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Life as a Dream

Typical among Chinese tales is the evident pursuit of religion. Faith in a higher, immortal, powerful entity reigns over Chinese literature and culture. With the assumption that enlightenment occurs upon awakening, dreams encapsulate individuals and in them are visions and challenges to reflect on. The impact of religions enforces individual growth and enlightenment of the self. It is a part of the way things are. The Tang Dynasty was among the most powerful empire over Asia and the Middle East. Many western influences were introduced along the Silk Roads.

Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, towards the end of the dynasty, flourished during this period as the government did not suppress religions. It was the government’s best interest to maintain universal rules and common values. Art and culture peaked during this period with grand adornments, lavish clothes, exquisite pottery and crafts as well as enormous temples. Thus we can find a variety of religious influences in China’s art and culture. As the printing technology developed, more doctrines and literature were recorded at this time.

Religious doctrines increased its circulation while poetry and prose began to proliferate. The abundance of the dynasty was believed to be the harmonious relationship between the people and divinity: a powerful, encompassing entity dealing with the enrichment of the Tang culture as well as its people. The people sought to turn to moral and peaceful ways, the way to garner respect for the divine. A commonality of the two tales brings us to closely discuss the role of dreams in pre-modern Chinese literature. As the stories unfold, the heroes are identified as highly imperfect, deviant individuals of society.

Despite their stature and wealth, both of the heroes in our text encounter problems and difficulties in life. In realizing one’s sins and shortcomings, the heroes in the texts revert to religion or retreat to regain their faith in the meaning of life. In Chinese literature, dreams have become a powerful means of awakening the individual. Though at times, dreams come to the extent of becoming expressed as a supernatural or magical experience. In both tales, the heroes experience the dream-state like reality. They are initially unaware that they are dreaming or are in a subconscious state.

Freudian theorists have tried to explain dreams and what happens in dreams. It is remarkable that even during pre-modern Chinese era dreams have been used to teach morals and religion to the people. Chunyu, our hero in Governor of the Southern Tributary State, does not portray a particularly decent or perfect life despite his stature. He is portrayed as a drunkard, a carefree and a difficult person. These weaknesses make it easier for common folk to relate to his situation. His dismissal from his post combined with his vice may have been the triggering factors for his momentary journey.

From the beginning of the story, several advances are dropped to tell the reader that the hero is not in perfect condition; Thus, facilitating the possibility and the confirmation that they have indeed lapsed into a dreamy, subconscious state. Like royalty, Chunyu is fetched and brought to a secret, massive underground empire, the Great Kingdom of Ashendon, reflects the vast empire of China during its time, from the capital extending to the northern and southern regions as well as the eastern land area.

Influenced by grandiose ideals and extravagant means, Tang literature is peppered with the lavishness of the empire’s abundance. The setting, the clothing, the festivities and the women, reflect the lifestyle of Chinese officials. More often the stories of heroes are indicative of their rise to power. Moreover, these tales are filled with the supernatural and religious customs. Chunyu is married to the Princess of the Golden Bough. Women in the tales are portrayed as better counterparts of the men. They are truthful, obedient, loving and supportive to their husbands.

These complementary traits define ideal relationships of husbands and wives. Most of the stories feature love. However, religious practices such as Confucianism believe that love leads to disloyalty to the government. Still, it prevailed in classic Chinese literature. Supernatural occurrences emphasize the individual’s tendency to disregard mortal inconveniences and displeasure in lieu of the abundance gained in their seemingly unbelievable state. Chunyu soon forgets that he is in another dimension. Living a life different from what he has gone through.

In his ‘new’ life, he is offered riches, a wife, land, and power; Worldly riches that he could not attain with his mortal existence. He accepts the generous gesture as a favor for his father, who has been missing some years already. He reluctantly resigns and believes this is for the best intentions. Giving in to the abundance is a more preferred option than leave the kingdom of luxury. The effect of having a spouse in dream often emphasizes the morality of being a spouse. But the supernatural touches many different aspects of Chunyu’s life in the story.

