The Nature Of Confucianism and Daoism, And The Gender Roles

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The story of Cui Ying Ying was composed during the late Tang dynasty and is regarded as famous romantic prose. The story explores cultural dynamics during the Tang period and displays the contrasting views of Chinese philosophy in the era. To truly comprehend the symbolism Zheng wished to impart to his audience, it is helpful to analyze the paradoxical nature of this culture and its’ assumed views at the time as they gave rise to and created a holistic and dynamic society in which the main character’s story unfolds. Thus, it is best to delve deeper into the cultural ideology of yin yang, the nature of Confucianism and Daoism, and the gender roles of this time.

Culturally, the yin yang perspective is a Chinese ideology that is based on the interpersonal relations of harmony and conflict in a cosmological and metaphysical cycle. The yin yang theory is seen as the cultural foundation of the relationships that existed between individuals during the Tang period. This idea is introduced as a metaphysical concept in the story as Yingying, in her poem to Zhang, wishes to meet under the full moon. The allusion to the moon shows the application of the harmonic portion of the yin yang theory. In coming together under a full moon, she wishes to create a physical bond of harmony with Zhang that transcends time and space. The understanding of this theory helps to analyze the text more thoughtfully and see the symbolism in the setting of the scenes. The yin-yang perspective is traditionally attributed to Taoism. As many early peasantries were followers of this religion, society generally viewed interpersonal conflicts through this model as well. To further expand on how yin-yang applies conceptually, “… interpersonal harmony and conflict can be classified into genuine versus superficial harmony and authentic versus virtual focus conflict, and implicit/hidden conflict is regarded as superficial harmony.” The interpersonal conflict can be seen in the relationship between Zhang and Yingying as the implicit conflict is that of their values, yet the authentic conflict is the situation they have involved themselves in as lovers. The application of this perspective to their relationship is crucial because it is the basis of the plotline and allows the audience to see a broad picture example of this ideology. Zhang himself struggles with his wants versus his responsibilities and this serves as a “personal” application of the ying-yang ideology throughout the story. This ideology is seen throughout the plotline in its intrinsic application to all relationships of the story. The symbolism, in regards to historical context, provides the readers with a view of how society at the time applied and viewed this principle in their daily lives.

First and foremost, the concept of ying-yang began as a Taoist ideology. However, during the Tang Dynasty, the introduction of a new religion known as Confucianism led to a dramatic shift in perspective and politics. As the growth of neo-Confucianism grew, the study of older principles in a new light was proposed as a new way of thinking. As the Tang dynasty encouraged the philosophy, it led to “…an inevitable development of Confucianism, shifting its focus from phenomena to the nature of the heart-mind to comprehend nature and heavenly Dao.” Confucianism focused more on rational ideals and the formal interpersonal relationships of people. The Dao, or heavenly aspect, became the correct protocol for social interaction between people, whereas Taoism relied more on spontaneous intuition and a more casual approach to social interactions. The Dao for Taoism revolved around nature and the final goal was a peaceful life much like a sage or mystic. This distinct difference in thought process can be applied to the two different personalities of Zhang and Yingying. Zhang exhibited clear Confucian ideals and Yingying embodied Taoist values. Zhang’s refusal to give up his responsibilities in the court or to allow himself to feel open and free stopped him from choosing Yingying under the scrutiny of his fellow advisors and social aspirations. On the other hand, Yingying’s spontaneity led her to consort in premarital affairs with another which was looked down upon in society. Yet, her Taoist beliefs allowed her to not feel a burden of shame due to casual social interactions being acceptable. 

