Yuan Zhen wrote the Yingying story during the time of the Tang Dynasty. This story is considered to be one of the first work of literature in China. The story revolves around a love story between a 16-year-old girl named Yingying and a 21-year-old man named as Chang, who was a student. In analyzing the story, one can get a glimpse of the Tang Dynasty and its culture. Another issue that can be observed is Buddhism in, which many people during that era were practicing it. However, in Tang Dynasty, the main religion was Taoism, but they had started to be influenced into practicing other religions. The Tang Dynasty is an ancient Chinese culture that was stated to have progressed and to have stability. In order to get the full analysis, it is important to get the synopsis of the story.
Chang was a man who lived during the Zhen Yuan period of the Tang Dynasty. He was considered to be a good-looking, refined and a gentleman. He was shy and therefore, at the age of twenty-three his friends teased him for not courting a woman. On the other hand, Yingying was a beautiful young lady who had already been betrothed to another man. Her parents told her this fact. This was before she had met Chang. Their encounter began when Chang met up with a widow by the name of Tsui in Puchow. They were both living in the same monastery a Buddhist place. The widow was from the Cheng family, and so was his mother. This meant that they were related (Hightower). Chang overhears news that the monastery they were living in was being threatened by the soldiers. It became evident that it was an unsafe place for them to live in at that time. The fact that politicians knew him he was able to seek help from the commander of the political party he was friendly towards in Puchow. This action made Mrs. Tsui very happy in that he invited him to a banquet.
When he went to her house, Chang was able to meet up with Yingying, the daughter of Tsui. According to the story, the moment Chang set eyes on Yingying he fell in love with her at first sight. However, this was not the same case for Yingying. Yingying went to the banquet wearing her usual days clothing’s and paid no attention to him. When he left their home, Chang began writing poems and sending them to Yingying. Their love story started with the poems since his persistence made her give in to his love. Nonetheless, their love story was short lived because Chang had to leave and go to the capital. This decision made the couple break up, and both parties ended up marrying other people.
In the Tang Dynasty, the main religion is claimed to be Taoism. Nevertheless, other religions were being practiced such as Buddhism. This fact can be seen from the story when Chang is stated to have lived in a monastery. A monastery is said to be a Buddhist place. It is a well-known fact that during the time of Confucius Buddhism had begun in India. It started to spread to other regions such as the Tang Dynasty. Some of the imperial families accepted the religion, and soon it became a part of the Chinese culture (Abramson). It flourished all over China to the point where it was the dominant ideology, especially during the time when the Tang dynasty was flourishing.
The monasteries are claimed to have played a significant role in the Chinese society. It provided shelters; lodgings, especially for travelers, a place to perform functions, especially for social events and it, provided schools for children in China. This fact can be observed in the story when Chang went to Puchow he found lodging in the monastery. Yingying’s mother performed a banquet to celebrate the fact that her family were protected from the threats of the soldiers by Chang (Hightower). These showed the significance of the monasteries in China and their functions. It has been stated that the Buddhist monasteries were deeply involved with the economy of China. The land properties they were able to acquire made it easy for them to set up enterprises, oil presses, and mills. This made it easy for people to be employed and also, the Buddhists were able to acquire slaves. The Yingying families were able to buy land from the monasteries in that they were able to have a home. This is the reason Tsui the mother of Yingying was excited when Chang helped them to maintain their home.
During the Tang period, it is considered to be the time of the golden age, especially in literature and arts. According to research, it has been observed that there are over forty-eight thousand poems that had been written by authors (Rosenlee). Some of these poems still exist in the modern time. Anybody in the Tang dynasty who wanted to become an imperial was required to pass on the skill of composition of poetry. A person who could compose a poem perfectly was considered to be eloquent and skilled. Therefore, it means that it was an honor for an individual to be a poetry writer. Some of the people used poetry to communicate their emotions and distress. Poetry writing was very competitive in China, particularly during the Tang Dynasty. Contests are claimed to have been done in banquets and other social settings.
In the story, it can be observed that Chang was a poetry writer who had come to Puchow for his education. He often went back to the city in order to do his exams. This shows that he wanted to be an imperial and, therefore, it was required that he pass his examinations. The moment he did not pass his test he did not go back to Puchow for a year. This fact brought about a misunderstanding between him and Yingying. She felt like she was abandoned by him. Their mode of communication can also be observed to be through poetry writing. Chang began to court Yingying through poetry (Hightower). He told her about his feelings towards her, and this action impressed Yingying even though at first she pretended not to be impressed. This fact shows how influential and popular poetry writing was during that time.
Men who were able to compose poetry were regarded in high esteem by the people of China. This is the main reason Yingying was touched by the poetry written to her by Chang before he courted her. Whenever Chang was away from her and went to the city to do his examinations. He usually spoke to her through poems. One of the poems written by Yingying was when she felt distressed that he was gone and told him about her lack of beauty since the one she loved was away from her. It is also through the poems that she told him about her marriage to another man. The last poem that Chang wrote was when he was saying goodbye to her and told her not to be bitter and give her love to the man she chose to marry. Their poetry writing to one another shows how popular literature had begun to be in China. The fact that it was spreading its influence all over China could explain the modern time where education is regarded to be paramount. Education and love for technology have caused China to be one of the super power countries in the world. People from all over the world need the technologies that have been manufactured in their country.
