The notion of retribution prevalent in the pre-modern China was of great importance, because people related it to most of Confucian beliefs. Owen confirms that retribution denotes punishment for crimes or failure to adhere to a promise (518). Although it was connected with letting nature take its course, the Chinese advocated this concept to promote the ideas of morality in the Confucian society. In the various dynasties of China, such as the Tang dynasty, the notion has remained a clear idea to regulate the behavior of men to each other. Without this notion, human would not regard emotions as of vitality, and only a few would comply with the set rules and regulations. In Tang Chuanqi, these concepts are vivid, illustrating the need for retribution in fictional work as a representation of the whole. Owen, through the various love stories, exposes retribution as a central theme in the Chinese tradition and uses his pieces of fiction to mirror the views of people on morality.
In the Confucian China, people used to hold a set of beliefs and follow certain practices with an aim to monitor and regulate the existence of man. Most of them were consumed with the notion of religion; and though being pious, some were simultaneously brutal. Retribution as a symbol of punishment was highly regarded as a moral regulator that led the people back to religion (Owen 521). Individuals feared the consequences of failing to honor their pledge or adhere to law. Religion married the beliefs of Confucianism and Taoism with Buddhism that included the idea of self-cultivation for being a moral being. The consequences of not following this path resulted in immortality. Therefore, retribution was a predominant principle to ensure that people stayed on the right track.
Retribution protected the views of people on faith and love. In fiction and drama, the notion applies to punishment that falls on people who do not respect the values. In this light, retribution is represented in the form of guilt, being even worse than its physical variant. The Tang dynasty was known as an old tradition of poetry, short writings, and anecdotes that popularized the given notion. The stories created at this time revealed the beliefs and connected them to the idea of a god or spirits. The supernatural belief, therefore, resurrected the fears of retribution among many. For instance, in the stories of love or erotic encounters, the Chinese developed a certain idea which was based on common beliefs. They were convinced that love revolved around two concepts, namely faith kept and faith broken. Moreover, the two sides had consequences: one led to eternal peace, whereas the other presupposed retribution. By being faithful, one committed oneself to a spirit that would rise to the human level. On the other hand, breaking faith meant sinking into the bestial degradation. Even though this model is viewed as pragmatic, it shows clearly the need to strike the right balance to evade such a severe way of punishment. The stories point that retribution comes as a dire consequence. Additionally, the story of Ren confirms the abovementioned statement (Owen518). Particularly, it is an account of a couple who faces twists and turns. The idea is to expose the self-sacrifice of women as well as the devotion of men in the unending story of love. The love affair between Ren and Zhang seems quite intoxicating and goes far beyond human understanding. The fact that Zhang still wants to be with her illustrates his understanding of the conventional wisdom and beliefs of the Chinese on supernatural beings. It means that this man is afraid of killing the passion because of the retribution that will befall him when the spirits become aggrieved. The willingness to continue with the relationship is, therefore, an indication of proof of love and faith and the attempt to avoid retribution. The reciprocation of love and lust balances the faith of the two couples, thus showing the true meaning of the notion of retribution.
Further, retribution is observable in the story of Li Zhang-Wu’ story (Owen526). Here, the man met and fell in love with a woman, a daughter in law to his friend. The love affair was steamy, but because of the nature of his work, the only option was to leave, and so Zhang-Wu let her go. Due to lack of communication, they could not keep in touch. This piece of fiction does not embody broken faith but rather an idea of losing faith, though deep down, they still love each other. The Chinese believed in spirits, at least they helped them to fulfill their promises. The story goes on, and the reader discovers that the woman has died, and, thus, Zhang Wu has to carry a burden in his heart to appease the spirit of his lover. In this context, retribution is viewed as a debt that requires fulfillment. The Chinese also believed that retribution somehow healed the feeling of failure and disappointment and, consequently, relayed for the wrongs committed by someone. In offering sacrifices, the fiction reminds of the beliefs of the pre-modern China (Owen 528). The story points that lovers who keep their promises are greatly rewarded, but those who do not reciprocate are deemed to break faith. The mistake is thus considered a heavy debt that one cannot repay easily. Therefore, Chinese retribution brings peace to an individual after they have committed a wrong deed.
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Moreover, retribution according to the Chinese has to be justified. In as much as people often feel remorse for their actions and thoughts, the Chinese believe that for retribution to occur there has to be justifiable reasons to support it. A man may commit serious crimes or engage in horrendous activities, but when the actions are justified, retribution is deemed unnecessary. For instance, Huo Xiaoyu’s Story is the epitome of this ideology (Owen 532). The Chinese of the pre-modern world were moral beings but also believed in justice and did not punish until there was solid evidence. However, it also points to faith broken, whereby the breaking of a promise warrants retribution. Additionally, reading the story of Ying Ying helps to enlighten the philosophy. The Confucian values take center stage and, therefore, regulate the characters of the story, making their every move enshrined in the notion of retribution. Every action has a consequence, and people should be wary of aggrieving the spirits. Although one would clearly justify the behaviors of Zhang, it is understandable that this is the position of the Chinese. Therefore, the man cannot pay for a justifiable cause. The tang love stories were powerful due to spirits rising or falling into bestial creatures. However, retribution was sometimes laced with the Confucian values that set Zhang free. Most times, justification is dependent on the individual level, but the traditions of the Chinese made them introduce various exceptions. Its place in fictions is helping to expound on the urgency of certain means they take to achieve specific objective (Menglong et al., “Du Shiniang Sinks Her Jewel Box in Anger”549). The Chinese recognized the human complexity and, therefore, their notion of retribution remained limited to facts, pieces of evidence forwarded, and the justification of actions.
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Finally, justification, however, is two-sided. When justice happens, or one pays a debt, both sides remain happy. It is especially observable in the Ying-Ying story where neither Ying nor Zhang survives. Thus, in this instance, fictions seem false as they seek to idealize situations to help highlight the Chinese reasoning. The idea of justification here is both drama and fiction since the author uses it to create convenience and deploy ways of advancing various motives (539). Most Chinese Confucian believers would in dismay, because, in as much as they advance the traditions, they use false and exaggerated information. Nevertheless, it remains a vital component of showing the notion of retribution. In the Chinese society, the manifestation of justice and retribution are not inseparable. They attest to the need for moral uprightness and the virtuous character of keeping promises. Without these two elements, the societal mechanism whether legal or spiritually oriented ensures that justice is served. Various fictions and drama have adopted this principle by seeking to have the protagonist and antagonist entangled between justice and retribution (Menglong et al., “Introduction” XV). In fact, the veering to one side of the story stirs the Confucian thoughts of the Chinese. These religious theories and their continuance have the proclivity to initiate retributory judgment on the deeds of an individual. However, some instances are complex, making people to justify the means of actions however illegal they may be.
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In conclusion, this text views retribution as a belief that was highly revered in the Chinese traditions. Its centrality in life, therefore, formed the basis for most fictional stories and drama. In some ways, they display signs of exaggeration, making the tradition appear too radical, but in general, they are present in literary works to show the justice imbued with the tradition. Subsequently, it signifies that the notion of retribution serves as a tool to regulate the behaviors of various individuals in the society. It alludes to their religious beliefs of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. All this philosophy in one way or another advanced the need for an ideal life failure of which retribution was inevitable. In fact, the premise of severe punishment protected the beliefs of love and faith. It ensured that lovers kept their promises by pointing that breaking faith would cause one’s spirit to experience pangs of regret. On the other hand, retribution gave people a sense of peace after the punishment had been meted out to them. The aim was attainable through appeasement. Lastly, the Chinese did not practice retribution until they received ample justification for actions.
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