The Family (Ba Jin novel)

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The Family (家, pinyin: Jiā, Wade-Giles: Chia) is an autobiographical novel by Chinese author Ba Jin, the pen-name of Li Feigan (1904-2005). The novel chronicles inter-generational conflict between old ways and progressive aspirations in an upper-class family in the city of Chengdu, a prosperous but provincial city in the fertile Sichuan basin in the early 1920s following the New Culture Movement. The novel was wildly popular among China's youth and established the author as a leading voice of his generation.

The novel was first serialized in 1931-2 and then released in a single volume in 1933. The original title was Turbulent Stream (激流 Jīliú), but changed after Ba Jin released it as a single volume.


The Family focuses on three brothers from the Kao family, Chueh-hsin, Chueh-min and Chueh-hui, and their struggles with the oppressive autocracy of their feudalistic family. The idealistic, if rash Chueh-hui, the youngest brother, is the main protagonist, and he is frequently contrasted with the weak eldest brother Chueh-hsin, who gives in to the demands from his grandfather and carries on living a life he does not want to live.


  • Kao Chueh-hsin (T: 高覺新, S: 高觉新, P: Gāo Juéxīn, W: Kao Chüeh-hsin) - The eldest brother, who was forced into quitting his university studies and marrying a woman other than the one he loved.
    • Chueh-hsin obeys the Kao family, despite the disapproval from his two brothers. Even though Chueh-hsin is in love with Mei, his cousin, he marries Li Jui-chueh on the orders of Master Kao after he graduates from middle school. After Chueh-min escapes from the Kao household Master Kao asks Chueh-hsin to find Chueh-min. Chueh-hsin asks Chueh-hui to help him, but the youngest brother accuses Chueh-hsin of being a coward. After learning about Mei's death, Chueh-hsin is saddened.[1] Han said that "[t]he miserable experience" awakens Chueh-hsin, who begins opposing Master Kao.[2]
    • Mei Han, author of the entry on "Family" in The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present, said that Chueh-hsin "is a victim of conservatism" who is asked to stop observing idealism, loses the women who are dear to him, and "does nothing but cries in the corner."[2] Jin Feng, author of The New Woman in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction, said that Chueh-hsin is "a character used by a foil to impress upon the reader Juehui [Chueh-hui]'s revolutionary courage as compared to people of his own generation and gender."[3] Feng added that while Chueh-hui believes that Chueh-hsin is a '"coward who makes "unnecessary sacrifices" of himself and the women he loves', Chueh-hui "cannot help but sympathize with Juexin [Chueh-hsin]'s dillemma, and in fact often depends on him as a buffer against abuses by their grandfather and uncles."[3] Han says that Chueh-hsin is also an "accomplice" since he helps Master Kao try to find Chueh-min, and that Chueh-hsin "inists on nonresistance" despite the fact that he agrees with his brothers.[2] Han argued that Chueh-hsin's obedience to the family angers Chueh-hui despite the mercy that Chueh-hui feels for Chueh-hsin, "reflecting the author's own attitude toward" Chueh-hsin.[2]
  • Kao Chueh-min (T: 高覺民, S: 高觉民, P: Gāo Juémín, W: Kao Chüeh-min) - The middle brother.
    • Chueh-min wears glasses. Chueh-min is in love with Chin, his cousin. Chueh-min anticipates the time when his academy begins admitting female students so the two could get together and marry. Master Kao asks Chueh-min to marry the Grandniece of Milord Feng, but Chueh-min instead leaves the house, with Chueh-hui helping him escape.[1] Master Kao later ends the engagement and gives permission for Chueh-min and Chin to marry.[2]
  • Kao Chueh-hui (T: 高覺慧, S: 高觉慧, P: Gāo Juéhuì, W: Kao Chüeh-hui) - The most rebellious of the brothers.
    • Chueh-hui has an interest in the ideals of the May Fourth Movement. Chueh-hui has a romantic interest in Ming-feng. Han says that Chueh-hui "pays more attention to the rebellion" than to Ming-feng.[1] After Ming-feng's death he feels remorse. At the end of the novel, he believes staying in the family is too suffocating, so he leaves Chengdu to go to Shanghai.[2]
    • According to Feng, Chueh-hui is "the center of consciousness" in The Family.[4] Feng said that while Chueh-hui "is apparently the most fearless and rebellious of the three brothers" he also "is by no means the heroic role model that he has read about in new books and journals—the sources of all his new ideas."[3] Feng argues that "Juehui [Chueh-hui] betrays the most pronounced contradictions through his interactions with his family" and that Chueh-hui "often finds himself helplessly entangled in ambivalent feelings" while dealing with his family, using his interactions with Chueh-hsin as an example.[3] Han argued that while being "high-spirited youth rebelling against his family's restrictions", Chueh-hui "still posesses ideas" from the Kao Family traditions.[2] As an example she cites his pattern of affection for Ming-feng. Han argues that despite the fact that he likes her, "he never expresses his love or his hidden dreams: If only Ming-feng were a lady like Qin, he would marry her in a heartbeat."[2]
