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Bobby Yeoh

A Lament for Ying-Ying

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Bobby Yeoh

Dear Friends:

Please walk with me a little way and at the end of this road, perhaps you could enlighten me on some questions relating to Yuan-Zhen and his poem. I have previously posted this subject on another Forum but I would like to share these thoughts with you here and solicit yours. I ask your patience if several of my points appear repetitive - for the purpose of emphasis.

"The Story of Ying-Ying" 鶯鶯傳(元稹撰) always confused me in parts, particularly the conduct of Zhang. It is immediately obvious that Zhang courted Ying-Ying, seduced her with implied promises, enjoyed her favours for months and then betrayed the unfortunate girl. Even more in question and puzzling is his shabby conduct after the "affair".

Allow me to quote some passages to demonstrate Zhang's actions. The English translation is by James R. Hightower appearing in "The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature". I include the relevant Mandarin text for your quick reference.














(Translation by James R. Hightower)

Some time later Chang had to go for the scheduled examination. It was the eve of his departure, and though he had said nothing about what it involved, he sat sighing and unhappy at her side. Miss Ts'ui had guessed that he was going to leave for good. Her manner was respectful, but she spoke deliberately and in a low voice: "To seduce someone and then abandon her is perfectly natural, and it would be presumptuous of me to resent it. It would be an act of charity on your part if, having first seduced me, you were to go through with it and fulfill your oath of lifelong devotion. But in either case, what is there to be so upset about this trip? However, I see you are not happy and I have no way to cheer you up. You have praised my zither-playing, and in the past I have been embarrassed to play for you. Now that you are going away, I shall do what you so often requested."

She had them prepare her zither and started to play the prelude to the "Rainbow Robe and Feather Skirt". After a few notes, her playing grew wild with grief until the piece was no longer recognizable. Everyone was reduced to tears, and Miss Ts'ui abruptly stopped playing, put down the zither, and ran back to her mother's room with tears streaming down her face. She did not come back.

The next morning Chang went away. "


It is quite clear from the above and other passages that Zhang courted Ying-Ying, that he offerred "life-long devotion" (ie. marriage) and she believed him. It is also clear that Ying-Ying would make a worthy wife. She seems to have the so-called Four Virtues, and from what we see of her character, we can readily believe that she would also satisfy the Three Obediences.

Look at the following passage: Again, Ying-Ying shows up as a tragic hero, intelligent, devoted and definitely a good catch for any white-robed 秀才. Even in her sorry plight, she speaks with decorum and restraint - it is a pity that she was not more resolute earlier. She should have broken Zhang's teeth with her shuttle and held out. Would he have sent his matchmaker and gone about the whole thing in an honourable manner? Her letter is a gem of pathos, a literary gold mine of precious words! 佩服!佩服! Poor Ying-Ying, we tell ourselves that her only failing was that she loved, too much!



































(Translation by James R. Hightower)

"The following year he stayed on in the capital, having failed the examinations. He wrote a letter to Miss Ts'ui to reassure her, and her reply read roughly as follows:

"I have read your letter with its message of consolation, and it filled my childish heart with mingled grief and joy. In addition you sent me a box of ornaments to adorn my hair and a stick of pomade to make my lips smooth. It was most kind of you; but for whom am I to make myself attractive? As I look at these presents my breast is filled with sorrow.

Your letter said that you will stay on in the capital to pursue your studies, and of course you need quiet and the facilities there to make progress. Still, it is hard on the person left alone in this far-off place. But such is my fate, and I should not complain. Since last fall I have been listless and without hope. In company I can force myself to talk and smile, but come evening I always shed tears in the solitude of my own room. Even in my sleep I often sob, yearning for the absent one. Or I am in your arms for a moment as it used to be, but before the secret meeting is done I am awake and heartbroken. The bed seems still warm beside me, but the one I love is far away.

