Saturday, August 4, 2007

Farewell My Concubine - The Contextualization of Choice

Historical it is. Or is it? Is it merely it? Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine is indeed a magnificent piece of art which exemplifies nothing less than art itself, the Peking opera, which is actually the ultimate form of Chinese art I must say.

The portrayal of the Peking opera, as well as the people around it however is so strong and is intensely submerged within history that at the peak of historical and cultural unfolding in China, I came into thinking that it is not simply a historical film. This is not just about the evolution of the Peking opera. It’s revolution.

Having known of the Kaige’s first-hand experience of the Cultural Revolution in China, it then became clear that the film is nothing less than a critique to the movement which attempted to vanquish all previous elements – may it be in religion or art – in China. The Cultural Revolution did not only take away China’s old culture. It has taken away China’s higher culture.

The movie however did not show that solely on the history of opera, and instead also somewhat portrayed it in other forms such as thought the lives of Farewell My Concubine the play’s Concubine Yu, and the Peking Opera actor Cheng Dieyi. The opera’s attempt to resist and struggle against Cultural Revolution is also thus mirrored in the lives of the two characters in the film.

There were therefore three faces of revolution that were showcased in the film. It was the battles and hardships of Concubine Yu, representing a classic Peking Opera piece; Cheng Dieyi, an image of a celebrated Peking Opera actor; and the Peking Opera itself – all struggling to preserve their own but shared glorious moments in China’s cultural stage.

For comparison, I was able to see some points of parallelisms, as shown in the film, among the lives of these three characters. Grounds for comparisons are thus set to further understand how the director have progressed the revolting dispositions of each of the said characters, representing the revolting Peking Opera on a macro level of Chinese Cultural revolution.

The characters, except maybe for Concubine Yu, have undergone a painstaking path to greatness. At a young age, Dieyi was faced with tremendous challenges, before and upon entering opera. From the beginning he was looked down by society, being a prostitute’s son, as well as having eleven fingers, on which the eleventh was cut by his own mother, he then encountered more challenges inside the opera as he was harshly forced to think of himself as a girl. Perfect should be the word and there is certainly no room for mistakes. That one also goes with Peking Opera. It was first shown as something being done merely on streets colorless, helpless. It was a struggling path for the opera, same as Dieyi’s. It was the begging for finding, the never-ending training for the actors, the hard beatings of the students, and the like – all for the dreamt glorious days of the Peking Opera.

As portrayed, the Peking Opera have had absolutely high standards. It was considered close to sacred as imperfections were certainly not allowed. Everyone behind it has put up tremendous efforts just to uphold the highly precious Peking Opera. The opera was nonetheless a product of sweat, tears, and blood and Kaige was needless to say successful in making reels out of it.

The glorious days of the opera came as the stage was painted with different colors. With colorful costumes, makeup, props, acrobatics, dances songs, the film was actually Peking Opera brought back to life. It seemed quite effortless for the film to show hoe Peking Opera was then adored, respected, and appreciated, by the Chinese who were genuinely fans of opera. The character of Dieyi also experienced the golden moments of her life the same time as the Peking Opera have. Opera indeed was the center of Dieyi’s life. It might have even become his life. It was certainly an amazing display of Chinese culture before the Cultural Revolution. Everyone definitely has put the highest premium to the Peking Opera, and has worshipped its actors. Everyone loved Peking Opera.

Another interesting points in the movie is the depiction of Peking Opera’s resilience and resistance to destruction,, even though it witnessed power’s several change of hands. The actors were constantly performing, and the stage was constantly filled with color, even though the backdrop of the audience symbolized by varying flags was constantly changing, until the Cultural Revolution was imposed by the new holder of power.

Decades of greatness or the Peking Opera was suddenly, immediately shattered by that imposition. As everything in the past was tagged as evil, the Peking Opera, at least that which the people knew during that time, as also considered as such and thus, must be at all means, destroyed. Repercussions on the life of the people, not just those within the Peking Opera, were for sure also ruined, as the character of Dieyi has exhibited. It was then time to bid the great Peking Opera goodbye, as that for Cheng Dieyi, and Concubine Yu. It was then farewell.