  • Li Jui-chueh (T: 李瑞玨, S: 李瑞珏, P: Lǐ Ruìjué, W: Li Jui-chüeh) - Chueh-hsin's wife. She married him and fell in love with him, but realized that Chueh-hsin still loved Mei more than her. She dies in childbirth.
    • Han said that Jui-chueh "is beautiful and mild, and their intensive love produces their first boy, Hai Chen."[1] After Master Kao dies, as Jui-chueh is pregnant with a second child, relatives cajole Chueh-hsin into moving Jui-chueh out of the city to avoid giving the coffin of Master Kao. Despite Chueh-hui's pleas to have it reversed, Chueh-hsin allows the move to happen, and Jui-chueh dies of childbirth as Chueh-hsin is prevented from entering the delivery room during the period of mourning for Master Kao.[2]
  • Mei (C: 梅, P: Méi, W: Mei) - Chueh-hsin's cousin and the love of his life. She falls ill and dies.
    • Han said that Mei "lives a miserable life."[1] Within a year from the start of the novel she marries and becomes a widow. Because her mother-in-law had not treated her well, she lives with her mother. Han said that the Kao family's younger members, especially Chueh-hsin, "are sympathetic" to Mei.[1]
  • Ming-feng (T: 鳴鳳, S: 鸣凤, P: Míngfèng, W: Ming-feng) - A maidservant.[1] Mingfeng who is forced to marry an older man. She commits suicide.
    • Han describes Ming-feng as "another tragic woman" in the Kao family.[1] Ming-feng wants to marry Chueh-hui but Master Kao arranges to have her be a mistress to Milord Feng, a man who is at the same age level as Ming-feng's grandfathers would be. Ming-feng begs other members to remove her from the situation but nobody can challenge Master Kao. At the midnight before she is to be given to Feng, she appears in Chueh-hui's bedroom but he is so busy working on academic articles that he does not notice Ming-feng and her pleas. She commits suicide by drowning herself in a pool of water. Han said "Jue Min and others pity the girl, while Jue Hui now regrets his carelessness. However none of the people could have changed Ming Feng's fate."[1]
  • Chin (C: 琴, P: Qín, W: Ch'in): A female cousin of Kao Chueh-hsin, and a student.
    • Feng said that Chin "is esconced, somewhat ironically, in extensive and complex familial relationships" so that the book rarely mentions her life away from the Kao family.[4] Feng explained that because Pa Chin made the female student Chin as a more "feminine" and "inferior" counterpart to the male student Chueh-hui, the "domestication" of Chin is "necessary".[4] Feng argued that "at first glance" Chin and Chueh-hui "seem to me more similar than different" their parallel and symmetrical placement within the storyline of The Family "serves both to segregate the domains of their activities by gender and to differentiate the degree of their radicalism."[4] For instance Feng notes that Chin does not come into conflict with male characters in her immediate or extended family and "acts as a dutiful and loving daughter to her widowed mother" while Chueh-hui "usually displays an antagonistic attitude" towards older men in the Kao family and Chueh-hui leaves the Kao family home.[4] Feng concluded that the fact that Chueh-hui leaves his house means that "his conflicts with the traditional family system are more fundamental and irreconcilable than those in Qin's [Chin] case."[4] Feng argued that the author "deployed Qin to magnify Juehui's revolutionary zeal" by emphasizing differences that the two characters have in their emotional responses and respective relationships to the members of the Kao family and also "located the source of Qin's weakness in her gender and thus reaffirmed Juehui's superiority."[4]
  • Master Kao - The head of the Kao family.[1]
    • As Master Kao grows older, he attempts to reunite the Kao family.[2]
    • Han argues that Master Kao is "complex".[2] She explained that Master Kao in fact loves his family and takes steps to enlarge it to accomplish his goal of having a large family, and that he does not believe that his decisions, which are based on ancestral rules, would harm his children.[2] Han concluded that "Withdrawing his order on his deathbed shows that he remained a kind grandfather at the end, even if he was an ironhanded patriarch."[2]
  • Madam Chou

Publication history, translations, and adaptations[edit]

The Family was first serialized in 1931-2. Together with Spring and Autumn, two novels Pa Chin wrote in the period 1939-40, it forms the trilogy, Turbulent Stream trilogy (激流三部曲).