Since you said good-bye the new year has come. Ch'ang-an is a city of pleasure with chances for love everywhere. I am truly fortunate that you have not forgotten me and that your affection is not worn out. Loving you as I do, I have no way of repaying you, except to be true to our vow of lifelong fidelity.

Our first meeting was at the banquet, as cousins. Then you persuaded my maid to inform me of your love; and I was unable to keep my childish heart firm. You made advances, like that other poet, Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju. I failed to repulse them as the girl did who threw her shuttle. When I offered myself in your bed, you treated me with the greatest kindness, and I supposed, in my innocence, that I could always depend on you. How could I have foreseen that our encounter could not possibly lead to something definite, that having disgraced myself by coming to you, there was no further chance of serving you openly as a wife? To the end of my days this will be a lasting regret-I must hide my sighs and be silent. If you, out of kindness, would condescend to fulfill my selfish wish, though it came on my dying day it would seem to be a new lease on life. But if, as a man of the world, you curtail your feelings, sacrificing the lesser to the more important, and look on this connection as shameful, so that your solemn vow can be dispensed with, still my true love will not vanish though my bones decay and my frame dissolve; in wind and dew it will seek out the ground you walk on. My love in life and death is told in this. I weep as I write, for feelings I cannot express. Take care of yourself, a thousand times over, take care of your dear self.

This bracelet of jade is something I wore as a child; I send it to serve as a gentleman's belt pendant. Like jade may you be invariably firm and tender; like a bracelet may there be no break between what came before and what is to follow. Here are also a skein of multicolored thread and a tea roller of mottled bamboo. These things have no intrinsic value, but they are to signify that I want you to be true as jade, and your love to endure unbroken as a bracelet. The spots on the bamboo are like the marks of my tears, and my unhappy thoughts are as tangled as the thread: these objects are symbols of my feelings and tokens for all time of my love. Our hearts are close, though our bodies are far apart and there is no time I can expect to see you. But where the hidden desires are strong enough, there will be a meeting of spirits. Take care of yourself, a thousand times over. The springtime wind is often chill; eat well for your health's sake. Be circumspect and careful, and do not think too often of my unworthy person."

Chang showed her letter to his friends, and in this way word of the affair got around. "


Now look at the following two passages coming towards the end of the poem, dealing with Zhang's "after" conduct:










(Translation by James R. Hightower)

" All of Chang's friends who heard of the affair marveled at it, but Chang had determined on his own course of action. Yuan-Chen was especially close to him and so was in a position to ask him for an explanation. Chang said: "It is a general rule that those women endowed by Heaven with great beauty invariably either destroy themselves or destroy someone else. If this Ts'ui woman were to meet someone with wealth and position, she would use the favor her charms gain her to be cloud and rain or dragon and monster-I can't imagine what she might turn into. Of old, King Hsin of the Shang and King Yu of the Chou were brought low by women, in spite of the size of their kingdoms and the extent of their power; their armies were scattered, their persons butchered, and down to the present day their names are objects of ridicule. I have no inner strength to withstand this evil influence. That is why I have resolutely suppressed my love."

At this statement everyone present sighed deeply.





(Translation by James R. Hightower)

" After this he never heard any more about her. His contemporaries for the most part conceded that Chang had done well to rectify his mistake. I have often mentioned this among friends so that, forewarned, they might avoid doing such a thing, or if they did, that they might not be led astray by it. "


We see Zhang betraying Ying-Ying and showing her letter to his friends. He kisses and tells! Despicable! He compares himself to the two besotted Emperors, nay, obliquely, he hints himself to be superior, since he can suppress his love and leave Ying-Ying. Arrogance! He brags about his conquest of Ying-Ying and then he makes it seem as if she were at fault. It all reeks of locker-room bravado!

It is hard to understand why Zhang's friends laud his conduct and also look on Ying-Ying as the culprit. What is all this "evil influence", "forewarn" and "led astray"? Surely it is Zhang who did all the "leading astray". Is his conduct the norm in Tang China? Do the men go around seducing girls and then go on to accuse and condemn their forsaken victims? Again, puzzlement!

