Both of the readings for tomorrow’s class were really interesting. Individually I think each story was strongly connected to, and made significant claims about motherhood. However, I’m having some difficulties thinking about these stories in relation to one another.
I think the story “The Mother of Meng K’o of Tsou” from The Position of Women in Early China is perhaps a more straightforward story than the selection from Li Yu’s Silent Operas. “The Mother of Meng K’o of Tsou” very clearly seems to portray a traditional and ideal version of motherhood. It neatly sums up the roles and duties of a proper mother. Particularly, this story highlights three key characteristics of good mothers—a concern for the environment your child is raised in, a duty to provide instruction to your child, and sacrifice.
The story of “The Mother of Meng K’o of Tsou” begins with the anecdotes of Meng Mu moving three times to ensure that her son is raised in the proper environment. She surrounds him in an educational environment and thus he becomes a scholar. Additionally, the story also focuses on moments in which Meng Mu instructs her son in the proper way to behave. For example, on page 41 she states, “It is proper etiquette that when one is about to enter a door to ask who is within and thus one attains to proper respect.” On page 40, Meng Mu imparts some wisdom onto her son about his education by stating that his aloofness towards his studies is the same as her cutting away the strings of her loom. Finally, as the fable closes Meng-Mu directly explains the role of a woman and her duty to follow the instruction of her son when he is full-grown. In this way the story also suggests that mothers also must make sacrifices for their children.
Although, the story of Meng Mu is interesting I think it’s particularly intriguing when you consider it alongside the story “A Male Mencius’s Mother Raises Her Son Properly By Moving Hosue Three Times”. Firstly, I’m intrigued by the fact that this story is also considered so centrally focused on mothers. A large portion of the story is focused on the relationship of Ruilang and Jifang and the appropriateness of their interactions. In fact Chengxian is only briefly mentioned before he is sent away only to return as a main figure in the story around page 127.
However, the title alone suggests that the story is largely to do with mothers. The title could revolve around the love between Ruilang and Jigang but instead it focuses on mothers and specifically references back to the story “The Mother of Meng K’o of Tsou”. In addition, to the allusion within the title “A Male Mencius’s Mother…” shares several other elements with “The Mother of…” that draw parallels between the mothers within the story. Ruilang also moves twice to properly raise Chengxian as Meng-Mu did to raise her son. It is also necessary for Ruilang to make sacrifices for her son—dressing as a woman, leaving her home although she does not like to do so. Finally, in the end it’s clear that Chengxian regales Ruilang as a true mother.
After all this has been said I’m a bit confused about the intentions of “A Male Mencius’s…” Are we supposed to see that motherhood is in fact a collection of actions, and characteristics and not to do with biology? In fact Ruilang almost seamlessly takes on the role of a woman and a mother? If so this seems to be a rather flexible definition of motherhood, and even womanhood, considering the very strict definitions of approved relationships that are presented early in the story and again in it’s closing.