People had
articulated for successful women: she should balance her roles of lover, wife,
concubine, and again the tragic heroine, though dead, comes through with total
devotion. She has to take all the blames and stake her life in order to be successful
and heroic.

Tu
Shih-niang represents the difficulties of womanhood in Confucian China; she is
a beautiful courtesan, among other things, the ubiquity of Confucian moral
philosophy and religion that governs even the conduct of prostitutes,
marginalized by the patrilineal society (????); in other words, prostitutes
also have a problem of following the code of conduct for virtuous women; for
the heroine, she gives her whole-hearted dedication to her husband to show her
redemption and womanhood, for which she would rather die as a chaste female
martyr (??) rather than live disgraced and ashamed;

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Also, this
story brings up the theme of “Cong Liang” (??), a prostitute becoming a good
wife. Normally, it is very difficult for prostitutes to re-enter into a
domestic life. The society doesn’t mind men’s sexual promiscuity while women
are held responsible for keeping female chastity; Tu Shih-niang is famous and well
liked by men as a sexual object but shunned as a source of scandal, wherein
lies the dynamics of Cong Liang theme: a woman who is a prostitute by
profession can be a moral person to which extent.

Tu
Shih-niang, though a prostitute, comes out triumphant over scholar Li Chia, who
was born into wealth and privileged in education, goes down as a shameful
villain who values money over loyalty. Shih-niang represents the eight core
Confucian values (of loyalty, filial piety, virtue, integrity, kindness, faith,
courtesy, and wisdom (???????????????), while Li Chia and Sun Fu act on expedience and treat human
beings like a means. One can say that Confucian humanism empowers a prostitute
to rise above her mean conditions and to judge the men without moral scruples.
In this game or battle of the sexes where the rules are often in favor of man, Tu
Shih-niang outdoes Li Chia by sticking to her side of the bargain while the
latter fails to hold out his end, respect and cherish her as his wife.

Sometimes
the logics in ethics also works as aesthetics enabling us to view moral acts as
beautiful, which is perhaps why the audience usually finds it touching when at
the end Tu Shih-niang commits suicide, an act of true love and of protest
against her husband’s shameful abandonment; she is the figure of the sublime
when she throws her treasures into the river, and throws herself into it; Li Chia
loves both money and women, but at the end he loses both. He deviates from the
ethical principles (?) in pursuit of profit (?) as in “gentleman minds
righteousness while a mean person minds profit” (???????????); this
drama of loyalty and betrayal perfectly illustrates this Confucian view of the
world as a moral universe.