The book "The Story of the Western Wing" (西厢记-元·王实甫) translated by Stephen H. West and Wilt L. Idema, page 31, mentions a poet Zhao Ling-Zhi (1051-1134) who adapted "The Story of Ying-Ying" as a drum song (gu-zi ci). . . ."The final two songs clearly censure Zhang for his lack of love and his betrayal of Oriole.". . . Was Zhao Ling-Zhi also repulsed by Zhang's conduct? I have no knowledge at all of this drum song; perhaps someone who knows this work would care to speak to these two particular songs.

( As an aside, the above-mentioned translation of "The Story of the Western Wing", by Stephen H. West and Wilt L. Idema, is a work of scholarship and contains comprehensive annotations. Works like this make it possible even for people, like me, who have little or no knowledge of Mandarin to enter and enjoy the world of Chinese Literature. )

Zhang appears to me as the archetype, so frequently seen in Chinese drama, of the poor student who forsakes his previous wife or lover for the glitter of the embroidered ball parade in the capital after gaining success in the examinations. Very much like the Shakespearean climber on the ladder upward turning his face, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend. So, why does not Zhang simply admit he has done this? Why does he attempt to justify his conduct by blaming Ying-Ying which further aggravate his conduct. And if there is truth in the suggestion that the story of Zhang is a veiled autobiography of Yuan-Zhen, then we are lamenting not a fictional but a real-life Ying-Ying. In either case, Zhang appears a despicable specimen.

(Yuan-Zhen was descended from Tabgatch royalty (the non-Han rulers of the Northern Wei dynasty). At the age of fourteen, he was already well versed in the classics and had passed the first of several competitive examinations. He was also a close friend of the renowned poet-official Bo Ju-Yi, the brother of Bo Xing-Jian who wrote the Li-Wa story. It is said that, after his success in the examinations, Yuan-Zhen married into the Wei family and went into high civil service. It was also said that for the rest of his life, he never got over his love for his cousin, Ying-Ying. Be that as it may!)

Is there basis for the suggestion that Ying-Ying was actually "an immortal" 真人 who was snaring a poor innocent student? But look at 李娃 and 杜十娘 who both show virtue even in courtesans. Even if Ying-Ying had been a courtesan, that was no excuse for Zhang's conduct. Was a courtesan then considered less than a person? In any case, Zhang was portrayed as having only his book and sword; certainly he was not portrayed as wealthy, nor did he "buy" Ying-Ying's favours! Again, everything points to Zhang being a cad, Ying-Ying the aggrieved.

Interestingly, according to Stephen H. West, the suggestion that Ying-Ying was a courtesan was only first propounded by the modern scholar Chen Yin-Ke in 1948. It is remarkable that earlier scholars did not make much of the courtesan question. Why is this so?

Let us go back to Zhang (and Yuan-Zhen). In fact, let us go back in time and look at the Chinese elite, the Confucian scholars and civil servants.

They spend all their childhood immersed in the study of massive volumes of traditional classics. For example. . .詩書易,禮春秋. 號六經,當講求. 有連山,有歸藏. 有周易,三易詳. 有典謨,有訓誥. 有膂命,書之奧. 我周公,作周禮. 著六官,存治體. 大小戴,注禮記. 述聖言,禮樂備. . . Anyone who does not understand the Chinese language cannot even begin to understand the colossal enormity of this education, the sheer application of memory and brain-power! The sholarship! The burden!

Then, in their youth, they go out to take the three examinations. Many go to the capital for the final examination but few succeeed. The fortunate few find themselves in civil service as Assistants, Magistrates, Prefects, Commissioners even Governors. They are now approaching thirty, no longer young, it is time to marry. So they marry correct wives, usually scions of influential families and settle down to a life of comparative comfort but still bound in strict social mores.

