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The Warning Voice (The Story of the Stone, #3)
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John Seymour At the end of Chapter 66, Liu Xiang-Lian decides to break off his hastily conceived betrothal to You San-Jie. Rather than dispute his decision, You San-Jie returns his pledge, a unique double-scabbard with two swords called the Duck and the Drake. As Xiang-Lian takes back his pledge, San-Jie pulls back the Duck and cuts her own throat. Devastated, Xiang-Lian realizes he has lost a woman who was not only beautiful, but "had a noble heart." After an encounter with San-Jie's ghost and our mysterious lame Taoist, Xiang-Lian draws the Drake and slashes through

"the unnumbered strands
that bind us to the world and its annoys"

So, is this a Chinese Romeo and Juliet and does the difference in the framing of the suicide reflect differences between Chinese and Western culture?

Second, the last words of the Taoist are: "I don't know where this place is anymore than you do. Nor who I am. It is a place where I am resting a little while before going on elsewhere." Cao tells us that Xiang-Lian "understood." Then he kills himself. What did he understand?


Book Wormy | 1815 comments Mod
Interesting thought John I would say not Romeo and Juliet as it is not the family that oppose the choice but the groom himself.

The suicides are more to do with honour than love and that is a difference between Romeo and Juliet.

My take is that the Taoist and Xiang-Lian are both in the place where souls goes before they are reincarnated, Xiang-Lian understood that by killing himself he was ending the current life ready to be born again. There is also a chance he will meet San-Jie in the next life and be able to make things right.


message 3: by John (new) - added it

John Seymour Interesting, so Xiang-Lian is in that place before his death, perhaps in a dream state of some sort and then, in that state and place, kills himself. The Taoist doesn't seem bound by any state as he moves back and forth in various places, appearing at various dramatic points.


Book Wormy | 1815 comments Mod
John wrote: "Interesting, so Xiang-Lian is in that place before his death, perhaps in a dream state of some sort and then, in that state and place, kills himself. The Taoist doesn't seem bound by any state as h..."

Yep that is my take, the Taoist is outside of time and reincarnation and can cross between states.


message 5: by Anna (new)

Anna Fennell | 107 comments I definitely feel that I am reading an inferior translation of this book. I have been out of this group for a few years and wanted to jump back in quickly. Next, annual read I will make sure to choose the translation that the majority has.

I do not see them as a Romeo and Juliet story. It reminds me more of Much Ado about Nothing -- a plot is drawn up to ruin the happy union of two people and the groom thinks he sees his bride on the night before the wedding with another man and then denies her and shames her at the marriage. She "dies". The groom realizes his mistake etc. The only problem is that San-Jie was a wanton.

In this culture, suicide appears to be honorable. I feel like in the Western culture it is not.


message 6: by Patrick (new) - added it

Patrick Robitaille | 891 comments I agree with both Book Worm and John. I also concur with Anna with respect to the honourable aspect of suicide in Asian cultures as opposed to the Western culture.


message 7: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
I agree with all of you. I study suicide. It's my specific area of expertise so forgive me for rambling in this question. Of course I can't speak directly to meaning of suicide in 18th century China but I can speak to some more recent data. Turns out China has very high rates of suicide - among the highest in the world although it's been hard to get good data on mental health issues out of china (and they've only recently started reporting suicide rates).

In the US rates of suicide are highest in men (although women attempt more frequently) and in China rates are highest in women. I believe that the rate of suicide among Chinese women is about 5 or 6 times higher than the world average. Furthermore, while people in all countries face stigma of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, etc) and stigma against seeking treatment, stigma is particularly high in Asian cultures where mental health disorders are not as easily accepted and tie in with notions of cultural shame and losing face.

There's also some research to suggest that suicide is less tied to mental health diagnoses in Chinese cases than in US or other Western countries. However, this must be interpreted with caution because Chinese individuals are less likely to be diagnosed so may have undiagnosed depression that isn't ever picked up. As Anna mentioned there is a difference in acceptability of suicide between Western and Eastern cultures.

I will say that in both cases (Asian and non-Asian cultures) suicide is ultimately a way of escaping a life not worth living. The reasons may be different as to why life is not valuable (individual sadness/hopelessness vs saving face or b/c of loss of honor) but ultimately they are both a way of escape.

Traditional gender roles likely play a big role in the gender differences observed. For women, losing a marriage opportunity or honor in relationships may lead to a feeling of life not being worth living as there may be limited opportunities for meaning outside of those narrow gender roles. This may explain San-Jie's suicide in addition to escaping the loss of face from the incident described.


Diane | 1903 comments I also agree with all of you. The cultural views to suicide and the afterlife are much different in the Chinese culture than in Western cultures. As others mentioned, I believe their suicides had to do more with saving face, honor, and possible reunion and resolution in the afterlife.


message 9: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 1301 comments I did not think that Liu Xiang-Liang committed suicide! I read that he cut of his queue and then entered a Taoist monastery. I am sure that there was a mention later in the book that he had become a monk. Of course I can't find the reference in my Kindle version.


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