Yingying by Yuan Zhen is a story about the relationships between a student and an uneducated girl. A student named Zhang is 23 years old and a girl Ying-Ying is 16. The story is a description of their relations from the time they first saw each other, the first attraction, the first “no”, the beginning of their sexual relationships, the problems of separation, and finally a meeting after several years when each of them was married. The story takes place during the Chen-Yuan period. The plot development and the very story were topical during Zhenyuan period (785-804) and it remains a topic of interest for the modern readers. Yingying by Yuan Zhen is a story about social problems people face in their love relations.
Starting the discussion with the reference to the appearance of the main characters of the plot, the author clearly describes Zhang as “agreeable and refined, and good looking, but firm and self-contained, and capable of no improper act” (Zhen 139). He has never had any relations with women. As for Ying-Ying, the author described her as follows. She appeared on a party “wearing an everyday dress and no makeup on her smooth face, except for a remaining spot of rouge. Her hair coils straggled down to touch her eyebrows. Her beauty was extraordinary, so radiant it took the breath away” (Zhen 140). Having read the story, it becomes obvious that the main social problem discussed in it is the difference between social classes these people come from. Zhang is an educated person, a student who studies in the capital with the intentions to have a good paid job and professional growth. Ying-Ying is a simple girl who is devoted to the family. She does not have any special in-depth knowledge. They both are beautiful, poetic and romantic; however, the social difference is still seen. One of the first aspects of the relationships in the story is the contrast an author tries to show.
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Even though Zhang is described as a handsome young man, the author stresses on his education, trying to present a contrast of a scholar and a beautiful girl. According to Song, “among the extant Tang dynasty (618-907) chuanqi texts, there are works particularly influential in the development of the caizi-jiaren model” (Song 23) and Yingying by Yuan Zhen is among them. One of the main characteristic features of caizi-jiaren model is romantic relationships between the main characters. Zhang seems to have serious intentions, while Ying-Ying always remains calm when her partner wants to speak about their future. However, when Zhang prepares to take the exams, Ying-Ying becomes furious. She is sure that Zhang wants to abandon her. No words have any influence on her. However, having failed exams Zhang returns and everything seems fine until the next exams. In this situation Ying-Ying is represented as a limited woman without having any perspectives for the future. Due to this limited attitude to her life, Ying-Ying has a socially lower position compared to Zhang.
Another social problem discussed in the story is a decision made for the benefit of the future. When Zhang leaves for the second time, Ying-Ying writes a letter to him accusing her lover of betrayal, abandoning and a desire to have an office work instead of staying with her. She asks him to never return and sets him free from their relations. This problem was very topical during the time when the story was written; moreover, it is topical in the modern world. Many people having received education want to realize their ideas and plans moving to the big cities. In this story, Zhang moved to the capital and his lover remained in the country side. Having no specific education, Ying-Ying cannot imagine the perspectives of a big city and the opportunity it can give. According to Bol, the story depicts the conflict of different perspectives on “self” and “things” (Bol 200). The author means that the conflict appears between “the social expectations and passions” of Zhang and Ying-Ying (Bol 198).
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The problem of social conflicts in relations was common for people during Tang dynasty. What is more, it remains topical now. Modern readers also have a lot of conflicts in their relations when it comes to social expectations and passion. Reading this story till the end, one can see how the conflict was solved in this particular situation. Two people refused their love. Having different purposes and various goals in their life, the main characters acted like they were predicted to. A scholar went to achieve the heights in his career while a beautiful girl remained in the place she lived to search for a good match. The end of the story is not romantic.
In conclusion, the story of Yingying by Yuan Zhen is a depiction of the social realities people had to accept in early times. Not much has changed. Having different social levels, people face a number of problems in their romantic relationships. It is hardly possible to solve all these issues and remain together. Even though love and passion are powerful aspects in decision making, human social relation and a desire to have a social position they deserve usually win. The author has managed to show the conflict between passion and social expectations concluding that social expectations are the priority for people of the higher social level. Nevertheless, at the end both characters have loving families. All of them have achieved their goals.