Farewell My Concubine has captured the greatness of the Peking Opera until it was finally shattered by Cultural Revolution. It was such an intensely, as well as a passionately, created film which was in a sense meant to let today’s people of China realize what they had back then, back when their higher culture was eliminated, back when they still have their highest form of heritage. Kaige undeniably created a very strong medium for political socialization, through political realizations of there’s such a thing. It was indeed so hard to bid farewell to a nation’s foundational treasures, even if someone argues that it is for the building of better ones. Nevertheless, Chen Kaige’s farewell My Concubine is certainly one great national treasure all for the Chinese to keep.

- Gandia

For a film that lasts for almost three hours, I may say that the film, “Farewell, My Concubine” was really worth my time.

Originally entitled “Bàwáng Bié Jī ”, this 1993 Chinese period film which was directed by Fifth Generation film maker Chen Kaige, shows the story of two opera performers of the Peking Opera Troupe, Xiaolou and Deiyi, as they undergone the different periods of political upheavals in China and how, these period of time had affected their lives as well as their art. Recipient of the prestigious Palme d’Or award by Cannes Film Festival in 1993 (along with “The Piano”), Farewell, My Concubine can be classified into different genres, just as the same with the other film studies. As mentioned above, the film is mainly a period film but it could also fall under drama, romantic epic or classified to be a gay or lesbian film. And its themes include political unrest, totalitarian states, life in the arts, gender- bending (homosexuality), star- crossed lovers and, as what I found to be a very important theme, betrayal.

Now, aside from the abovementioned thematic focus of the film, there is one concept that I would like to be my central argument in this discussion and that is the concept of public and private divide. In this short entry, I would like to show how the Farewell, My Concubine encapsulates the “public vs. private” concept and show how the film, could be seen, in the end, to be an effective medium for political socialization.

So what is said to be public? And how does it differ from the private? The public, as Heywood defines it, are “the institutions of the state (the apparatus of government, the courts, the police, the army, the social security system and so forth) and can be regarded as ‘public’ in the sense that they are responsible for the collective organization of community life (Heywood, 2002).” This public realm is shown in the film in two ways. One which could be considered to be the public would be the different political periods (and political changes) that China had undergone, from the time before the People’s Republic of China came into existence. to the Japanese invasion of China, then to the rule of the National Government, then to the Chinese Civil War, up until the Cultural Revolution. The other, which could be said to be depicted in the film as the public, would be the Chinese society.

The private realm, on the other hand, are “areas of life that individuals can do and manage for themselves (the economic, social, domestic, personal, and artistic spheres, and so on) (Heywood, 2002).” In the film, this is also portrayed in two aspects- the first is the Peking Opera and the second, the lives of Deiyi and Xiaolou.

Now, the film shows that there exists an interplay between these two realms- the public and the private. The film explains that the two concepts are dialectical in nature and somehow, one could not be divided from the other. So how is this shown? For one, the film depicts the effects of various Chinese political turmoil during the 20th century on a Peking Opera Troupe and shows how half a century politics could greatly have an effect on the lives of two performers and friends. Clearly, we see how the public greatly affects the private and that the public has always something to do with how the private lives their lives. In particular, we see how the Cultural Revolution had affected the Peking Opera and how it had, in a way, contributed to the death of the art. Also, we saw how this revolution led to betrayal among the characters of the film. If we are to analyze this, we could say that the friendship which the two main characters have developed is a private thing and it should be kept as that. But due to the Cultural Revolution, we saw how a public matter had infiltrated this private thing which eventually led to its destruction.

Another example where this interplay of public and private is seen is during the scene when Juxian (wife of Xiaolou) killed herself. Suicide is indeed a private matter. However the reason behind it may be seen to be what is public. Though it had not been explained, we could say that she killed herself because of the betrayal that her husband did to her- again a private matter. But is it not that the reason why Xiaolou betrayed her was because it was what the public, in this context the cultural revolutionaries, dictated? Again, we see how the public affects the how the private reacts.