The years go by. They look back to their youth, when, for the first and only time, they burst out of the constraints of family discipline and social convention. As young men, heretofore secluded and inexperienced in the ways of the world, they revelled in their new-found freedom. Wine flowed in the fragrance of the night: they fell straight into the exciting arms of the courtesans, enticing them away for a while from duty and responsibility. For a little while, they loved, they lived.

Now, weighed down in their middle years, they yearned for those long-ago years but must not speak of them too loudly. So they poured out their longings in wishful thinking: they glorified their remembered loves, they transformed their Li-Wa's and Du-Shi-Niang's. They made up stories of ghosts and Du-Li-Niang's returning from the dead. They dreamt of marrying demons and spirits, Lady White Snake's, fox spirits, flower spirits, carp fairies, water dragon spirits, yes, even ants of the Southern Branch. Seeing their lives flowing swiftly by, these middle-aged scholars were trying desperately in their writings to seek the perfect two-in-one woman: enticer and wife. Impossibly, they were trying to bridge their youth and their staid existence.

This grip of irreversible Fate over our lives and the realization of "But at my back I always hear, Time's winged chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie, Deserts of vast eternity.” led to the almost desperate “carpe diem” exhortation of seizing the day, of gathering rosebuds while we may. What else is there to do? The "Rubaiyat" tells us that “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit, Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.”. So we are to be consoled by “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”!

For men, the exhortation "Eat, drink and be merry" has always been synonymous with "Wine, Women and Song". It is no different for Chinese men. For Yuan-Zhen, Chinese scholars and courtesans were almost an inseparable phrase in the parlance!

So, in his "Story of Ying-Ying", Yuan-Zhen poured out his love for Ying-Ying, who was now transformed from a courtesan into a "correct" young daughter of a widowed mother living in a monastery. There has been suggestion that Yuan-Zhen wrote the story to impress his literary and argumentative skills on his friends. It seems more than that, much more than locker-room bragging. He was pining away for another place and another time. Yuan-Zhen was crying his heart out, remembering the lost love of his life. He was placing his courtesan upon the pedestal of respectability.

He was doing what Bo Xing-Jian (776-826) did with Li-Wa. But there was no real Li-Wa, there cannot be. Some eight hundred years later, in 今古奇观 第13卷 杜十娘怒沉百宝箱 Du-Shi-Niang suffers the same fate. She elicits our sympathy, but that is all we can give her. Even her treasure chest could not bridge the world of shadows and the strict Confucian propriety of the upper-class Chinese. There, the young gentlemen were tied to their bonds of duty and correctness every day of their lives. Today we remark with horror the old legal right of the father to discipline his children even to the taking of their lives. Thus, Du Shi-Niang's love could not break down her lover's fear of his father's disapproval. So Du-Shi-Niang was pedestalled as the devoted courtesan who suicided against an unfaithful wimpy lover. Slurring Li-Jia's character was, in fact, the lament for Du-Shi-Niang, her tribute. The alternative would have been for Li-Jia to take his courtesan-wife home - unthinkable in Confucian China.

Just as in another later story, "Das Land des Lächelns", the tragic figure Prince Sou-Chong could only "immer nur lächeln" always keep smiling, when his only love, the German Countess Lisa, leaves him. Alas, the ancient Chinese were imprisoned in their lofty Confucian conventions which could not be scaled - not by money, not even by love.

Incidentally, Yuan-Zhen was much taken with the Li-Wa story. He later turned it into a long narrative poem. And when it came his turn to tell his story, Yuan-Zhen told his love for Ying-Ying. He too paid his tribute and shed his tears of lament for his lost love. Yuan-Zhen's "correct" Ying-Ying was his wishful dream, his attempt to marry two never-never worlds, a fiction.

On the question of courting and loving Ying-Ying: courtesans could be refined and accomplished, but they were still prostitutes. However, courtesans could be more selective in their clientele. Mock courtship and attestations of love may well be part of the courtesan's ritual.

