing day. In this manner, her life, although spent in great pain because she was a woman, symbolizes the struggle of an average Chinese citizen in time of war and political unrest (Cheng, Lestz and Spence 73). Another important part of Ning’s life was to keep her family together and not let them go astray as primary family members were central to Chinese culture in past and even today. Her struggle to remain closer with her family did not end at her children; she kept her grandchildren closer to each other as well to maintain the Chinese family system. Ning’s struggles showed that monetary gains and economic growth was not as important as was the Chinese family system in a Confucian society of that time. Her faith in forgiving people who did wrong with her brought positivity in her life.
What commonalities and differences do you see in their experiences? How would you explain the differences?
Liu and Ning resembled each other in many ways, including their struggle and time period. Both the protagonists hailed from average Chinese family during the late nineteenth century. Li and Ning had to go through political unrest and social transformation during those year and their life was marked with the changes that social transformation brought in their lives. They had to go through a psychological turmoil during those years due to the shift in social norms and values. They had to decide for the better social system and they eventually decided to stick with the Confucian morals of compassion and piety. They suffered to become better individuals in their coming years. They had both achieved the high levels of self-actualization through consistent struggle and promise to grow as better humans.
The major difference between the life of Liu and Ning lies in the gender difference between two. Liu did not have to face the gender discrimination that Ning had to face during her childhood years. Ning was a victim of child marriage and abuse, while Liu had other things to think about. He did not suffer the domestic abuse and turmoil at the hands of a dominant partner. Ning had to take care of economic issues of her family and save her daughters from being sold to army officers while Liu was focused on becoming a better person, by not falling prey to the new civil services system. The nature of their struggle was different and even contrary to each other, but the outcome was of similar nature, that was to become pious and compassionate individuals. In a nutshell, the time of political unrest during the nineteenth and twentieth century tested the morality and ethics of Chinese people who turned out to be resourceful, dedicated, and kind people, which the whole world could witness in the decades to come.
Cheng, Pei-kai, Michael Elliot Lestz, and Jonathan D Spence. The Search For Modern China. New York: Norton, 1999. Print. 25-84.
Chen, Janet Y et al. The Search For Modern China. Print. 68-75.
Harrison, Henrietta. The Man Awakened From Dreams. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2005. Print. 56-109.
Ning, and Ida Pruitt. A Daughter Of Han; The Autobiography Of A Chinese Working Woman. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1967. Print. 25-36.