Father figures in Modern Chinese Culture

This is an analysis of Xiaoxiao by Shen Congwen《萧萧 》沈从文 (article linked here) and the film The Goddess by Wu Yonggang “神女”吴永刚 (film attached here).

          Xiaoxiao, orphaned since young, has only one relative that the audience knows of – her uncle. Yet, this kin could have been anyone unrelated to her, for she was treated no different than a stranger or a worker. Xiaoxiao’s childhood comprised of collecting “dog droppings”, seemingly to add to her uncle’s earnings (Shen, 97). This lack of family attachment and intimacy was further emphasized by Xiaoxiao’s stoic reaction to becoming a child bride in comparison to most other girls who tended to cry at their loss of freedom and girlhood. Further into the story, Xiaoxiao’s uncle did play a role in rescuing her from straying from the entrenched Confucianist ideals of being a fateful, complying and submissive woman, wife and mother. Even then, the slight compassion and sympathy Xiaoxiao’s uncle had was quickly overshadowed by his reluctancy to save her from further confines of a potential second marriage.

          When first married into the family, Xiaoxiao was still very innocent and naive. She dutifully completed her daily tasks without complaints or desire for any changes. As such, the introduction of Grandfather was significant because he became a source of information and motivation for Xiaoxiao to explore alternatives outside of her simple rural life. Albeit Grandfather was critical of the coeds’ lifestyle and behavior (that was outrageously different from Confucianist values), it was precisely his exaggeration of the evils of coed coupled with his teasing of Xiaoxiao being like one of them that augmented Xiaoxiao’s curiosity about the coeds. Thus, in a way, the Grandfather foreshadowed Xiaoxiao’s gradual deviation from societal norms which came into tension with new values injected by the coeds. Unfortunately, Xiaoxiao’s desire to run away was halted when she was discovered “[carrying] a child conceived with another” (Shen, 108). Though she was eventually still trapped in the society, a saving grace came at the end of the story when she foresees the next generation, her son, accepting coeds (changes) that she so desired.

          Similar to Xiaoxiao, the mother’s life in The Goddess was also devoid of direct relatives except for her son who was entirely dependent on her. In contrast to Xiaoxiao who was able to rely on her husband’s family for survival, the mother was forced to become the breadwinner of her family to raise her son. Her dual responsibility as both a mother and father was not seen kindly by society, for she was criticized and taken advantage of because of her job as a prostitute. Despite the lack of positive male influence in the mother’s life, the headmaster acted as a possible surrogate father to the child (Harris, 113). He tried to save the child from a cycle of poverty by doing his utmost to preserve his education, but to no avail. At one poignant moment in the film, he challenged the audience,

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 1.43.30 PM

(The Goddess).

Unfortunately, he was not successful in the upheave against societal prejudice and change in parents’ attitudes was not induced. At the end of the film however, the headmaster decided to take the boy under his wing and personally educate him, suggesting that while the mother may not be able to see the fruits of her labor, her child will fulfill her hopes and dreams in the future.


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