Symbols that pre-empt the supernatural include the ash tree, Chunyu’s ‘half dreaming and half awake’(Gongzuo 57) state, climate change, and the surrounding scenery of a world different from human society. Chunyu was enchanted. He had yearned for an easier life much like this in his previous existence. A familiar face or two makes him settle and keeps him from running away from his bride. The characters of the kingdom as well as the surrounding walls of the main city are magnificently clad, providing evidence of a bountiful empire.

Ladies flirted with him, exotic cuisine is served at the eve of his marriage: a preparation for a better life, as Chunyu would seem. The eerie music at the festive dinner is a subtle reminder of a magical, surreal setting. Chunyu goes on to live in his dreams for more than 20 years of unfailing luck. However, in the following years, gloom starts to set in. A morbid way to take the main character back to his senses: his wife and friends die. A plot has been laid against him. Prophecy has it that he will destroy the kingdom – foreshadowing what would eventually lead him to change his life.

The dream is used to teach a moral lesson that people should not get carried away with worldly affairs because in the end, it wouldn’t matter. This tale reinforces Chinese moral code: to be just and fair is good. “His reputation reaches to the skies, His influence can make a kingdom fall, And yet this pomp and power, after all, Are but an ant-heap in the wise man’s eyes. “(Gongzuo 69) Chunyu is transported back to his world. He is roused and he notices that he’s two drinking friends are still in his house. He hurries to the tree and tells his friends the ordeal.

In his urge to validate what he has gone through, Chunyu asks his friends to help him find the empire. Du Zichun, like Chunyu, is as imperfect. Aside from drinking, he tends to splurge uncontrollably. He is a sloth, spending but not wanting to work. He is, in fact, among the deviants in Chinese society. It doesn’t matter how much cash comes his way so long as he can rid of it and spend it like it’s a disease. A wizard, disguised as an old man, helps him in return for something that he only discovers later in the story.

Once again, magic is employed. Or who would have believed an old man had 30 million? Again, it is custom of Tang literature to be strikingly extravagant, thus the enormous sum of money. The exaggerated bleakness of Du Zichun’s recovery is highlighted, again to portray a worst case incident – commoners can relate to – that turns better, at least for his relatives. Du pledges to change his ways and help his relatives while he has the money. He bought 1500 hectares of land for his relatives, assuring them years of subsistence.

Our hero survived despite the torture, fright, and gloom. He was threatened by lions, dragons, snakes and griffins; blown by lightning and rain. He was made to watch as the enemy chopped away his wife and finally killed him as well. In his dream he experiences joy and the family in a woman’s point of view. This could perhaps mean that the counter effect of women on men’s lives is extraordinary. When Du Zichun was reborn as a woman, she exhibited the same determination as her male counterpart. As a man, he learned to uphold his word of repaying the wizard.

But consequently, it is women’s weakness to be affected by love. It is this empowering instance that Du breaks free from the wizards spell. Phoenixes, the tree, a gigantic cauldron and the old man’s priestly attire of yellow and red move readers towards an anticipated supernatural occurrence. The three white pills were early versions of drugs that enabled Du to shift into to the unconscious, dreamy state. In the early years when Buddhism was being introduced in China, monks would adapt Taoist theories to teach Buddhism or show magic to attract more followers.

The two religions have opposing beliefs in some points and the superiority of over the other had been the cause of many debates. In later dynasties new forms of the religions took place to compromise with the other religions.

Works Cited: Gongzuo, Li. “Governor of the Southern Tributary State. ” Tang Dynasty Stories, translated by Yang Xianyi and G. Yang. Panda Books, 1986, 17-69. Fuyan, Li. “The Spendthrift and the Alchemist. ” Tang Dynasty Stories, translated by Yang Xianyi and G. Yang. Panda Books, 1986,136-143.

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