Ming-Qing fiction witnessed a profound change in the representation of the father figure. Alongside the image of the strict (yan fu 嚴父) and benevolent father, responsible for the moral upbringing of his son in the Confucian socio-ethical system, there emerge figures of evil or weak fathers, unable to fully assume the duties and responsibilities of their role. This chapter represent a preliminary attempt to provide a more nuanced analysis of the character of Jia Zheng, the strict father of Jia Baoyu in the novel Hongloumeng. After briefly introducing the broader coordinates of the discourse on characterisation in contemporary narrative theory, it analyses three episodes related to Jia Zheng’s first presentation in the novel and his relationship with Baoyu, strained between cultural and personal expectations and frustrations. There emerges the figure of a complex character caught in the mixture of conflicting duties, responsibilities, personal dispositions and emotions, who confirms the trend in late imperial fiction to problematise the paternal figure by showing the complexity of the human dimension that lies beneath the normative socio-ethical roles.
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