The Death of Woman Wang, by Jonathan Spence is a historical novel pertaining to average people living in northeastern China. Spence’s book is unlike the “typical” social Confucian society China was thought to resemble during the seventeenth century. In this book, ideas of a Confucian family are challenged and can be seen as alternative but non-the-less, Confucian throughout human interaction and specifically in individual behavior. The Confucian ideas of filial piety, suicide, and being subservient are present, yet not as prominent as historians might think in a small town known as T’an-ch’eng. Filial piety played an important role throughout The Death of Woman Wang, and was demonstrated in several interactions and consequences. Ts’ui Meng is a great example of how Confucian views were present in the northeastern corner of China, but not idealistic. At the age of sixteen, Ts’ui Meng was known as a violent boy around the neighborhood. “Only to his mother did Ts’ui show respect, and he would calm down when she appeared: she would scold him for his conduct, and he would respond obediently to all her commands…” (79). Filial piety or simply respect and support for one’s family is shown here when his conduct changed in the presence of a family member.
In stride with the Confucian idea of filial piety emerges the idea of moral suicide. According to Spence, “suicides were considered morally correct as they showed the depth of the woman’s reverence for her husband” (100). Confucius stated that it was alright for a woman to take her own life to show commitment and loyalty for the memory of her husband and the family they shared. The act of committing sanctioned suicide demonstrates Confucian ideology and values within individual behavior. It is important to note that suicidal behavior outside of the parameters of loyalty and marriage were strictly forbidden and was thought to harm the community because “…women who kill themselves, dangling from ropes or...
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