Young Confucian gentlemen, leaving home for the first time, could just as well think themselves in love with their courtesans. Imagine! These young men have never been in the company of young women. They were not allowed to meet their future brides, or for that matter, any respectable young lady. There would be no opportunity for enticement, dalliance, "dating", "stepping out", or love as we know those terms. Marriages were almost always arranged by their parents, and just as often for socio-political reasons. We can safely say that their brides would be just as reserved and taciturn, since they too would have had a Confucian upbringing. Certainly no Ying-Ying there!

These young men on the loose would meet up with women of the lower classes: maids and such or courtesans. The young men might have sexual encounters with the former group of women, but they were certain to find the refined and accomplished courtesans more attractive company. Courtesans and their young clients, of course, understood that their dalliance together would be temporary, after which sojourn the men would go off to resume their "real" lives.

We are struck by Ying-Ying's qualities: her modesty, her bearing, her conduct, her mastery of language. All point to her being a respectable Confucian brought-up young lady. Yuan-Zhen has invented her as his two-in-one ideal woman, the exciting enticer and the reserved Confucian lady. Talk of a contradiction in terms!

This is the only possible explanation for Zhang's shabby conduct in his treatment of Ying-Ying. It is to raise her up on the pedestal of respectability! When Ying-Ying becomes respectable, Zhang effectively becomes the seducer and betrayer of innocence!

When Yuan-Zhen's friends heard his story, they knew that the poor man was smitten. They sighed, for him, not as I thought for Ying-Ying. You are not supposed to fall in love with courtesans, you are supposed to pluck such flowers from the roadside, and cast them away when they wither! Let other young men beware of such conduct. Etc, etc! Thank goodness, Yuan-Zhen extricated himself from his foolishness. Yuan-Zhen's friends (and other scholars) did not make much of Ying-Ying being a courtesan. Why should they? They knew all the time she was one.

The fact that Ying-Ying was a courtesan was staring at us full in the face all the time but we failed to see it, because Yuan-Zhen wrote his poem so masterly. We were all taken in! We believed that he was displaying a slice of his real!

So, here we are! Finally, I think I understand Zhang's conduct. If Ying-Ying is to be seen as respectable, Zhang must be seen to be a heinous fiend, a seducer and betrayer of innocence. Yuan-Zhen slandered Zhang to raise up Ying-Ying! The blacker Zhang plunges, the higher Ying-Ying soars! Just as Li-Jia had to be faithless, a wimp, so as to raise up Du Shi-Niang.

Chinese courtesans at the time never for one moment expected their gentlemen clients to marry them. The story of the suffering courtesan is a fiction created by writers exercising their literary skills, using the forsaken courtesan as a literary tool. In this company, Puccini's Madama Butterfly stands high, surely one of the most dramatic portrayals of the tragic courtesan waiting for her faithless lover. (She was only fifteen years old!) We must have hard hearts indeed not to be moved by her aria "One Fine Day". And if this is not enough, when we come to her telling her little son, describing herself, deserted, etching a living on her own

. . . ."That your mother should have to take you in her arms and, in rain and wind, go about the city to earn your bread and your clothes. And to pitying people she'd hold out her trembling hand, crying "Listen, listen to my sad song. Give alms to an unfortunate mother, be moved to pity". And Butterfly, horrible fate, will dance for you! And sing, as she did when she was a Geisha. And the merry, happy song will end in a sob." . . .

we find it even harder to hold back our tears of pity.

But we must remember that all this is still only a portrayal. When her lover left her after three months, the original Butterfly was more concerned with carefully counting and checking, with a hammer, his generous largesse of money coins. There was no tragic scene, both knew their relationship would be short-lived. Certainly, she did not stand gazing into the distance for three years nor did she later commit sepukku. Courtesans and prostitutes have ever been glorified for their dramatic effect by writers everywhere!