So how does this film becomes a medium for socialization? The film, as I see it, is used as a medium of political critique. The film is utilized as a critique to communism and shows that communism is not all good. This is turn leads us to accumulating the “other face” that communism could take and shows us how this communism caused the downfall of the art of the Chinese, which is the opera. A person who is so entranced with the goodness of Communism would probably, after watching the film, (the same with how I felt) not feel the same way. On the other hand, one who is so into the art of the opera would now, after the film, understand, in one way or the other, why communism had this bad feeling towards it. The art of opera has its bourgeois and royal traditions, something that the new regime opposes. In a more general view, since the film shows to us that the private is indeed intertwined with the public, this would lead us to acting in ways that in deciding on our private matters, now, we would take into consideration the public realm.

As a conclusion, I bring to you my favorite line in the film, one that I feel has a great part on both the lives of the characters. “by nature, I am a boy, not a girl.” Indeed, Deiyi, by nature is a boy, not a girl but he will always be Concubine Yu to me.

- Suyat


me_delas_alas said...

Central to the theme of the 1993 Chinese film Farewell My Concubine is the idea that our lives revolve around on basically two faces: the life that we live by the day within our perceived realm of what truth is, and the life that we ideally want to live outside what we see as real, hence, an imagined life. Although seemingly competing by nature, the choices we make on where we would want our life to grow and flourish matter substantially to evaluate the decisions that we made, are making, and will make throughout the entirety of our lived lives.

A theme that is consequently evident to this central argument is the idea of sexual identification within the private lives of the characters (particularly Deiyi) and also within the more public sphere and the spaces in which the two intertwine. Evidently, there is a contrast on Deiyi's personality. Deiyi, who plays Concubine Yu opposite his closest friend and soon his love interest Xiaolou, has been deeply embedded to the role that he plays in the Opera, which is a public commodity for entertainment. Apparently, his portrayal had been, in a sense, “devolved” into the private lives of both Deiyi and Xiaolou. Consequently, this brings us to the problem of identifying sexuality as an integral part of living their lives. This was primarily shown when Deiyi, during his childhood at training, refuses to speak the line saying that she is a girl. There comes the first confusion. We see, then, that there are many factors that shaped the choices and the consequences that affected the lives of the characters.

We then ask, how is the theme of sex and gender, a relatively private issue, brought up to the public realm? In effect, how does the public affect the lives of those involved privately?

As institutions, socities ultimately set up “the rules of the game”, formally or through shared traditions and norms. This basic characterization is practically seen in all socities which in effect, its components (the individuals) adhere to its standards. But these do not come from thin air. Patterns of decisions and obstacles have paved the way for these standards through time. In the case of the Chinese society, great emphasis is given to discipline and attainment of highest forms of arts specifically during the time when the Peking Opera is at its peak. The primacy of the society as an important part in the decisions that Deiyi made clearly affects the consequent events in the film. Since artists are given much importance, Deiyi became very much rooted to his role as Yu to the point that he has seen himself as Concubine Yu. Thus, his role in the society as an artist will eventually penetrate his relations within the private sphere of his life, particularly regarding his sexuality and his feelings toward Xiaolou.

As seen in the film, Deiyi lived his public life, that is, the life in the opera as an artist. His private life seemed to stand away from the fore, and who he is in public gradually translated to who he is in private. Critically, the challenge of separating the role he plays and in rela life, specifically the dichotomy between his sex and that of who he plays became prominent. In Deiyi's case, the impact of societal forces such as the people's love in his character and the arrival of Juxian (his jealousy sparked the issue of his homosexuality) have come to his inner self. His life he patterned in relation to Yu, up to that point that he ended his life in the same manner as that of the concubine.

Efferctively, the society crucially plays a significant role in separating the decisions we makewithin the tow realms of our lives, in this case, the choice of whether we willa bsorb our societal roles very much as to put it within the context of the private. Society, then, greatly affects our way of thinking as much as we also form part of the greater unit that is society. Some may see it as mere fate, but I believe that our lives – both lived and imagined – are built on choices, and to accept whatever consequence that choice may bring. We are molded by choices, be it a norm or a deviant action from that of the rest of society. It is not who we are skin deep – whether publicly or in private – that will speak of our identity. It is our integrity that will mark ourselves as important actors in the society.

alejandro said...

