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Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men contains many fables and parables from the Chinese Culture. In "On Mortality" Kingston reveals the story of human mortality and the reason for this mortality. The story focuses largely on human emotions and reactions towards the situations that people find themselves in. It also raises questions about the role of women in the Chinese culture and the attitudes of the culture towards them.
The main character, Tu Tzu-chun, is forced to go through a series of tortures that are all illusions. He can not speak or react to the events that he witnesses, which he believes he can do. It is only at the last of the nine hells that he cries out in horror at the sight that he encounters. As he cries out, Tu is removed from the hells he is in and informed by the Taoist that he has ruined the chance for all humans to be immortal. The Taoist informs Tu that "[Tu] overcame joy and sorrow, anger, fear, and evil desire, but not love..."(121).
hat, though, constitutes this idea of love? During the illusions, Tu could not "overcome love" when he was reincarnated as a woman and faced with the murder of her young child, yet when he was still himself he quietly watched his wife be ground into bloodmeal. He did not cry out at that sight, reminding himself that it was only an illusion. How could he not react to this incident to his own wife, yet react to the death of a child he does not yet know? Both incidents were illusions and both would seem to involve love but Tu only reacted to one of them.
Is it because he was a woman that he cried out at the sight of a child being harmed? Did he not cry out at the death of his wife because she was a woman? The role of the female in this story reveals a sense of inferiority towards women. These questions that the story raises show how women were viewed as inferior and weak in the eyes of the Chinese culture.
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