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Discussion Questions

There are several colorful non-warrior characters in the tales (e.g. women, monks, aristocrats). What are the roles of these characters in the tales? What types of lessons do their individual stories portray? How do they add to the character of the Tales of Heike?

2. The Tales of the Heike narrate a romanticized “way of the warrior.” Based on the numerous battle scenes, describe some of the traits of the ideal warrior. What are the traits of a terrible warrior? Who do you think epitomizes the ideal warrior? The non-ideal warrior? Use quotations and examples from the text!

3. There are several death scenes in the Tales of the Heike. What is the significance of death in the tales? (e.g. Death of Sanemori, Death of Kiso, Death of Atsumori) Why do you think there is so much concern with the way characters die?

4. On page 1310, it states that “all of this came about because the lay priest and prime minister Taira no Kiyomori, holding the entire realm within the four seas in the palm of his hand, showed no respect for the ruler above or the slightest concern for the masses of common people below….the evil deeds of the father, the patriarch, that caused the heirs and offspring to suffer this retribution!” Knowing one lives under that cloud of darkness, how could the Heike clan ever have glory? What did they do to reverse this evil karma?

5. I was not crazy about the Medieval Chinese Literature period, but I found much of the reading enlightening. I especially found The Story of Yingying interesting. What did you think of the story?
  a. Can you think of any other storylines that are like this? Boy and Girl meet. Fall in love. Have sex.       He walks away and leaves her? OR do all the storylines we see end up with a happy ending (not       THAT kind of happy ending…you know what I mean! Ha!) — but the live happily ever after?
  b. What lesson does this possibly teach young women in China who read this at the time? Men?
  c. Do you feel sorry for Yingying? Or do you feel she got what she deserved?

6. Finally, how did you find the use of poetry throughout not only love stories in this culture, but also in the warrior tales? Can you see that literature overall has a major effect on all of the Japanese and Chinese peoples? How many warrior tales do we read that have the warriors remembering a poem in the middle of battle? (Rhetorical, do not answer 🙂 Can you see Mel Gibson in Braveheart hopping down on one knee and belting out a poem??? Do you have any thoughts to add?

For fun, if you want to see how popular The Story of Yingying still is today, go to www.youtube.com and search for “Chinese opera romance of the West Chamber,” which is a video adaptation of Wang Shifu’s play on the the story. 🙂

Interesting note taken from a lecture on this text:

In his story, Yingying tries to appear “proper” and “womanly” for Chang. But the author wanted to show that Chang is a fake and phony who uses Confucian morality as an excuse for abandoning the girl he seduces, an immoral act on his part. Yingying is depicted as a fallen woman but also an authentic individual who gives Chang her love (her virginity), knowing full well that in so doing she compromises herself as a respectable young woman. To the author who probably purged his own guilt by way of his fictional character Chang, (sexual) love and virtue always co-exist in such a way that devotion to one necessarily diminishes the other, which is also true in French classicism and Jansenism.

I think he is saying more than that; by portraying Chang a heartless lover, Yuan Zhen prepares his reader for Chang’s final act of breaking faith with his lover. Chang is no real Confucian gentleman who would have also “compromised” his virtues to stay with his true love. In the later Yuan drama version of the story, we have a happy ending in which Chang returned to marry Yingying. At the core of Confucianism as a mode of wisdom is not a god or a set of abstract moral principles handed down from above, but the true human-heartedness like the kind Yingying has demonstrated when she knowingly does an immoral deed in order to love someone. In the Confucian Analects, there is the following: the Duke of She informed Confucius, saying: “Among us here are those who may be styled upright in their conduct. If their father have stolen a sheep, they will bear witness to the fact.” Confucius said “Among us, in our part of the country, those who are upright are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son, and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this.” Analects, Book VIII, chapter XVIII As is obvious, the core and essence of Confucianism is the kind of humanity, compassion, or frailty if you will, that exists among men. In a patriarchal society, Father is not a mere agent to carry out a set of moral principles to which he also has to subject himself; he is the ultimate moral principle itself; he is the moral absolute. By inference, Yingying’s transgression, though morally apprehensible, appeals to the type of moral quandary in which Confucians are most interested. 


Do you have any thoughts you would like to add on this author’s take on the story?

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