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The young man in story is presented as being overly intelligent and literary gifted. Similarly, he was from a noble family as his father was the governor of Ch'ang-chou as well as the Lord of Jung-yang. The father is said to have possessed immense wealth as well as high esteem from all the people. The demonstration of excellence by the son was a great thing and cause immense joy to the father. In fact the father hoped on a bright future of the family through the son. He often said, "This is the 'thousand-league colt' of our family" (122). The nobility of the family is revealed when the young man was about to do his Provincial Examinations. During that time, the father provided him with the best clothes as well as an expensive couch complete with horses to facilitate his journey. Similarly, the young man received a large amount of money that would take care of his expenses. When giving all the necessities to the son, the father had great expectations on the son. In fact he said, "I am sure that your talent is such that you will succeed at the first attempt; but I am giving you two years' supply, that you may pursue your career free from anxiety" (123). Moreover, the young man had as much confidence on his ability to excel just as the father.
In spite of the wits possessed by the young man, he was a freak in the presence of a beautiful woman. Having received the money and allowances from the father, the young man traveled extensively starting from P'i-ling. After a few weeks' journey, the young man was in Ch'ang-an where he rented a house. While at the Pu-cheng quarter where he had rented a house, he made visits to different places. It was during a return from a visit to a market in the Eastern region when the son saw a young lady whom he immediately got a crash on. The young man was amazed by the stunning beauty possessed by the young lady and could not help but fell for her. In fact, he played tricks by dropping his whip deliberately in order to get a chance to see the beautiful woman more clearly. At the same time, Miss Li, for that was the name of the beautiful girl noticed the elegance of the young man and developed interest on him. Nevertheless, it is questionable on how easily Miss Li fell for the young man. The issue leaves a lot to be desired about the morality of the girl.
The eruption of a romance and eventual relationship between the young man and Miss Li reveals inadequacy on the young man's wisdom. As a matter of fact, the exquisite and bewitching beauty of Miss Li was enough to drive the young man insane. The intense admiration by the young man towards the young woman was so severe such that he swore to do anything within his power to win over the beautiful girl. For instance, after contacting pleasure experts from Ch'ang-an on the whereabouts of the girl, he was told about the dealings of the girl's mother with noble families, "The woman Li is possessed of considerable property, for her previous dealings have been with wealthy and aristocratic families, from whom she has received enormous sums. Unless you are willing to spend many thousand pounds, the daughter will have nothing to do with you." (124). However, the young man did not heed the warnings from the experts. Clearly, the mother and daughter were materialistic. Yet, the young man was ready to overlook that fact and pursue his desire of winning over the girl. In fact, his vow was, "All I care about is to win her. I do not mind if she costs a million pounds." (125).
The craving of the young man for Miss Li gave her the opportunity to seriously take advantage of him. Right from the first time she saw the young man, she knew that he was admiring her. She wisely pretended to return the admiration by offering a rewarding glance towards the young man. This gave the young man hopes that the girl was also interested in him and therefore he needed to return and try his luck. Having mustered enough courage, the young man returned to Mrs. Li's residence to try winning her daughter. However, the young man went with the pretext that he was looking for a land to buy. Similarly, the young man went accompanied by his servants as well as smartly dressed for the occasion. The aura of authority created by the young man's entourage was purposely meant to show how powerful and noble he was. Having heard reports of Mrs. Li's past encounter with rich families and powerful people, he did not wish to look poor and small. The major focus of the young man was directed towards winning over the beautiful girl. Therefore, he was ready to commit his whole self if that would work in his favor.
There story is ripe with moral lessons depicted through the conducts of the various characters. Starting with the young man's father, we learn that trust is good but requires some level of doubt. Due to the exceptional performance by the son, the father seemed to relax on other issues affecting the life of his son. The father was extremely excited by the demonstration of excellence by the son. Ignoring the fact that the son could be lured away from the pursuance of his career, he provided large sums of money for spending. Besides, he made various sources of pleasure to the son without offering good counsel. This can be seen as the first and most profound stage of the deterioration of the young man towards failure. It would be expected that a wise father would do anything within his reach and capability to bring the best future for a son. However, the father ignored the possibility of his son getting spoilt by the large sum of money he gave him. It is questionable how the father let his son be on his own without any prudent counsel. While the situation seems somewhat confusing for a father made proud by his sons' excellence and achievement, it would have been expected that he needed to take some measures to prevent the worst from happening to the son.
