A Cultural Analysis of Suicide in the Chinese Classical Novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of Red Mansion

Maggs, Elizabeth (2012). A Cultural Analysis of Suicide in the Chinese Classical Novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of Red Mansion Honours Thesis, School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Maggs, Elizabeth
Thesis Title A Cultural Analysis of Suicide in the Chinese Classical Novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of Red Mansion
School, Centre or Institute School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Rosemary Roberts
Total pages 109
Language eng
Subjects 200517 Literature in Chinese
Abstract/Summary This thesis analyses suicide discourse in two classical Chinese novels, Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Cao Xueqin’s Dream of Red Mansion, and asks what traditional Chinese moral values and cultural concepts are embedded in the discourses of suicide found in the novels? Seventy-six suicide events were documented in the two novels by recording: gender; type of event (suicide threat, attempted suicide, completed suicide or discussion of suicide); character; method used; story surrounding the suicide event; and the outcome. Other factors recorded include characters’ moral behaviours, discussions or justifications of suicide, and moral characteristics outlined in the descriptive poems that often follow the death of a character in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Using Western and non-Western suicide theory, scholarship on Chinese suicide, and scholarship on Chinese culture, suicide events were categorised based on Confucian values and Chinese cultural factors involved in suicide motivation in the novels. The following elements were found to be present in suicide events in the novels: power struggles present in 33% of cases; face present in 29% of cases; loyalty present in 24% of cases; honour to die by one’s own hand present in 17% of cases; chastity and fidelity present in 15% of cases; and filial piety present in 5% of cases. The way suicides are presented as positive or neutral events with little negativity, was the most unexpected outcome of this research. This sheds light on Chinese attitudes towards suicide in Imperial times and may also reflect contemporary attitudes towards suicide. The complexities of Chinese cultural concepts like face and filial piety, and the diverse situations found in ‘power struggle’ suicides meant Western suicide theories did not always apply to these traditional Chinese cases. Many of the cultural factors documented are still valued in modern China and may be applied to the contemporary suicide situation. Analysing the deep-seated traditional values and moral obligations that drive suicide in traditional Chinese literature may assist in better understanding the complex issue of suicide in China today.

 
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Created: Tue, 30 Jul 2013, 09:19:27 EST by Ms Katrina Hume on behalf of School of Languages and Cultures