Critical Essays The Patriarchal Clan System


Among many things, A Dream of Red Mansions is an indictment and an exposure of the feudal patriarchal clan system, its enormous political clout, and the omnipotent authority of the husband.

The chapter introducing the Official Protective Charm is a key chapter to better understanding this concept. Here, we learn that local officials keep a secret list of the most powerful, wealthy, and high-ranking families in their provinces. Each province has such a list. If, unknowingly, a small county official offends one of these families, he might lose not only his post but his life as well. This situation is explained to Chia Yu-tsun, the new prefect of Yingtian, by an attendant. The four important families of Chin, Shih, Wang, and Hsueh are on the list. Therefore, the new prefect has to Protect these big families — even at the expense of the law and justice.

At one point in the novel, Hsueh Pan, the young master of the Hsueh family, knows that he has the power to ask his followers to beat Feng Yuan (the son of minor local gentry) to death in broad daylight — simply to possess a girl. Because of the Official Protective Charm, Hsueh Pan goes free — without being punished by the law.

Similar examples are found throughout the novel, proving that the four important families of Chin, Shih, Wang, and Hsueh are politically powerful and important landlords, businessmen, and bureaucrats. The officials have to flatter these families and protect their interests before they can expect to be promoted or make advances in their careers. Accordingly, knowing that they have protection from the courts, rich landlords and their family members know that they can do whatever they like; they can bully ordinary, weak people and satisfy their lusts and desires whenever they please.

A Dream of Red Mansions does not only denounce feudal patriarchal clan power, but in the declining fortunes of the four major families of Chia, Shih, Wang, and Hsueh, it also contains an indictment of feudal patriarchal power. The three patriarchal leaders of the Chin family are good-for-nothing parasites. Chin Sheh is a rotten, lecherous person; Chin Ching is a pitiable person, dreaming of being an angel after death; and Chin Chen is a vulgar, morally corrupt hypocrite. These facts are convincing indictments of the patriarchal clan system. According to the novel, Chin Cheng is the head of the clan and is supposed to take charge of the patriarchal clan affairs, yet he is arrogant and evil. He is an animal in man's clothing. The entire spectrum of the hypocrisy within the feudal patriarchal clan power is clearly revealed here. The indictment of the abusive authority of the husband can also be easily traced throughout this novel. What Chin Pao-yu says about the muddiness of men and the cleanliness of women is an early clue, a challenge to the traditional concept of men's superiority to women.

The condemnation of deity power is also part of the condemnation of the feudal patriarchal clan system and ideology. Quite a number of monks and nuns are portrayed in the novel, but none of them is virtuous — except Miao-yu, living in Grand View Garden.

In a word, the successful exposure and pungent indictment of the feudal patriarchal system enhances the effectiveness of the author's condemnation of the whole feudal system because these powers make up the basic social structure of the feudal society. These powers represent, in a concentrated manner, the interests of the feudal rulers and the aristocratic landlords.