Chinese tragedy often employs the device: "There is no greater sorrow than to recall, in misery, the time when we were happy."(Dante: "Inferno" Canto V). Shen-Fu's masterpiece 浮生六记 "Six Chapters of a Floating Life" demonstrates this effect wonderfully. When you add the nostalgia of passing youth, the combined device becomes powerful indeed! I have always remembered, at a time when I was still allowed to drink beer, the "Ein Prosit" song "Wie schön ist die Jugendzeit; sie kommt nicht mehr", a German drinking song "How beautiful is Youth; it comes no more".For Yuan-Zhen, his happy days were those months spent with the courtesan Ying-Ying, days now receeding ever more into the hazy past! Yes, I understand now that Yuan-Zhen's story, and similar such stories, while they wring sympathy or indignation from us, were really conciliatory tributes to glorify remembered and lost love, wishful-thinking, or impossible dreams. Fiction!

Read this way, "The Story of Ying-Ying" does not need to elicit tears from us for a fictional Ying-Ying. Instead, we lament the real victims of this whole tragedy. We shed tears for the real tragic heroes: for all the Yuan-Zhen's everywhere and in time, all restrained in duty, enmeshed in "li".

So, at the end of the day, sadly Yuan-Zhen continues to pine for his lost love, and fortunately we are blessed with perhaps the most famous Chinese short story.

Dear Friends, thank you for keeping company with me down this road. Please share your thoughts on the subject. Do I have a basis for my views. Have I been too simplistic, have I said too much, or am I merely wrong?

Bobby Yeoh

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yes, it's quite a long road. :mrgreen:

One reason for Zhang's friends in the story 'praised' his smart handling

the affair, I guess, is that they may not know all the details. It's

reasonable that Zhang didn't provide them. When

published, many people thought that Zhang was Yuan Zhen, it's indeed

an autobiography. I don't think the girls in such novels were just

literal tools of the author. Since the authors were all smart guys, they

must knew what tied them and what made them hypocrisy. I treat

it as something like Jean Jacques Rousseau's . Whether Yingying was a courtesan or something is not important,

what counts is the different behaviors of the couple and the different

virtue behind the behaviors. Whether Yuanzhen want to mention

the shackle of 'li', I doubt it, the evidence was not so strong. :conf

'li' became shackle in late south song dynasty and became something

like ideology during Ming dynasty. Tang people didn't suffer that. Zhang's

choice was quite realistic and shabby. 'many people agreed him' was

a good excuse YuanZhen found to comfort himself.

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Reid Mitchell

I am four years too late but I registered so I could say that these posts have been very helpful. "The Story of Ying Ying" made a huge impression on me when I read it in the COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY. My questions were, why is Zhang treated as admirable; what was the author's real intentions; was I too American to read the story; and why did poor Ying Ying have the added indignity of having a horrible poem written about her? Bobby Yeoh's post addressed the first set of concerns.

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It is hard to understand why Zhang's friends laud his conduct and also look on Ying-Ying as the culprit. What is all this "evil influence", "forewarn" and "led astray"? Surely it is Zhang who did all the "leading astray". Is his conduct the norm in Tang China? Do the men go around seducing girls and then go on to accuse and condemn their forsaken victims? Again, puzzlement!
It is said that, after his success in the examinations, Yuan-Zhen married into the Wei family and went into high civil service. It was also said that for the rest of his life, he never got over his love for his cousin, Ying-Ying. Be that as it may!)

I can understand why you’re puzzled. I would like to tell you some thing else to help you know where the logic lies in.



Now, I think you understand that Zhang’s archetype is Yuan Zhen himself, right? You know Yuan Zhen married into the Wei family to go into high civil service, too.