An English translation by Sidney Shapiro was published in 1958 by Foreign Languages Press (Beijing), with a third edition in 1978. Shapiro's translation was based on the 1953 People's Publishing House text, in which the author made corrections. Pa Chin made further changes for Shapiro's translation. The 1972 Anchor Books (New York) edition was edited by Olga Lang, Pa Chin's biographer. The New York edition omits the article "the" from the title, which makes "family" a more general concept rather than limiting it to this particular family. In her Editor's Note, Lang discusses the history of the text, pointing out that certain passages, the anarchist elements, had been deleted from the 1958 Foreign Languages Press edition. The Anchor edition restored three prefaces by the author, newly translated, as well as some of the omitted passages.[5]

A play and two films were based on the novel. The play was adapted by famous playwright Cao Yu in 1941. [6] A recent Mainland Chinese TV adaptation stars Huang Lei, Lu Yi and Huang Yi.

In The Family Pa Chin mentions Wu Yu (a.k.a. Wu Youling), when Chueh-min and Chueh-hui discuss in a favorable manner how he is going to teach at their school. In the Sidney Shapiro translation Wu Yu is not mentioned by name; instead he is referred to as "the man who wrote that article, 'Cannibal Confucian Morality' in the New Youth magazine"[7]

Comparative perspective[edit]

Family mentions many of the books and authors which inflamed the young protagonists, giving a vivid picture of intellectual life in a provincial capital. The tone and theme was influenced by works that also influenced many Chinese authors of Pa Chin's generation, for instance A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen,[8] about the fate of a woman trapped in the physical and social structures of her marriage. The Family is often compared to the 18th-century novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, a richly poetic and tragic chronicle of the life of a prominent family living within a great house. Though he did not mention it as a model, Pa Chin, like all educated Chinese of his time, had been familiar with the work from his youth. Where the earlier work is fatalistic and told with philosophical allegory, however, the young heroes of Family leaves home to pursue lives of worldly engagement.[9]


Mei Han, author of the "Family" entry in The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present, said that the most "moving" portions of The Family were the deaths of Ming-feng, Mei, and Jui-chueh.[2]


  • Chow, Kai-Wing. Beyond the May Fourth Paradigm: In Search of Chinese Modernity. Lexington Books, 2008. ISBN 0739111221, 9780739111222.
  • Feng, Jin. The New Woman in Early Twentieth-century Chinese Fiction. Purdue University Press, 2004. ISBN 155753330X, 9781557533302.
  • Han, Mei. "Family." Located in: Sollars, Michael David and Arbolina Llamas Jennings (contributors) The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present (Facts on File library of world literature). Infobase Publishing, 2008. p. 260-261. ISBN 1438108362, 9781438108360.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Han, p. 260.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Han, p. 261.
  3. ^ a b c d Feng, p. 90.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Feng, p. 89.
  5. ^ Anchor edition., Editor's Note, p. v; Introduction, p. xix.
  6. ^ Anchor edition., Introduction, p. xxiii.
  7. ^ Chow, p. 144. Quote from p. 17 of the Sidney Shapiro translation (Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1989)
  8. ^ Anchor edition., p. 34.
  9. ^ Olga Lang Pa Chin and His Writings: Chinese Youth Between Two Revolutions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 83-84

Further reading[edit]

  • Decker, David. "Chronicle of Revolt: Fate vs. Choice." in: Lin, Phylis Lan, Ko-wang Mei, and Huai-chen Peng (editors). Marriage and the Family in Chinese Societies. University of Indianapolis Press, January 1, 2002. p.235-248. ISBN 1880938014, 9781880938010.
  • Lang, Olga. Pa Chin and His Writings: Chinese Youth Between Two Revolutions. Cambdridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1967.
  • Mao, Nathan K. Pa Chin. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978.
  • Ru, Yu-ling. The Family Novel: Toward a Generic Definition. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

External links[edit]