15 March 2015
Death of Woman Wang Essay
The Death of Woman Wang, by Jonathan D. Spence, paints a vivid picture of provincial China in the seventeenth century. Manly the life in the northeastern country of T’an-ch’eng. T’an-ch’eng has been through a lot including: an endless cycle of floods, plagues, crop failures, banditry, and heavy taxation. Chinese society in Confucian terms was a patriarchal society with strict rules of conduct. The role at this time of women, however, has historically been one of repression. The traditional ideal woman was a dependent being whose behavior was governed by the "three obedience’s and four virtues". The three obedience’s were obedience to father before marriage, the husband after marriage, and the son in case of widows. The four virtues were propriety in behavior, speech, demeanor and employment. The laws of the land and fear of shame in society dictated that men were allowed to rule over their household leaving women in a powerless state as almost a slave of the home. In P’u’s stories women are portrayed as complex characters who hold important roles in the family, but are treated with little to no respect by authority figures, and other men of higher class. In The Death of Woman Wang, Spence portrays
marriage as a lifelong bond of loyalty between a couple, and then continues on to shows the darker side with the death of husbands and the death of woman Wang after she ran away.
Spence portrayal of marriage and family in this novel in my opinion is seen as strong. I would characterize this portrait of marriage and family as being loyal. In the stories that Spence shares with us, with an exception to The Woman Who Ran Away, that the woman who are married are indeed very loyal to their husbands. In the city of T’an-ch’eng, marrying someone meant that you would be loyal to them and that the couple would be together until death. It was the woman’s virtue that defined whether she was to be honored or condemned. You can see this by what Spence says, “The virtues fostered were those of chastity, courage, tenacity, and unquestioning acceptance of the privileging hierarchy- unto death if necessary: fifteen of the listed women had committed suicide, and in thirteen of the suicides the motive was loyalty to a deceased husband or to avoid rape, which would shame both wife and husband” (Spence 100). The women being described by this passage really show their sense of loyalty to their husband. They did not want to be publicly shamed if they did do something with another man. So in order to keep their own honor and the honor of their dead husband they would either disfigure themselves so they did not seem suitable for another man, or to the extreme, kill themselves. Which was thought of as being the honorable thing to do because it showed their loyalty. Another account told by Spence about how women are very loyal and stay strong to their deceased husband is in the story of The Widow where her husband died from a violent illness. “Woman An beat her breast and cried out again and again ‘Oh, husband, you have passed away and I shall follow you.’ Shortly after she threw herself into a fire, but rescued…one day she tricked her mother in law into leaving the room she was locked in, barred the door, and hanged Ciciora 3
herself (Spence 70-71). This young girl of 18 years old, loved her husband very much and when he died it hit her hard. She did what was the honorable and loyal thing to do, which was killing herself. Since she was only 18 there was a good chance that someone else might have come along and tried to marry her but she did what was best for her family because a woman’s proper role, then, was that of bringing honor to her husband.
The next topic that Spence talks about is the different types of relationships between men and women in China. One of the woman Spence’s speaks of is the widowed...
Cited: Spence, Jonathan D. The Death of Woman Wang. New York: Viking, 1978. Print.
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