From the texts above, you might see that those young and poor intellectuals in Tang Dynasty shared such a dream, i.e. “to be a governmental official and to marry the girls in top five noble families”. As you might understand that the Wei family was just one of the five noble families in Tang Dynasty. With the relationship of his wife’s family and his own talent, Yuan Zhen finally climbed up to high official rank. It’s very clear that he married a noble girl for his own future. The Wei family was such an influential noble family and Yuan Zhen was from a rather poor family, which is enough to cause gossips. I guess that even some gossips about him and his cousin Cui Shuangwen崔双文 (Cui Yingying’s archetype) spread among the Wei family. In order to cover the truth and keep his position in the Wei family, he wrote “the story of Yingying”. On one hand he tried to let others pay attention to Mr. Zhang (not Mr.Wei), on the other hand, he tried to find some excuse for Zhang, i.e. himself. How could he dare to say anything good to Ms. Cui?

What is all this "evil influence", "forewarn" and "led astray"?

They’re simply the excuses to justify that Yuan Zhen just couldn’t control himself while facing up his beautiful cousin. He dared not to confess that he was deeply attracted by his cousin. In stead, he had to say that he couldn’t avoid the evil influence from his beautiful cousin.

Is there basis for the suggestion that Ying-Ying was actually "an immortal" 真人 who was snaring a poor innocent student?


No. According to the texts above, calling a pretty woman as “真”, “仙” in Tang Dynasty implied some lewd meaning. 会真记 here means “the record of the affairs with a gorgeous girl”.

But look at 李娃 and 杜十娘 who both show virtue even in courtesans. Even if Ying-Ying had been a courtesan, that was no excuse for Zhang's conduct. Was a courtesan then considered less than a person? In any case, Zhang was portrayed as having only his book and sword; certainly he was not portrayed as wealthy, nor did he "buy" Ying-Ying's favours! Again, everything points to Zhang being a cad, Ying-Ying the aggrieved.

Well, I agree that Yingying was the aggrieved, but I don’t know whether we should say that Zhang was a cad. To understand Zhang, you must first understand what happened on Yuan Zhen. First, Yuan Zhen’s father was died when he was eight. He and his mother lived a tough life. In his childhood, he was bullied by other members in his family, which made him very introverted, sensitive, stubborn and aggressive. That’s why Zhang was described as “内秉坚孤” in the story. And that’s also why he acted in a humble in parties (游宴 in Tang Dynasty was quite like a social party today) with his friends.


When Yuan Zhen met his cousin and fell in love with her, he didn’t expect that he could marry Miss Wei one day. But when he knew that he could marry Miss Wei, his life experience told him that only Miss Wei could help him get a decent life, bring him the dignity as a man in his family and help him more easily to get higher official rank, which were things Miss Cui couldn’t bring him at all. Well, at this time, I guess that you might figure out that Yuan Zhen’s cousin Miss Cui might not a noble girl as Yingying described in the story. If Miss Cui were a noble girl like Miss Wei Cong, I’m sure the end must be quite different.

Zhang (or we can say, Yuan Zhen) was not a born-cad, but, to some extend, he was forced by the reality in his life. For some reason, it reminds me of the girl Sun Na 孙纳in “Perhaps•Love《如果•爱》”.

Do I have a basis for my views. Have I been too simplistic, have I said too much, or am I merely wrong?

I don’t want to say that you’re too simplistic or merely wrong, but I hope you can understand that the society is so complicated and a mortal sometimes is also so complicated.

My questions were, why is Zhang treated as admirable;

Because Zhang was a man, his friends praised him as someone who could give up his feelings and try to pursue his better and brighter future in official rank.I can tell you that it was exactly some kind of admirable behavior in those days. Sigh ~ ~! I’m really speechless now!


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I have to admit I didn't read the entire thread, but my take on the matter: Yuan Zhen = Zhang, and he wrote the story, particularly the end, to excuse himself and make himself feel better about his behavior. And I don't think what he did was considered the right thing, even in Tang China. I suspect that perhaps he even made up the part that his friends said he did the right thing.

There are also happy-ending versions of this story, fortunately.

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