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Throughout the civilized world societies are typical measured by their progression, that is how the lives of its peoples are improved over time. Thusly, the lives of the members of more recent generations are expected to be markedly better than that of their ancestors. While hard to specify, this advancement is typically seen in the fields of medical care, gender equality, and political freedom. This natural aspect of civilization was to be retarded in 20th century China due to the substantial ineptness of both the Kuomintang and Maoist Communist regimes. Due to the many failures of these regimes, many of the basic issues which plagued Yu Fang would similarly hinder the first 25 years of her granddaughter Jung Chang. Though the circumstances in which they lived as well as the political climate vastly differed in their lifetimes, politics effected the lives of both these women in that the struggles faced by Yu Fang and her granddaughter Jung Chang are similar in that they both illustrate the incredible lack of progress which occurred in China during this period. This point is illustrated by; the lack of power held by women in regards to their own affairs, the importance of ones family in determining their status, and the lack of means by which a woman could escape her current status.
One way in which politics proved to be a hindrance to these women that is illustrated in the novel is the lack of power women had in regards to their own affairs. This point is despairingly illustrated in the early life of Yu Fang during and following her term as a concubine to the warlord General Xue. Despite the many pleasures she was graced with as his concubine (a beautiful home, easy access to food), her movements were so restricted that her only worthwhile activity was the raising of her infant daughter. It provides great emphasis to this struggle to mention that at one point even this relationship with her daughter was almost compromised. This occurred when General Xue ordered Yu Fang to move herself and her daughter into his house, thereby placing both Yu Fang and her daughter under the rule of his official wife. While these regulations were lessened after General Xue’s death and her marriage to Dr. Xia, she was still forced to face almost unbearable conditions under the scrutiny of his children from his previous marriage. These examples from the early life of Yu Fang illustrate how the politics, or in many cases lack of politics in the warlord regime allowed Chinese women to have a complete lack of power over their own well-being.
While one would assume a society would over time progress past these restrictive practices, the granddaughter of Yu Fang, Jung Chang would experience many similar restrictions placed on her own life, despite the fact that she grew up under a new political structure; that of the new communist regime. Despite the change of regimes, the personal life of Jung Chang was also extremely limited due to the political climate at the time. Jung Chang would find herself in a similar situation as that of her grandmother when she and several other students would travel to the port of Zhanjiang in southern China in an attempt to learn Chinese in a somewhat controlled environment. While there, Jung Chang would face many accusations into her personal life as she aroused suspicion amongst her classmates for being “too popular” amongst the foreigners. Due to this she was prohibited from attending a banquet as a translator and missed the opportunity to have an English conversation with a true native speaker. Though most likely the result of petty jealousy, this episode displays a political climate which, though very different from the warlord one experienced by Yu Fang, still allowed an atmosphere with which women were at the almost complete mercy of those around them in regards to their own actions.
Another way in which the political climates of the times led to many similar difficulties in the lives of Yu Fang and Jung Chang was the vast importance placed upon ones family in determining their status. For Yu Fang, much of her adult life was determined by her relationship to members of the group with political power at this time, the Kuomintang. During much of her life with Dr. Xia living in Manchuria, the status of her family as a whole was determined by their relationship with Kuominterm agents. By having familial connections with these agents, Yu Fang and Dr. Xia were able to achieve a better standard of life than if they did not. These advantages ranged from allowing Dr. Xia to open his medical center to Yu Fang having the connections within the Kuomintang to get her daughter out of prison for her communist mindset. Thus politics had a huge impact on the life of Yu Fang in that the politics of the time allowed for a system by which since Yu Fang had family who were Kuomintang spies, she was granted special privileges which would not have been granted if she did not.
While most of Jung Chang’s life was spent within the communist regime instead of the Kuomintang, the politics of that era also created an environment by which one was judged by their familial ties. One such example of this occurred late in the Maoist regime while Jung Chang was working as an electrician at a factory. While there, she began a very close relationship (not defined as romantic) with a young man named Day. This newfound relationship became an issue due to the view of many of the factories workers of Jung Chang’s status as the daughter of Communist officials superior to that of Day as the son of a former Kuomintang officer. In this way you can see how the communist political scheme favored a system by which those with familial ties to communism were highly favored over those whose family boasted a Kuomintang background.
The final way in which politics had a similar impact on both the lives of Yu Fang and Jung Chang is that it prevented women from gaining the means by which they could escape their current status. This occurred much more heavily in the life of Yu Fang in which her father certainly did not view her as having her own inherent value, but instead as only a means by which to associate himself with General Xue. Due to the political adherence to this as a cultural norm, Yu Fang was never able to explore any of her own interests but instead was merely viewed as a sidebar to first General Xue, and then Dr. Xia. Though Yu Fang may indeed have found her calling in taking care of her many grandchildren, the political structure during the time of her early life in no way assisted her in achieving her own personal goals. Once again the struggles of Yu Fang caused by the political structure of her time would be mirrored in the life of her granddaughter, Jung Chang. Though Jung Chang would eventually escape this system by traveling to Great Britain, there was a point where the Communist politics at the time instituted a policy by which; a factory worker could attend higher learning at a university, but after their schooling was done they would return to the factory from which they came. Not only did this practice undermine the practical benefits of attending a university, it also ensured that even the factory workers who were able enough to attend a university still could not escape their assigned place within the system.
Despite their early lives being separated by decades as well as three different political scenes, many of the struggles faced by Yu Fang would appear to be mirrored in the later struggles of her daughter Jung Chang. Though caused by a variety of factors, these struggles were continuously allowed and even encouraged by the political systems at the time. While allowing for an interesting comparison between the regimes, this happenence highlights the extreme lack of progress which occurred in China during this period.
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