« An Old Tragedy in a New Age Review »
( 611 Words )
An old tragedy in a new age, a novella written by Lao She, tells a story about a loving father’s endless teaching of filial piety and his voracious desire upon his son to attain family glory ultimately lead to the tragic execution of the filial son. The father, old Mr. Chen is a traditionally trained school. He along with the ideologies of the Confucius school is the representative of the old while the new or the new era is a time in which Confucius teachings are no longer emphasized in society. It is not a new tragedy in a new age because the tragedy is indirectly if not directly a result of the old, of the father’s teaching, of his pressure upon his sons to gain fame, prosperity, and glory for the family.

Mr. Chen is a man of arrogance. He has always considered himself to be “one that lived up to the ancestors’ expectation and would win the admiration of later generation” (156). He has looked down upon all others because he is the only one who will “maintain the way and protect the moral teachings” (162). Yet, he has never hold any office due to his “having talent but no good fortune” (162). Thus in this new age where people pay little attention to Confucius teachings, Mr. Chen has to struggle to preserve “the way”, the ethics, the virtues, and the values of the old. He dislikes the boys and girls who were “holding hands, talking softly shoulder to shoulder” walking down the public streets on broad daylight. If he ever becomes an official, he swears he would eradicate all of these inappropriate behaviors and to “regulate the people with the rites” (179). Since he is not, he would concentrate to “cultivates himself and regulates his family” (179). This is why he is forever reminding his sons to be filial, putting pressure on them to hold office, hold big office, to “handle money”, to do “practical economics”, to ultimately glorify their family, to “make [their] family name known” (161). Ironically, “the way” has not been preserved, instead his filial son executed, his second son rebelled and ran away.

In stead of strictly preserving “the way”, in this new age and in front of power and money, old Mr. Chen can’t help but to make compromises with the new. First, he has to allow this satirical mahjong scene in which “etiquette, culture, status, and education” became irrelevant to men of status to happen in his guarded sacred house. Second, for connection’s sake, he has to make friends and continue to make friends with Director Chien and General Wu who are corrupted, and who does not follows the way. Third, he has to engage and bear the distasteful discussions about women with those two powerful friends because he can not afford to offend them. Then, he has to force his second son in to marrying a loose woman, the sister of a brigade commander who openly sleeps with men, just to create a so called alliance. At last, he is open to the unethical idea suggest by Manager Sun to make money off the relief supply business because “the way is enough to regulate nature, but it might also decrease one’s life choices” (181). To increase his choices, he is determined to change his way.

The original goal to preserve, maintain and transmit the way by old Mr. Chen was never materialized; rather the way was compromised, altered, and corrupted. Instead of prosperity and glory, it was shame, corruption, execution, rebellion and destruction that were brought to the family. It was a tragedy rooted in the old that happens in a new age.