“The man awakened from dreams”; an insight into the life of a wannabe Confucian Scholar.
Liu Dapeng, the subject of Henrietta Harrison’s novel “The man awakened from dreams”, seems an odd choice for a biography; as Liu was a poor and unknown man who, although, was a prolific writer, never published a word. Liu is portrayed as a Confucian Scholar and Teacher in the village of Chiqiao in the Shanxi Province, northern China. Harrison uses Liu’s diary as an insight into village life, at a time when China was undergoing major political, cultural and social changes. The Boxer Rebellion, the end of imperial rule, republican China, war with Japan, and the struggle between Nationalists and Communists all occurred during Liu’s long life and were reflected in his writings. However, Liu’s main focus is his day-to-day existence and that of his family and community. His relations with his parents, wife, children, and grandchildren (filial piety); the state of his health and the traditional medical practices he tried in order to improve it; local rituals; agricultural conditions; the coal mining industry; and tax collections.
Harrison conveys Liu’s life as an iconoclast, who stands by the Confucian regime, even after its decline and eventual fall, who conforms to multiple different identities. This conveys a statement that Liu lived behind a façade his entire life, in an attempt to maintain the Confucian way of life in his family. However, Harrison neglects to highlight how Liu contradicts this goal, as Liu’s son went against the cultural movement present at the time. He decided to not bind the feet of his youngest daughter; this completely contradicts his aim of maintaining a Confucian way of life as most of the female Han had their feet bound. Furthermore, this made his identity as a poor farmer and teacher controversial due to feet binding being the most culturally acceptable movement in that period of time. On the other hand, Henrietta Harrison is able to imply the controversy behind the use of multiple different identities as she portrays Liu as being a filial son, an Iconoclast, a teacher, an official in for the local population, a peasant, a farmer, and a savior or solution for China in respects to its disputes at the time, this is shown in the titles of the chapters. She makes these identities jump out of the page by exaggerating and depicting her views on Liu’s diary entries that highlight these façades. Furthermore, I really enjoyed her use of contextual knowledge and how she supported all of her statements with factual knowledge, for example, she does this when Liu writes about the “boxer revolution” in his diary entry.
Henrietta Harrison’s interpretation of Liu’s views towards the Confucian hierarchy system is spot on, as she questions the stability of his argument. This is due to Liu portraying himself as a filial son and a Confucian Scholar, but this in Harrison’s and my eyes is completely contradictory. In the Confucian...