Another divide was the differences between their lifestyles. Zhang was a court official and followed the Confucian social constructs in an exemplary manner. He exhibited rational thought while conversing amongst peers and his team of advisors in regards to matters of the heart. However, Yingying immerses herself in skillful calligraphies or playing the zither and thus, orients her time around the arts and natural world. The stark contrast of lifestyles and ideology leads to the eventual disintegration of Zhang and Yingying’s relationship. As she immerses herself in the arts without outwardly expressing her feelings, Zhang grew increasingly confused and distressed about what to do. As their relationship took a toll on both of their emotional states, Yingying spoke up to end the relationship and tried to gift Zhang with a performance on her zither. However, her emotions running rampant led to a frenzied performance. Her perchance for the arts in the situation alludes to her Taoist values and Zhang’s wish to respectfully approach the situation alludes to his Confucian ones. Upon reflection, Zhang realizes that the situation he was in was not fated as it converged in values and he could not control his passions in a manner that would be reflective of a good Confucian scholar. This led to his decision to break off the relationship and abstain from entertaining Yingying any longer. Thus, it can be seen that even though, “…the rulers adopted a flexible policy toward religion based on the social, political and economic situation”, the natural divide between the two perspectives was bound to occur.

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Furthermore, the introduction of Confucian policies also led to a new interpretation of the ying-yang theory. In theory, the principles of ying-yang are a nonbinary philosophy that does not employ gender roles. The original concept focuses on a natural aspect of Taoism, being that men and women are equal in harmony and conflict and that neither was inferior to the other. However, the introduction of Confucius’s ideals or a new standardized approach to social situations, lead to women becoming inferior to men. Thus,’…a Confucianized Chinese society consigned yang to male and yin to female, signifying hierarchal gender relations.” Youlan, another famous Chinese philosopher of the Tang era, coined the idea that the period before Confucianism was known as the period of philosophers, and the period after became a period of classical learning. The movement away from philosophy to a more classical thought process occurred due to the initial change made by the founder of Confucianism into the aspects of harmony and conflict between yin and yang. It can be seen that..” he identifies yang with human nature (xing) and benevolence (ren), and yin with emotion (qing) and greed (tan).” As yang is attributed to men and yin to women, Confucianism changed the portrayal of gender roles in society. By proxy, women began to be viewed as emotional creatures who were helpless and in need of guidance. Contrastingly, men became all-knowing and omnipotent in society. Furthermore, as Confucianism’s ideology became more widespread, this interpretation became ingrained into society. It grew to the point of showing up in familial relations and work life. 

In the respect of work, men mainly worked outside and women did housework complementarily; in the respect of characteristics, men were always strong while women were relatively weak. Both should complement each other to achieve neutralization and harmoniousness. Third, the “integration” of males and females meant the integration regarding the obedience of females to males as the precondition. 

These gender roles are evident in Zhang and Yingying’s assumed roles in society. Zhang was a ranked government official who took part in the creation of policies that affected millions and was given responsibility and roles that were suited to his rationale and thought. He was highly valued by his team of advisors and regularly asked for advice throughout the story. The narrator himself idolizes Zhang towards the end of the story. However, Yingying is displayed as flighty and irresponsible. She is repetitively described as weak and delicate. In their initial meeting, Zhang recounts her body as “..pliant and weak.” The initial introduction of Yingying focuses on her appearance, albeit not a pretty one. Zhang immediately falls in love with her looks, not her person. Throughout the story, her exquisite beauty is mentioned but never her personality or characteristics. She is also seen as an emotional wreck as her performances on the zither become fraught with panic and weeping. In a male-dominated society, the story exemplifies the dynamic between a man with power and a woman who must conform to his needs. It is integral to analyze the power dynamic between the two as when Zhang departs and is filled with sorrow, she has to ask him to end the relationship as she has no authority to do so. She has no say in choosing to be with him and upon falling in love with him, it was up to Zhang to decide if he was willing to pursue the relationship or not. This power dynamic places men above women throughout society and does not allow Yingying a place to be outspoken or express pain and longing, even though the ying-yang theory under Confucianism attributed women to qing (emotion).

In understanding the cultural context of power and religious dynamics throughout the plotline, it can be seen that the analysis of the piece results in a variety of new conclusions that could not have been discerned before. This is extremely eye-opening and thought-provoking as a piece is not simply just a story, it is a cumulation of history, religion, and politics. Thus to truly glean the value of a story, it is imperative to analyze the meaning behind it from all angles. Upon analyzing the story of Cui Yingying, it can be assumed that culture played an integral role in the outcome of the story. Thus by allowing for a dynamic and holistic view of culture, new interpretations can be made in regards to a story. 

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