In Confucian China, marrying for love stirs up a storm

In China, as in many old societies, love is not necessarily synonymous with marriage. In fact, once a young man and woman declare their affection for each other and think of getting married, they often find themselves trapped in a whole web of ''other considerations'' - from education and wealth to family background.

A recent film by a Peking film studio entitled ''Qianwang'' (''The Invisible Web'') takes up the subject in a context unusual for this communist, Confucian society.

In the first place, the film is an uncompromising plea that mutual love be the primary consideration in marriage. Second, there are no overt appeals to party loyalty or to nation-building, no references to the Cultural Revolution or to the damage wrought by the ''gang of four.''

This is a strictly contemporary film, reflecting the conflict between love and family loyalty as it takes place in many households today.

Artistically, the film is not entirely successful, and Western audiences may find the ending contrived. But the plot is basically simple and its message quite clear: Without love, there is no happiness in marriage.

Luo Xuan, the only daughter of a comfortably well-off professor, falls in love with a fellow student at a college of physical education. Her boyfriend, Chen Zhiping, comes from a poor urban family, and his disabled father makes matchboxes for a living.

Both Luo Xuan's and Zhiping's parents oppose the match, on the grounds that the family backgrounds are too different.

Chen Zhiping caves in to his parents. Luo Xuan, furious, leaves her home and, defying her parents, marries a shipyard worker with whom she has nothing in common.

After her husband dies in a shipyard accident, an old childhood friend of Luo Xuan, who has always loved her and who had, in fact, been the first choice of her parents, comes back into the picture. His parents, who had been all for the match at first, are now opposed. Undeterred, eventually he wins Luo Xuan's love.

The film was made by the husband-and-wife team of Wang Hao Wei and Li Chensheng. Mrs. Wang is director and Mr. Li is chief photographer. Criticism of the film centers on Luo Xuan. Her marriage on the rebound, as it were, to the shipyard worker and the way in which she so clearly shows her lack of love for him offends many who feel a wife should respect and support her husband.

The comments often made by Chinese on this film - and more broadly on the treatment of love in novels, plays, and other movies - reflect to a surprising degree deeply inculcated ideas on decorum and woman's place within the home. These ideas are the product of centuries of Confucianist training.

At a symposium organized by the Communist Youth League here late last year, speaker after speaker warned of the danger of letting in bourgeois Western ideas about love and marriage. They emphasized that in traditional Chinese literature love was depicted as inward-looking and restrained, that overt physical manifestations such as kissing and embracing somehow were un-Chinese.

This reflects one aspect of the generation gap in China. Young people are increasingly bored by political sloganeering. They are intent on improving their own material conditions. They show interest in a love story in which the revolution and the party do not obtrusively intrude. The longer China's present period of political stability and economic growth continues, the more difficult it may become to bridge this gap.

Party stalwarts are concerned that as memories of the revolutionary period fade, young people are increasingly preoccupied with love and marriage to the exclusion of service to the party and to the nation. A survey of Communist Party members in a commune outside Shanghai found younger members more and more reluctant to attend party meetings, preferring to spend time at home with their wives.

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