The 1993 Chinese film “Farewell my Concubine” directed by Chen Kaige is about “the lives those of two Peking opera performers and the woman who comes between them,” “through the time before People's Republic of China came into existence, the turbulent political landscape during the 1950s, the cultural revolution in 1960s and 1970s, and then the reformation and opening after that” (Wikipedia 2007).

The focus of my comment on this film is on the importance of keeping the “integrity” of tradition and culture for the Peking opera actors, as portrayed in the film. “The term tradition encompasses anything handed down or transmitted from the past to the present (long standing customs and practices, institutions, social or political systems, values and beliefs, and so on)” (Heywood 2002). Based on such definition of the concept of tradition, I would like to relate this concept with institutions (for the purpose of this paper, I would use the Peking opera as an institution). “Institutions become embedded in routine and convention and are, consequently, difficult to reform, transform or replace” (Hay 2002).

Strict compliance to tradition was very evident even from the start of the film. An example of which was when the mother of Dieyi, a prostitute, amputated the extra finger on his hand using a “butcher knife” (Wikipedia 2007). Desperately wanting to get rid of Dieyi, Dieyi's mother cut his extra finger to submit to the rules of the local opera troupe, which did not permit the joining of any child with “abnormalities” such as that of Dieyi's extra finger.

Another example would be the torture-like kind of training in the local opera troupe. During training, the aspiring opera actors had to memorize long lines and sing them while acting exactly the way they should be delivered onstage. The aspiring actors had to endure mentally, emotionally and physically painstaking training everyday. One scene in the film that remains vivid in my memory was when one of the aspiring actors during training delivered his lines well, but his hands were still hit hard with a long wooden stick by the troupe's master in order for him to remember to keep doing well. Due to the seemingly endless painful training, Laizi, part of the local opera troupe, decided to hang himself instead of enduring the punishment that he would have gotten after getting “a taste of the outside world and some candied crab apples,” and watching “Beijing opera performers” (Wikipedia 2007). The rules in the training were viewed as given and natural to the point that most, if not all, of those who were part of the training did not dare resist the rules that had to be complied with, such as the hitting of their hands with a long wooden stick.

Another example would be the numerous times that the play “Farewell my Concubine” was performed onstage by Xiaolou and Dieyi with exquisite accuracy – the angle of the face, the swaying of the arms and fingers while singing and acting (which was very evident in the acting of Dieyi as Concubine Yu), even to the extent of the number of steps that Xiaolou as the King had to take before approaching Dieyi as Concubine Yu. There was no room for mistakes, for change, and for innovation. Indeed, there was an outright effort to keep things the way they are, and an overt resistance to change.

The film was a remarkably effective medium for political socialization. Although, as a viewer, I had to endure three hours to watch this film, I must say that it was very effective as a process for individuals to acquire political beliefs and values from generation to generation, especially because it is a period film – “from the time before People's Republic of China came into existence, the turbulent political landscape during the 1950s, the cultural revolution in 1960s and 1970s, and then the reformation and opening after that” (Wikipedia 2007).


Hay, Colin. Political Analysis. Hampshire, England and New York: Palgrave, 2002. Chapter 1, p. 14
Heywood, Andrew. Politics. Second Edition. Hampshire, England and New York: Palgrave, 2002. p. 212
Wikipedia. 2007. Farewell My Concubine (film).

Felicia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
abeleda said...

Make no bones about it: “Farewell, My Concubine” is an Asian movie. And no, I’m not just stating the obvious.

The movie’s central character is not a “who” but a “what”. No, it’s not Dieyi Cheng nor Xiaolou Duan--- it’s the Peking opera! The Chinese classical opera as it evolves through 50 years of Chinese history is the focal point to which the entire narrative of the film revolves. Unavoidably, the movie deals with the history of the Chinese people: the experience of Dieyi, Xiaolou and Juxian being only the distillation of the Chinese experience. When talking about Western or Hollywood films, we usually talk about a person, who through a series of actions tries to alter or change his conditions. An Asian film, like Farewell on the other hand, could have a “main” character that does not truly seek to change the course of his life but in reacting to the change in his surroundings,may as well alter it. The Marlboro man is a freedom-loving individualist who seeks to change his surroundings while a Chinese fisherman is part of a collective, tightly-knit fishing village that defines the challenges posed by his surroundings as adapting to nature.

When we talk of films, we usually ask, “who are the main characters?” and ‘what do they do to achieve their goals?”. This is an obligatory concession to western film criticism, and I’m not proposing we do away with it entirely when discussing Asian films. Heck, most film reviews, particularly the links provided to us, are categorized in such a manner and so we are consciously or otherwise, being “conditioned” to think of all films as similarly structured.

What I am proposing is that aside from the Western tools of critical analysis, we should develop (if we haven’t already; I’m not going to pretend to know the answers) Asian tools of critical analysis utilizing Asian sensibilities. One American critic rants that the movie took an inordinately long time depicting the opera, something which doesn’t really move the story along in the second half of the film but then he admits it may have something to do with the importance of the Peking opera to the Chinese culture, something which he professes to know little about. This is western bigotry in action: easier to hate something you do not fully understand.

The movie also deals with a very Asian concept of the face. Asians have a common concept of the two faces: the “inner” and the “outer” face. In the Philippines, it is the ‘labas’ (outside) and the ‘loob’ (inside). A boss may insult the work done by an Asian as sloppy or substandard and he will meekly bow and try to rectify them but if a Western boss tries to insult the Asian’s upbringing or malign his people, then the boss is courting certain disaster. An Asian is expected to recover from shame if the shame is brought only to his outer face like his job, but if the shame is brought to his household, his inner face, then nothing will be left of him---for society will shun him.

In the movie, the opera becomes the public face of the opera actors Dieyi and Xiaolou (although Dieyi’s private face overlaps with his public image). Xiaolou and Juxian’s private face is their marriage. During the Cultural Revolution, however, the opera actors betrayed each other. Xiaolou shamed Dieyi’s private face by exposing his homosexuality and Dieyi hits back by denouncing Juxian as a former whore. The only honorable escape for a shamed Asian is suicide, and this was the tragic option chosen by the shamed Juxian and Dieyi. That it happens within the context of a Chinese Opera about loyalty to one’s loved one only served to heighten the irony of the death and inhumanity of the denunciation.

Dieyi and Juxian may have committed suicide--- an unthinkable act in the individualistic West---- but they were killed long before: in the travesty of the denunciation during the Cultural revolution. Art should serve society, the revolution teaches but the means employed by the Chinese elders may have done worse for society than its intended goal may have benefited it. This, I believe, is the movie’s own political denunciation of the Cultural Revolution. Although, like in typical Asian fashion, such wanton disrespect is couched in the respectful language of the film itself.

odessawoods said...

Farewell, My Concubine, Kaige Chen, 1993.
This movie is quite intriguing. It is about the life of the protagonist Xiao Xu—from his childhood days when his mother left him in an opera schol to his adult life when he became the famous stage actor deiyi, and all the srtuggles he encountered in between.
Deiyi portrayed Concubine Yu in his plays, and it seems that he had actually transformed into the concubine. The stage became his reality, there was no clear delineation now between his public and his private life.
From the beginning, it was shown how Deiyi's gratefulness to Duan turned to affection and then to love. When they were still sudents at the opera school Duan looked after Deiyi, and their friendship lasted until they became known. However, Duan only treated Deiyi as a younger brother, while Deiyi's admiration for Duan turned into an obsession, just like how he saw acting and theater; at one time, he even performed for the Japanese soldiers for them to free the captured Duan, even if Deiyi was aware that his life might be threatened. His dedication and passion for his friend and for acting led him to lose any fear he had. Later though, Duan married Ju Xien, a prostitute from the House of Blossoms, who made Deiyi insecure. The relationship between the three changed with the changes around them—from the height of their popularity and the opera (bound by friendship), and eventually to their fall and separation during the transition to communist China (caused by jealousy or betrayal).
Aside from the clearly pesented issues on homosexuality and the private/public sphere, there is the issue of authority and violence. In the opera school, the Master punished his students who could not recite flawlessly his lines. He hit students even if they performed well so they won't forget or just so they will do better next time. It had been effective for Deiyi and Duan because they behaved according to what their master told them, but then again this may have rooted from the fear they felt towards the old man. The authority the master had was out of fear by the students and not of deep respect, just like Deiyi's colleague who chose to die than to face the beatings.
What I would like to discuss is how the characters fight for and pursue their dreams. We know that somehow the environment has a role in creating/shaping identities, but how exactly do we treat and react to others' opinions and criticisms? When the master first saw little Xiao Xu, he said Xiao Xu was cursed and was not for the opera, but Xiao Xu's mother made ways for his son to be accepted. While attending school, Xiao Xu was regularly punished because he could not internalize. Only when Duan hit him (whom he adored and thought would never hurt him) did he realize that his actions could affect the school's reputation. Xiao Xu then strived and practiced being the character, later becoming the famous actor Deiyi to prove his worth to Duan. It was his reaction to Duan's maltreatment—he wanted to be accepted. But because Duan could not return his love, he chose to be in the company of Mr. Yuan, who similarly was obsessed with him (or his character concubine Yu), and his opium.
The same is true for Ju Xien, all her life, she stayed in a sluthouse. She wanted to change her future by marrying a rich man, Duan, and eventually be respected and not be regarded lowly. But then even after marriage, her past still haunted her, she was continuously being judged. As for Duan, he betrayed his wife and his friend just so he will be saved from being persecuted. He made a compromise—art in the form of opera and lifelong friendship which he dreamt of all his life, or the idea of being one with the communist youth to save his ass?
I think this film is not merely a historical portrayal of the rise and fall of the opera, it also shows the human side of actors—how the stage becomes their hiding place, a place to lose reality and be someone else. Onstage, they are their dreams, they are being applauded and not being judged because the audience see them as different people. In the film, how the characters treated their problems and reacted to people's judgment was to wear masks or to run away, with Deiyi and Ju Xien killing themselves, because they could not relate to the present norms.

eva marie said...

What “Farewell My Concubine (Bawang Bie Ji)”intuitively led me is to view the movie within the context of the free will-predestination debate.

On one hand, the definite course of each of the main character’s life could be seen as a product of their personal decisions. It was Diyie’s choice to live out the identity he has chosen. There was also an opportunity to clear himself before the trial court with Master Yuan and Xiaolou to serving as witnesses but he chose to confess the truth. He also chose the manner and extent he consumed opium (i.e. his addciton). It was Xiaolou’s choice to pursue Juxian even though he could have other girls especially with the fame he was enjoying.

On the other hand, it could also be argued that these decisions are ultimately drawn because of social, historical, and political context that are predestined to take place. The greatest manifestation of instances that free will is not at play is that the characters are compelled to do things that they should otherwise have not done. Those enjoying the art of the Peking opera, especially the stars, would not allow it to get caught in the political changes if they could help it. Instead, even the lives they chose to live were deeply affected by the fate of the Peking opera.
(Note the convergence of the agent-structure and free will-predestination debate.)

Or would it be easier to look at incremental decisions of free will done along predestined circumstances? While Dieyi may have been predestined to be left by his mother with the opera troupe, it was his will that determined his eventual role in the Peking opera. It is rather ironic how the opera master reminded that the young actors are responsible for their own fate yet he has to ‘punish’ them for the path they have taken, even instilling a role to Dieyi that will soon largely determine the course of his life.
It must be human fate to die (at least an earthly death) but it is one’s decision if it is to be self-preempted as Laizi, Dieyi and Juxian did.

At the very least “Farewell My Concubine” showed that the relationship of free will and predestination is not a simple one. Even if one looks at both factors, there is no formula to clearly delineate where one ends and the other starts. Just where will ‘bounded free will’ qualify? The interplay of free will and predestination in this movie somehow illustrates that too little of free will choke hope but too much of it presents too few challenges. As most would agree, man has to deal with both to live a meaningful life.

This debate is significant in our discussion of political socialization because political socialization aims to affect perspectives and corresponding actions to support an end in view. However, if indeed the end is predetermined, what is there to affect? Why would agents of political socialization try to influence thoughts and actions that will still result to the same thing? Indeed, could they still be called agents given that responses are predestined to be such?

The relevance of political socialization rests in the assumption that there is still an element of free will. In fact, it could be argued that man need to maintain a certain level of free will and his capacity to make an impact. The argument of the movie supports this. “Farewell My Concubine” showed that curtailment of free will is not healthy for an individual both at personal and interpersonal levels. And this could be at the heart of the critique of Cultural Revolution that Ms. Gandia sees as one of the aims of the movie as an agent of political socialization. In connection to Ms. Suyat’s point regarding the private and public divide; a private life is always kept even by public figures because it is a sphere where a person clearly sees of the impact of his own volition.

eva marie said...

What “Farewell My Concubine (Bawang Bie Ji)”intuitively led me is to view the movie within the context of the free will-predestination debate.

On one hand, the definite course of each of the main character’s life could be seen as a product of their personal decisions. It was Diyie’s choice to live out the identity he has chosen. There was also an opportunity to clear himself before the trial court with Master Yuan and Xiaolou to serving as witnesses but he chose to confess the truth. He also chose the manner and extent he consumed opium (i.e. his addciton). It was Xiaolou’s choice to pursue Juxian even though he could have other girls especially with the fame he was enjoying.

On the other hand, it could also be argued that these decisions are ultimately drawn because of social, historical, and political context that are predestined to take place. The greatest manifestation of instances that free will is not at play is that the characters are compelled to do things that they should otherwise have not done. Those enjoying the art of the Peking opera, especially the stars, would not allow it to get caught in the political changes if they could help it. Instead, even the lives they chose to live were deeply affected by the fate of the Peking opera.
(Note the convergence of the agent-structure and free will-predestination debate.)

Or would it be easier to look at incremental decisions of free will done along predestined circumstances? While Dieyi may have been predestined to be left by his mother with the opera troupe, it was his will that determined his eventual role in the Peking opera. It is rather ironic how the opera master reminded that the young actors are responsible for their own fate yet he has to ‘punish’ them for the path they have taken, even instilling a role to Dieyi that will soon largely determine the course of his life. It must be human fate to die (at least an earthly death) but it is one’s decision if it is to be self-preempted as Laizi, Dieyi and Juxian did.

At the very least “Farewell My Concubine” showed that the relationship of free will and predestination is not a simple one. Even if one looks at both factors, there is no formula to clearly delineate where one ends and the other starts. Just where will ‘bounded free will’ qualify? The interplay of free will and predestination in this movie somehow illustrates that too little of free will choke hope but too much of it presents too few challenges. As most would agree, man has to deal with both to live a meaningful life.

This debate is significant in our discussion of political socialization because political socialization aims to affect perspectives and corresponding actions to support an end in view. However, if indeed the end is predetermined, what is there to affect? Why would agents of political socialization try to influence thoughts and actions that will still result to the same thing? Indeed, could they still be called agents given that responses are predestined to be such?

The relevance of political socialization rests in the assumption that there is still an element of free will. In fact, it could be argued that man need to maintain a certain level of free will and his capacity to make an impact. The argument of the movie supports this. “Farewell My Concubine” showed that curtailment of free will is not healthy for an individual both at personal and interpersonal levels. And this could be at the heart of the critique of Cultural Revolution that Ms. Gandia sees as one of the aims of the movie as an agent of political socialization. In connection to Ms. Suyat’s point regarding the private and public divide; a private life is always kept even by public figures because it is a sphere where a person clearly sees of the impact of his own volition.

buagñin said...

Farewell, My Concubine as a historical film was indeed a success though it was generally sweeping because of its attempts to incorporate China’s long history into a more or less 2-hour movie. However, one thing that has been stuck on my mind was the torture experienced by the boys in the hands of the opera masters. This has brought me into thinking how much successful Chinese operatic artists have to suffer just to gain their prominence at that time. This section about the children brutally disciplined by their masters to train as opera artists has given me the biggest impact. I think that what has happened in the subsequent episodes of the film was generally affected by these experiences gained by Dieyi and Xioalou from their childhood. These two main characters met in the school where future opera artists of China were trained. The hard training faced by these children just suggests that being in an opera is not an easy profession and that Peking opera is those days was highly appreciated by the Chinese people. Thus, whoever plays a big part in the opera gains prominence, love and admiration of the people.

