The 'Family' under western threat : (dis)continuity of cultural tradition in Ba Jin's Jia and Shimazaki Tôson's Ie"

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    THE "FAMILY" UNDER WESTERN THREAT: (DIS)CONTINUITY OF CULTURAL TRADITION IN BA JIN'S JIA AND SHIMAZAKI TÔSON'S IE Siu Leune Li Two significant and influential modern writers of China and Japan, Ba Jin [Pa Chin] (born 1904) and Shimazaki Tôson (1872-1943), reUed a great deal on their Ufe experiences in their writings, and both evinced a great concern for, even obsession with, the famüy theme. Each ofthem wrote an important novel using the same Chinese character as title: Jia and respectively Ie, in transUteration, and The Family in EngUsh translation .1 There was no direct influence between the two writers, but their common interest in the famüy in the early twentieth century was by no means a mere coincidence. Although the two writers were separated by about one generation, they represented roughly comparable stages in the crisis ofthe traditional famüy system. The family as a social institution in China and Japan was rapidly caught up in the revolutionary flames of modernization in the early decades of this century. The old famüy system, as the arch-embodiment as well as the base and buttress of the cultural, social and poUtical system oftraditional China and Japan, was one of the first structures to come under the assault of the new inteUectuals , whose celebration of individualism was diametricaUy opposed to the oppressive, collective emphasis of traditional society. As Jay Rubin notes, in Ie "Tôson depicts the sufferings ofindividuals oppressed by the weight of the traditional family system, characterizing his two family heads as swindlers and carriers of venereal disease, and suggesting various iUicit Uaisons and uncontroUed primal urges" (214). The same can be said ofBa Jin's Jia: this novel also presents the elder members of the feudal famüy as hypocrites and dissipated knaves; at the same time, it emphasizes the passionate quest of its characters for individual freedom as a first step toward the denunciation of the larger national malaise. A further concern ofthe new inteUectuals in both countries was how to come to terms with an aggressive aUen culture which was backed up by müitary power, modern science and technology. Tôson's Ie (1911) teUs of the dramatic dissolution of two traditional famiUes (Koizumi and Hashimoto) from 1898 to 1910; old yet proud, both fail to reinvent for themselves a sociocultural space for survival in the new Japan. The institutional faUure of these two famiUes crushes the componing members—the innocent as weU as the guilty—with utter caUousness. Ie is, in this respect, one of the most unsparing condemnations of the traditional famUy system written in modern Japanese literature. Tôson's other monumental work, Yoake Mae (Before the Dawn, 1935), his last and possibly greatest novel, is a continuation of the famüy theme. This fictional biography ofhis father's generation is an attempt to provide not only the Shimazaki famüy but Japan as a whole Vol. 19 (1995): 114 THE COMPAKATIST with a usable past by way of a better understanding of the reasons for the coUapse of the famüy structures. Ba Jin's most popular work of fiction has been Jiliu sanbuqu (The Turbulent Stream Trilogy), which includes Jia (Family, 1931), Chun (Spring, 1938), and Qiu (Autumn, 1940). Ofthe three novels, Jia is the most successful and has received the most attention. It is arguably Ba Jin's best-known work, although his Hanye (Cold Nights) of 1946 has been considered by critics a more mature artistic achievement (Hsia 255; Mao 142). The trilogy is a stormy tale ofepic dimension about the decline and disintegration of a traditional scholar-gentry Chinese famüy in Chengdu, Sichuan, from 1920 to the autumn of 1923. Four generations of one famüy Uve under the same roof in a huge mansion with a vast garden reminiscent ofthe Daguanyuan (Grandview garden) in Honglou meng.4 Here, a society with a glorious past is engaged in a struggle for modernization as a way of strengthening itself in order to survive the threat posed by an inimical Other, Euro-American imperiaUsm and its industrial culture. In this society, the very existence of the traditional famüy is incompatible...
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)114 - 132
    Number of pages19
    JournalThe Comparatist
    Publication statusPublished - May 1995


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