The story begins by describing the hero, Chang who was, “…gentle, refined and exceedingly handsome, but abiding so strictly b moral conventions that he reaches the age of twenty-three without having had any love affairs” (Lu Hsun, 195). In the translated work by Arthur Waley one finds Chang’s reason for maintaining his purity – and it is also a way of rebuking his friends because of their heavy carousing – and Chang said, “It is not such as Master Teng-t’u who are true lovers of beauty, for they are merely profligates.
I consider myself a lover of beauty, who happens never to have met with it” (p. 290). According to Robin Wang, Chang began to travel to a place called Pu and stayed in a monastery called the Temple of Universal Salvation (p. 392). It is not clear what he was doing in a monastery. Opinions to the matter varies from being exiled by the government for a wrongdoing which supports Fatima Wu’s theory that this is indeed an autobiography for as mentioned earlier that in the early stages of the author’s career as a government man he was demoted.
Another opinion would be that the itinerary is in keeping with his strict moral standard and therefore could be seen as a spiritual retreat. But instead of finding a heightened spiritual contentment in becoming a man of values, Chang would be entangled in a moral dilemma as will be shown later. Chang found his beauty While Chang was in the monastery he discovered that a widow with two children are staying there and that the members of this family are distant relatives.
So when trouble broke out in the territory after a certain general Hun Zen died – presumably in-charge of keeping the peace- Chang used his connections and influence to ensure the safety of Mrs. Cui and her children. Indebted by this great act of service, Mrs. Cui prepared a banquet for Chang and commanded her children to honor their cousin, the hero. The youngest child, her son, had no problems with the formality of giving honor to their savior but the eldest child Ying-ying refused to come out. And so the plot thickens and one is presented with the beginning of a pulsating tale of passion and sacrifice.
Fatima Wu interpreted this as a presentation of the first rebellious woman in Chinese fiction and here a proof that this work is ahead of its time. In a place and age where women are supposed to be quietly in submission to men, Ying-ying showed a different path. But Chang displayed the usual behavior of a man captivated by a desirable beauty and a person possessed by lust. Never mind the fact that they were distant relatives and the fact that they were introduced as cousins, Chang composed verses dripping with love so that he can express his longing for the maiden.
He could not contain himself and used the services of Hung-niang (Ying-ying’s maid) to deliver two poems to his cousin. That same evening he received a reply with the title The Bright Moon of the Fifteenth Night, where Ying-ying wrote the following verse: To await the moon I sit in the west chamber; To greet the wind I have left the door ajar, When a flower’s shadow stirs against the wall, I fancy my lover has come (Hsun Lu, 195). Moral Dilemma As expected Chang was very much overjoyed by the response but he was not at all prepared by what Ying-ying did afterwards.
The translation by Hsun Lu reads: But when Ying-ying comes to him her dress is sober, her face stern, and after rebuking him she leaves, casting Chang into despair. A few nights later she comes again, but leaves without uttering a word. Chang rose when it was still dark, wondering if after all it had been a dream. But when dawn broke, her powder was on his arms, her perfume in his clothes, while a tear she had shed still glittered on the matting. For more than ten days he did not see her again (Hsun Lu, 195-196).
The storyteller, Yuan Chen is giving a glimpse into the heart of the participants struggling with a moral dilemma. The first one to be affected was Ying-ying and Chang who is presently blinded by lust would mourn his actions later when the need to relieve lust is over. So to continue after a long wait, Chang need not fret anymore for the lady has been broken, her heart was conquered by his poetry and by his patience. Waley’s translation described the event as follows: