Imagine having your wedding planned for you.  Not just where it will be held or the flavor of your cake, but who you will be taking vows with.  Arranged marriages have taken place for centuries in many religions.  A young ladies husband was chosen to insure the proper blood lines of future descendants with in a hierarchy.  The concept of filial piety was viewed as a daughter’s obligation to her parents and how she should act on those obligations.  The film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” featured China during the 19th Century and the arranged marriage of a governor’s daughter.  It presented the classic view of filial piety and the importance of this virtue.

Governor Yu, has made grand arrangements for his daughter’s wedding but his
daughter Jen, was not interested in getting married. As her wedding date approached Jen wrestled with obedience to her father and the desire to live with a man she loves.   In a proper social relationship with her parents she is expected to accept her appointed husband and his family as she accepts her own.  To ensure continuing their heritage, she is to participate in the rituals and wedding ceremony and have children with her husband.  This is very difficult for Jen to accept because she was trained by a Master Warrior in secrecy and now knows she is destined to live the life of a warrior.  Her defiance of filial piety was blatant, yet as the viewer of this love story, I found myself in Jen’s corner.

Jen’s family takes for granted that she will accept her new role in life as a wife
and bearer of future heirs.  Confucianism taught that “Filial piety is the root of all virtue and the source of all teaching.”  In Ancient China, The Confucian Classics was a primer for teaching youth the virtue of filial piety. Jen was taught what was expected of her since she was a child and her family fully expected she would marry the groom of their choice.  She went through with the ceremony but then ran away with a bandit, Lo “Dark Cloud”, shortly after her wedding ceremony.  This caused chaos for her family because in Confucianism “ decry filial piety is to renounce kinship ties.”  Jen involvement with Lo was adultery, an unforgiveable action of illicit sexual intercourse by mutual consent.

After returning to her true love Lo, deep in the heart of the desert, she receives a
visit by warrior’s intent on taking her home.  One female warrior who had sisterly love for Jen spoke honestly to her in a touching scene.  She told Jen she had been exiled from her family and could never return therefore she should enjoy the life and love she has chosen with Lo.  Jen already knew she could not return home.  She had sealed her fate with bold defiance.

If set in contemporary times, this movie would not play well.  Audiences would not give credibility to an arranged marriage.   That is because Confucianism now favors equality in male and female children, allowing them individuality and choices versus strict patrilineal tradition.  A woman can no longer be forced to marry against her will and may chose to just stay single.  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a beautiful film presenting a young woman torn between pleasing her family and being true to herself.  Over the centuries many young woman of different faiths have suffered in this same situation.

Traditional Hindu and Muslim faiths also have arranged marriages.  Seen in the past, faiths such as the Sikh religion, had “marriages {that} are mostly arranged.”  Current day brides, from other countries and religions do not favor arranged marriages. Most religions are in favor of letting an individual decide who would be their true love.  Ruling Muslim patriarchs are ordered, by the Prophet, first to discuss with a bride’s mother on future son-in-laws and the bride to be honest with her father on those offered to her in marriage.  Hindu religion has also accepted a contemporary version of arranged marriages. This contemporary version is still traditional in some aspects by introducing the children at a young age and having the future bride live with her future in-laws.  She is essentially being prepped from childhood to young adult to grasp a woman’s role of descendent maker.  Traditionally, young girls were determined worthy by their line of descent, physical health, appearance and birthplace.  Presently, Hindu marriages are no longer arranged and couples are allowed a choice in their spouses.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was set in ancient times when contemporary views of marriage did not exist.  The concept of filial piety teaches when a girl is young she is submissive to her parents and after she is married she must submit to her husband.  She is to be cautious in her behaviors so she avoids bringing shame to her family.  In bringing this shame to her family, Jen could never return to her father’s land or be recognized as an  aristocrat herself.  This was a
terrible loss and to her family’s heritage line.   In Jen’s eyes, as with the woman of the 21st Century, defying her parents for true love was a sacrifice she would make.  Traditional family system and the concept of filial piety are no longer held in a high position.  Chinese society has accepted the loss of these traditions due to changes in their culture.  People are no longer attached to their land by patriarchal obligations or agricultural needs.  They chose to leave their familial homes to live alone or with unrelated people and support themselves financially.  This change in China is known as the “emancipation of the individual from the family” and the downfall of properly chosen bloodlines to insure suitable heirs.

In the film, Jen was expected to fulfill her filial piety obligations through marriage.  Her failure in “acting properly in human relationships” was Jen’s downfall.  The basic expectation of a young woman in China during the 19th century was to be an obedient child, then wife and finally, child bearer.  In the 21st
century those strict virtues are no longer placed in high importance.  Therefore in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” Jen’s defiance and individualism in ancient times are celebrated by current viewers in modern times.

Works Cited

Browning, Don, Green, M. and John Witte Jr. Sex, Marriage, & Family, NY, Columbia University Press,  2006.  Print.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Dir. Ang Lee. Sony Pictures Classics, 2000.  DVD.

Harvey,Graham.  Religions in Focus, CT,  UK: Equinox Publishing Ltd,  2009. Print.

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