During the Tang period, the social status and the women’s rights were considered to be very liberal. This, however, was reserved for women who were elite or living in the urban areas (Abramson). For women who were living in the countryside, they did not experience this kind of rights. The reason for that was because they did not have a way of knowing about their rights and also they spent most of their time by their husband’s side taking care of their homes. They also made silk worms which were a common traditional practice for Chinese women. The men, on the other hand, were spending their time in the fields farming. The elite, however, had more freedom in that farming was mostly done by the slaves or laborers. The women were able to get educated and thus had knowledge about their rights. While reading the story, it can be seen that Yingying was educated (Hightower). The knowledge of her education came from her poetry writing, which was praised by Chang’s friends after reading it.
Research shows that during the Tang era there were courtesans who in the modern world would be considered to be prostitutes. Unlike the modern world, these women were well respected by people and their mistresses were among the richest people. The women were singers, hostesses in banquets or feasts, had great table manners and were poets. The women are stated to be very social in that they dominated the conversations with other people. The sign of courtesan can be observed from the story when it is claimed that whenever Chang and his friends went out to the party, he did not enjoy the beauty of the women who were throwing themselves at him (Hightower). This fact caused his friends to question him about the reasons why he did not want to enjoy the company of a woman.
According to history, it shows that the men enjoyed the company of assertive women (Abramson). This could be the reason most men sort out the company of the courtesans. The courtesans were known to be strong and independent. They spoke their minds, especially to men who bragged too much about their accomplishments or to those who were rude to them. In the story, it can be observed that Yingying was adamant and assertive. She was not easily impressed and had a strong personality. These facts caused Chang to fall head over heels in love with her. It is stated that she was not impressed by him from the beginning and that caused him to be intrigued by her. According to the story, it says that Chang was used to women throwing themselves at his feet. Yingying, on the other hand, did not have or show any interest in meeting him.
The Tang women were very conscious about their looks. The women would wear ornaments, pearl necklaces, perfumes and face powders (Abramson). The women bunch their hair up making them look neat and beautiful. However, in the case of Yingying, she did not find any of these things important, especially when they met and when he left her. She dressed casually the first time they met and did not have any ornaments (Hightower). Her hair was down with beads and not in the usual tied up hair style. Her natural look was very refreshing. The first night that she spent with Chang, it can be seen that she used perfume and powder. When Chang woke up from the first time they had spent the night together, he thought that he was dreaming. But he was able to see the face powder on his shoulder and smell the perfume from his clothes (Hightower). This fact shows that regardless of how she looked on the first day she still followed the traditions of women in the society.
It is also claimed that although she might have followed the traditions her character was still strong, and she never expressed how she felt. This personality might have been one of the reasons why Chang’s friends did not want him to be with her. They claimed that she was too passionate and that in a sense could emasculate a man. Men in the ancient China were considered macho in that women were not supposed to show more strength than the man. In this case, Yingying could be seen to be behaving like a man. She showed him affection when she wants to and when she doesn’t, she becomes stern towards him. It can also be observed that Chang was the one who was madly in love while she shut down her emotions most of the time (Hightower). His love for her continued even after they were both married to other people.
Leisure in the Tang Dynasty
The people from the upper class or the elite in the Tang Dynasty usually reserved time for recreational activities (Abramson). There were many festivities that were celebrated by people in that era. Apart from the national festivities, the people enjoyed having social events. In the social events, there were alcoholic beverages and wines. The concubines were also invited especially in the elite social events. These facts can be observed from the story, especially in the beginning where it shows that Chang had gone to some social events with his friends. In this event, it was common for the men to hook up with women. So it was weird for his friends when Chang did not enjoy the company of women (Hightower).
In the Tang dynasty, Confucianism began as a development of Taoism and Buddhism. Confucianism is claimed to be a religion because it is a system of ethical and philosophical teachings. Therefore, the Tang Dynasty used it in the form of imperial exams. For one to be able to be stated to be an imperial or the elite in the society they were supposed to undertake the imperial exams. The story shows that Confucianism was being practiced at that time (Rosenlee). Chang was required to take imperial exams by writing poetry and other literature works. This shows his ambition in the society to be an elite.
The examination was a direct link to wealth, especially if one passes. Such people were given highest government officials posts. It is claimed that the social base for the examination was triangular in that wealth brought about good education and with good education it brought about the passing of the examinations. All these facts show that Chang might have come from an elite family. This is because without the education he would not have been able to partake the examinations. The necessity of passing the exams can be seen when Chang goes to the city and fails his tests (Hightower). The failing of the exams prompted him to remain in the town for a whole year for him to be able to pass the next examinations.
In conclusion, the Yingying story can best describe the cultural practices during the Tang Dynasty. The story shows how men and women were different in that the women put on make ups and ornaments while men wore the everyday clothing. There is a change during the Tang dynasty era because Yingying can be observed to be educated and strong (Hightower). Women from the rural areas did not have this privileges, but the process of change can be seen. Confucianism was being practiced by the formation of the imperial exams. Chang was living in Puchow, but he usually went back to the city for him to take the examinations. Buddhism can also be observed to be practiced by Chinese people. This fact is due to the mention of the monastery and the temple.
Abramson, Marc. Ethnic Identity in Tang China. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Print
Hightower, James. "Yuan Chen and The Story of Yingying." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 1973. Print
Rosenlee, Li-Hsiang Lisa. Confucianism and Women: A Philosophical Interpretation. SUNY Press, 2012. Print