The morality of the two young people: Miss Li and the young man is the bone of contention in the story. The manner in which the lives of the two young people in the story progresses and ends is what leaves readers confused about the moral lesson in the story. As in many stories, there are punishments to people who demonstrate vices; their destiny is often undesirable and full of difficulties attributed to the evil life they lived. However, this story deviates from the norm and brings out another approach altogether. The life of the two young people in the story ends to be desirable. However, there are various reasons for the type of end that the two receive. The conundrum on the engagements between Miss Li and the young man seems to reverberate throughout the story. It is evident that the kind of ending that a woman who has been a prostitute and taking advantage of her victims seems desirable. Similarly, there are doubts about the genuineness of her success at the end of the story. Nevertheless, we get a glimpse of the benefits of self assessment and transformation.
The young man goes through adverse conditions of life after spending all he had in Miss Li and her mother. The poor life lived by the young man contrasts the nobility that he once possessed. There are innumerable difficulties that the young man undergoes before excelling. For instance, he initially earns his living by working with an undertaker as well as a professional mourner. Similarly, he descends into professional begging when beaten by the father and seriously wounded. Eventually, when Miss Li decides to restore his lost glory, he has to put extreme efforts in his books so as to emerge successful. However, the passages of life undergone by the young man give a moral lesson that transformation to morality requires so much sacrifice and perseverance to painful experiences.
There are several obstacles whenever one decides to turn from evil ways and embrace the right ways. This is evident through the challenging moments that Miss Li goes through as she tries to convince her mother to accept her act of helping the young man after descending into poverty through their doing. In fact, she expresses remorse when she says, "Not so! This is the son of a noble house. Once he rode in grand coaches and wore golden trappings on his coat. But when he came to our house, he soon lost all he had; and then we plotted together and left him destitute." (138). According to this conversation, we can see that Miss Li was considerate and merciful. Although she was an accomplice in the calamity that struck in the life of the young man, she seems regretful that he ended up so desperately. Miss Li's character seems somewhat contradictory with her nature of life. In fact, we are left wondering why she decided to live as a prostitute; to some extent, we are tempted to blame it on her mother. It seems that her mother was the source of all the evil life that Miss Li lived.
Miss Li's resolution to live virtuously requires so much sacrifice. After she made a decision to be with the young man and help him trace the noble life he had lost through her, she had to purchase her freedom; which was not cheap. Having considered her options, she told her mother that, "I have lived as your daughter for twenty years. Reckoning what I have cost you in that time, I find it must be close on a thousand pieces of gold. You are now aged sixty, so that by the price of twenty more years' food and clothing, I can buy my freedom. I intend to live separately with this young man. We will not go far away; I shall see to it that we are near enough to pay our respects to you both morning and evening." (138). To many people, this was a costly decision to make. However, the determination within Miss Li seems so intense and cannot be stopped by whatever force. This bold step shows that Miss Li has grown from a timid girl to a strong willed woman free from bad influence from the mother.
The portrayal of Miss Li as a fearful of justice, fate and supernatural power is evident in when she expresses it to her mother "Every one in the land knows that it is I who have reduced him to his present plight. The Court is full of his kinsmen. Some day one of them will come into power. Then an inquiry will be set afoot, and disaster will overtake us. And since we have flouted Heaven and defied the laws of humanity, neither spirits nor divinities will be on our side. Let us not wantonly incur a further retribution!" (139). The passage shows that Miss Li not only feared the justice system to punish her and the mother for their wrongdoing but also that supernatural power would not come to their rescue. For a prostitute who lived a reckless life without caring about the life of her victims, this was a great transformation. We obtain a glimpse of the conflicts that go in her life as she struggled to put things in order. Moreover, she is portrayed as being overly wise and knowledgeable. She very well knows the relatives to the young man as well as the justice system. Similarly, we get the religious side of Miss Li.
Determination can change a course of life. A strong will towards doing the right thing can change the prospects of a person irrespective of their past mistakes. Willingness to do something regardless of challenges can yield immense success and unlock doors of acceptance despite the existence of past denial. Transformation from waywardness to morality can act as the first step into immense success.
Birch, Cyril. Anthology of Chinese Literature: Volume I: From Early Times to the Fourteenth Century. Grove Press, 1994.