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Joseph

Prof. ?
November 14, 2005
Critical Essay II

Traditional China through a Wester Perspective

Chinese tradition followed Confucian teachings. These teachings were the very
fabric of the culture and followed with the utmost respect by the Chinese people. In
America, capitalism and democracy contribute to the unification that keeps America
together. China was held together by strong cords that demanded all Chinese people to
follow. If one were to slip off course and follow another way, it was regarded as an
ultimate evil and that person would be outcasted from society. Therefore, it was to the
benefit of all to follow. In Bound Feed and Western Dress, Yu-i gives a picture of China
as Western influence began to show its face within the Confucian borders and Natasha
Chang lets us peer into the result of a Chinese person living in a western world. The most
significant differences between a classical Chinese perspective and a Western perspective
can be seen through the importance of your family name to all the family members, the
Chinese determination succeed and become respected, and the way in which the spouses
are chosen.
Before I begin, it is important that I define filial piety and Confucian thought. In
Confucian thought, elders are the next closest thing to the supreme being. Henceforth,
most of Chinese life focused on the satisfaction of the elders. A woman belongs to her
father before she is married, to her husband once she is married, and than to her son when
her husband dies. When she is with her parents she must follow their every command
and guarantee their satisfaction with no questions asked. Filial piety is the rule that you
must take care of your parents and make sure they are satsified at all times. When she is
living with her husband, she must take care of his parents as if they are her own. She
must also listen to their every command and obey if she is to be a proper Chinese woman.
Another duty that she must complete is the birth of male heirs. If she is successful in
bearing male heirs, than the family will be strengthened by the spread of the family name.
Natasha Chang is the great niece of Yu-i. In the novel, there are dual narratives
from Natasha with her Americanized outlook and Yu-i giving light on her experiences in
China as it underwent a shift from traditional ways to Western thought. Yu-i lived in a
time when China began dealing with America and much of America's influence seeped
into Chinese life. There was a split in the culture with some sticking to old Confucian
ways and many others moving to gain western schooling and mix that with their tradition.
Yu-i was very Western in her beliefs by her denial of binding her feet and her yearning to
become educated. Natasha Chang expresses confusion with her identity between a
Chinese person living in a Western society and an American woman living in a Chinese
body.
In China, your name was your most valuable asset. When you are born it is not
up to you what your name will be. But once you are born, you are expected to act
according to the reputation that your name carries. This reputation is created through the
great feats that members of the family have achieved or through the great shames that
family members may have caused. Yu-i understands that your name is something that
you share with your family members. She says, “'...your reputation is your second life.'
This means that to lose your good reputation, your family name, is almost as bad as it is
to lose life itself...We stayed together as a family and held on to our dignity...Understand
that and you will understand your bloodline” (Page 29). She says that to loose the good
reputation of your name is as bad as loosing life itself. And in fact this is true because
many people in Confucian societies would kill themselves for creating a great shame like
having a baby out of wedlock. Contrast Yu-i's understanding of the family name with
Natasha's and the differences between Western ways and Eastern become very vivid.
Natasha says, “I thought that to be a Chang meant to be Chinese. I did not separate the
two” (Page 39). Natasha did not differentiate Chang from other Chinese names. She
completely misunderstood the importance of one's name in Chinese tradition. In
America, it would be hard to keep track of who belongs to what name because the names
often overlap. In my own family, it does not seem like there is a strong effort to keep the
family together at all times. If one person falls we will be there but we will not be
shamed by society or those who know our family.
One key component of building a strong reputation is having a strong educational
foundation. It is a stereotype that all Chinese people are very smart because of this fact.
I have a Chinese teacher in one of my classes who is going to teach a class in China. He
told me that if I am to go to China, I will come back with a stronger determination to
study and achieve in my classes. In one part of the book, Yu-i explains that American
children begin to study around five or six while Chinese children begin to study at the age
of four. After this, they are not allowed to have a lot of toys or have as much time
dedicated to enjoyment. Instead, they must begin to build their learning skills and excel
in school. This determination is passed on to Natasha through her parents involvement in
her education. She explains a time when her mom was helping her with a test. She says,
“I had a big exam the following day in calculus, and my parents had been helping me all
week to prepare. When my mother came up the stairs, she found me planning my outfit
instead of studying for the following day...She was so disappointed she could hardly
speak to me the following weekend after the test” (Page 51). Natasha is more interested
in the way she will look the next day while her mom is very concerned with her
performance in the test. Natasha's may have thought that she had done enough studying
and could take time to figure out what she would wear. Her mother did not think the
same. Her mother thought that she must study till hours before the test to be properly
prepared.
The sacred bonds of marriage differ greatly in how your mate is chosen. In
Western society, you choose your mate by picking a person that you love. In traditional
China, the parents of both sides decide who will be married. The parents decide through
picking a family with a very good reputation. By choosing a family with a good
reputation, the possibility of the family being shamed decreases while the possibility of
increasing the families good reputation increases. Natasha knows that her dad may be
angry if she were to marry a non-Chinese person. But she knows that she must choose a
person that she loves if she is to be happy in her marriage. She says, “ I did in fact want
to marry a Chinese-to be a good girl, to honor my parents' wishes-yet did not limit myself
to Chinese men as I began to date...I felt torn in two, more uncertain than ever of whom I
might find to love” (Page 66). She thinks that she will be happiest with someone that she
loves. Yu-i thinks quite differently. Yu-i says, “I would marry the man my family had
chose for me...But marriages like this did not mean that there was no love. The love just
cam afterward. First, duty to the parents, the family and the spouse, then love would
follow” (Page 68). You are not given the choice about who you will marry. This is not
something that Yu-i regretted either. She does not describe this aspect of Chinese society
horrifying because love is not completely missing. Love will just come later. First the
family must be thought of. After this, you may think about yourself and begin to meet
the person that you married.
The definitions for family, marriage, and education differ greatly between Western
and traditional Chinese society. In the West, it is the individual that holds the most
importance. You must think of yourself before you begin to think of others. In
traditional China, most of your rights are taken and placed into the hands of your parents,
and if you are a woman, into you husband's parents hands. It is vital to the Chinese
foundation that you uphold a good reputation in your family by gaining a proper
education if you are a man and making your husband's parents not have to strain in their
daily routine if you are a woman. Yu-i is not as traditional as some of her counterparts in
the book while Natasha looses most of the Chinese way of life by living in America. The
two narratives allow us to see into the major differences between the two societies. The
conclusion that I can make is that all traditions in every society aim at keeping the society
together in a functional way. The details may differ but the underlying reasons remain
the same.