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Lesly Bries 2007-03985 CL 144 Confucian and Taoist Elements in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Prof.

Lily Tope

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon deals not just with the rarefied world of Chinese martial arts, but with the traditions, ideals and philosophies which govern Chinese society and dictate the kind of values that one should cultivate and possess. The two dominant, natively Chinese philosophies, Confucianism and Taoism, prevail in this film, and without an understanding of these two, as well as the ideas of honor and saving face, one will not comprehend the basic actions of the characters or the events that were the consequences. Confucianism emphasizes a respect for authority, propriety and selfimprovement: through education, one can attain greatness. It dictates that above all, one must respect customs and protect ones honor, so when faced with a choice between following ones desires and doing what is considered the right or honorable thing which will not bring disgrace, the latter is always the only choice in the Confucian way. So, for example, Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Liens feelings for each other remained unspoken because of their respect for propriety, as Shu Lien was previously engaged to Mu Bais friend, Meng Si Zhao, who died trying to save Li Mu Bais life in a fight. If they ever expressed their love for each other, it would be considered an act which dishonored the memory of Si Zhao, so as a nod to propriety, they do not tell each other about their feelings until Li Mu Bai dies from a poisoned dart. Similarly, Jen, who is about to be married, faces the choice of following the wishes of her parents by making a great match to a powerful family, or choosing what her heart desires and following her true love, Lo, into the desert to live a nomadic life. Her secret study of the Wudang manual to learn martial arts, admiration for Shu Liens warrior lifestyle and tutelage under Jade Fox are all signs of defiance against Confucian tradition, as women are constrained by gender roles, considered inferior to

men and prized only for feminine qualities such as obedience, humility and filial piety. For them to want to have the same education and lifestyle as men was considered inappropriate. If Jen followed Confucianism, she would defer to her parents wishes and become a good, tradition-bound wife who remained at home instead of practicing her footwork and studying weaponry. Jade Fox was equally constrained by Confucianism; because of the power relations between genders, as a woman, she was not considered a potential student of Wudang, so she was pushed aside while men were allowed to train. The kind of bitterness that such exclusion engendered led to her murder of the Wudang master. The male-dominated world of Wudang is also ruled by Confucianism; indeed, the Green Destiny, considered the greatest sword and a great plot point in this weapon, is a weapon that is passed on to men and used by men. When Jen steals the sword, her act is not only one of defiance against her destiny as a woman, but also one that seeks to usurp the power of men. This is where the conflict of Taoisim and Confucianism come in. Taoisim emphasizes an acceptance of change, chaos, growth and simplicity, that one should not strive for fleeting, superficial things which go against nature, so anything manmade was considered against the Tao, and therefore against ones spiritual growth. It claims that the desire to attain immortality through great acts was futile, since all return to dust and are in the end overwhelmed by nature and time. Therefore, in the the teachings of Taoisim, Mu Bai and Shu Lien are only creating conflict that prevents them from attaining inner peace, because they are repressing their true, natural feelings. Jen is the one who struggles to break free of Confucianism by rebelling against societys role for her, and by accepting the philosophy of Taoisim through martial arts. Her training represents Taoisim. First she begins to experience change, by being shown a world by Jade Fox beyond that which she knows. She learns the ways of Wudang martial arts through Jade Foxs instruction, but eventually realizes that sh has surpassed her master. Terrified and confused, she tries to learn from the manual on her own. It is when Mu Bai offers to take her on as a pupil that she has the opportunity to harness her power and achieve balance, but she refuses to become his

student, knowing that he will always be bound by his ideas of honor and propriety. True enough, Jens rejection of his offer to teach her makes Mu Bai perceive her as unworthy to become his pupil, because of her lack of reverence for the teacherstudent dynamic so beloved to Confucianism. Her disrespect for authority leads him to throw the Green Destiny into the waterfall. Mu Bai respects the conventions of society too much to acquiesce to Jens implied longing that they have a relationship as friends and equals instead of one of master and pupil. He deems himself superior to Jen, both because she is a woman and because she does not understand the ways of Wudang, so he can never be her instructor. Jen, who is too headstrong and determined to achieve her own desires to realize that she will not be able to achieve her full potential without proper instruction. The ending for the film reveals the repression and unhappy endings resulting from this conflict of philosophies. Mu Bai and Shu Lien never live out the rest of their years together. Jade Fox dies without unlocking the secrets of Wudang. Jen, torn between her choices of a masterless, wild life seeking the mysteries of kung fu, marriage to a man she does not know and love, or following her true love Lo, but being forced to give up her freedom and possibly her studies of martial arts, chooses to leap from the mountain and into the clouds, which is an ambiguous ending: either Jen succeeds in trying to fulfill her wish of being together, and the story of the mountain leap is real, or she dies, never having found happiness and harmony. It is interesting to note how radically different these philosophies are from each other, and yet they managed to co-exist in the same culture at the same time. The title Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is taken from a Chinese proverb, about an individuals concealed qualities beneath the faade they present to the world. Both philosophies limit the actions of individualsConfucianism teaches you to do what is right and honorable, Taoisim, to adhere to a life of freedom from materialism and ambitionand both philosophies have led to repression, which when taken too far, lead to sorrow and unfulfillment, as seen in the film.