One thing that struck me in A Male Mencius’s Mother Raises Her Son Properly By Moving House Three Times was the theme of young boys being coveted.  We see this in Jifang’s pursuit of Ruilang, and then again with Chengxian.

When Jifang is following Ruilang at the festival, he slips gifts into Ruilang’s sleeve to show his affection (108).  Similarly, Chengxian’s teacher slips fruit into the boy’s sleeve (129).  Ruilang and Chengxian were about the same age when these older men made their advances, and furthermore, the boys were both warned by their respective parent beforehand. Ruilang’s father warns, “‘If anyone tries to lure you into some quiet spot for a chat, take no notice of him,’” (105), and Ruiniang instructs her son, “whatever you do, you mustn’t let them play any tricks on you’”(129).  The parallel between the boys is apparent, and it appears that the only difference in the boys’ fate is how their parent reacts.

When You Shihuan sees how many men covet his son, he takes advantage and uses it as an opportunity to clear his debts.  His protection of his son, keeping him locked away from any possible suitors (112), served only to safeguard the boy’s virginity, and therefore his bride-price.  It is important to note that this was the custom of the area and was not considered shameful, and that You Shihuan even admits the fact that his son being raised in such a place was a pity (111).  However, the social implications of Ruilang being taken as a wife, and even the language used to describe other men lusting after him, “[slavering] at the mouth” (111), all contribute to the narrator’s judgment of You Shihuan.  Since he lets his son be married off, and does not protect him as Ruiniang does for her son, the father has not raised him ‘properly.’

These judgments do not even necessarily stem from the narrator’s contempt for homosexuality either.  It is clear that those taken as wives lose all opportunity for study and scholarship.  They are objectified and subjected to the same inferior position as women, and are robbed of the natural advantage they would otherwise have as men.  They have no prospect of making a name for themselves, and it is this consequence that drives Ruiniang to protect her son so vehemently.  The promise Ruilang made to Jifang on his deathbed is the impetus for Ruiniang moving her son thrice to ensure to his success (130).  In taking on the role of a mother, Ruiniang completes the only task left for women to do: aid their sons in building prosperous lives.

However, this frames the division of duties between men and women in an interesting light.  Does the father share the responsibility of the mother to protect their sons from such coveting?  Can we infer anything about the cultural attitudes toward young girls being coveted in this way?

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2 thoughts on “

  1. I wonder if the reason why Ruiniang protected his son was because Jifang was a licentiate? Shihuan, being a commoner and therefore very poor, had no choice but to demand a high bride-price for his son. Because commoners were only capable of low-level tasks, Ruilang couldn’t even join the literary club when Jifang offered. Therefore, Shihuan knew that his son’s only hope of having a good future would be to marry someone wealthy. By demanding a high bride-price, not only would Shihuan be able to pay off his current debts to his wife and concubine (by burying them), but he could also then be sure of Ruilang’s future husband’s wealth.

    Because Jifang himself was a high-ranking licentiate, then, Ruiniang would want his son to follow in his path and do as well as he did. It is natural for the son of a licentiate to also become a learned individual. One with such power should be the one coveting others, not the one being coveted (which is why Jifang, the higher-class person, was the one coveting Ruilang, the lower-class person). This is also why Shihuan would have encouraged Ruilang being coveted.

  2. Another part of the plot I found poignant in framing the division of women and young boys occurs on page 127 in which Ruilang decides that it’s much safer for him to travel as a woman than as a boy: “Only by dressing as a woman could he keep out of sight and preserve his chastity forever.” He notes, too, that travelling as a woman has its disadvantages, though deems it much less likely for him to be sexually assaulted, which seems to go against conventional wisdom.

    The fact that parents in “A Male Mencius’s Mother Raises Her Son Properly By Moving House Three Times” continually warn their young sons about older men is telling about the culture at the time. Sexual assault is more about a display of power over those seen as weak, and virginity is the prize to be taken. This, too, is evident as Ruilang’s uncle advises that, as a woman, he pose as a widow (who presumably is no longer a virgin) so that no one will ever bother him.

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