However, this Peking opera which was the pride of the Chinese people indeed showed unreasonable damage to the children. In fact, there was one who committed suicide just for the fear of being maltreated again by their masters. In this period, it was obviously visible that the children inside were being blocked from connecting to the outside world. They were like prisoners with only the training on their minds. Well, of course, these children were made to believe that these hardships will gain them fame in the future. But causing harm physically and mentally on these children were irrational that the children themselves were made to believe those were the realities.

Dieyi, a boy, who had been forcedly given by his mother to the school because of their poor condition, was made to act as a girl. At first it was against his will but after many attempts to inculcate the idea that he was a girl, he finally gave up and clearly delivered his lines with all the confidence and feelings. Even his comrades were astonished that Dieyi had able to portray a girl’s image with precision. It was as if he was born to be one and be it. However, this inculcation, I think, was the one which made Dieyi construct his own image of himself not as Dieyi himself but as the girl character in the opera. Thus, as they became grown men, Dieyi indeed grew up with this reality. Even when he and Xiaolou achieved fame and prominence in their art, Dieyi still insisted to establish his integrity as the female lead character of the opera.

How children were brought up at these times especially inside an opera school was really affected by their hard trainings from the hands of their brutal masters. Not only had they suffer from physical injuries but mental and emotional as well. I believe that the construction of one’s identity is not always as private as it is. Even the slightest uniqueness of one’s idea of personality has still not escaped the influence of the public. Dieyi’s notion of his gender, I believe roots back to the opera school where he grew up. In this, his notion of himself had been formed and instilled through physical and emotional molestations. Children at his age are generally vulnerable to these new ideas infiltrated on them thus they are more likely to adopt any influences and commands through the use of force and societal concepts such as ideologies. Perhaps at that age, Dieyi, with limited contact with the outside world, had no idea what gender and homosexuality meant. His only goal was to act as a girl as commanded by his masters. From these experiences, even as they leave the school, this notion was still embedded in his mind that unknowingly he had developed romantic feelings with his friend and co-actor Xiaolou. In the outside world where he faced the audience and gained fame from his excellent operatic art, Dieyi now communicated with other people with his firmly formed self. Though at first still in denial of his feelings for Xioalou, he had given up and faced the consequences of his actions.

They say that the behaviors and actions acquired from childhood are the most difficult part to change. Perhaps, because of a strong impact it gave to a specific person. Indeed, childhood days give considerable influences on the present behavior and actions of the people though most do not generally notice it.

The film has actually showed how culture and power can manipulate and influence others to behave as something they do not know. This molds the individuals into what they can be in the future. On the other hand, this culture is also the one which can destroy the individual himself. In the film, Dieyi killed himself because he feared that he may not be the same individual as he was because of Xiaolou’s betrayal. Thus, he ended the opera by cutting his throat as what the real events in the opera happened. Dieyi believed that by ending his life he could maintain his image of a Concubine. He had actually believed that his life was the opera and without it and Xiaolou performing with him, he could not live on his own.

The film has shown significant transformation of characters as affected by the Chinese culture. In these, I commend the film that the impact it gave on me has nevertheless made me realized how powerful one’s culture in shaping individuals’ future behaviors and actions. In addition, this gave me the idea that childhood period is an important aspect of inculcation of one’s ideology and culture. This could be of help to the nations which have just been developing their notion of community. By starting on their youthful ones, the nation could grow into a more homogenous and united country. However, it should take into account the danger of culture in affecting one’s mind and emotions that it could even lead to destruction and death of not only individuals but the whole community as well.

vnus said...
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vnus said...

Elegant. Refined. Lofty. Sophisticated. Such words characterize the classical Chinese Peking Opera during pre-Cultural Revolution times. As for the film Farewell, My Concubine, I bestow nearly the same acclaim. I say this of the film not just because of its aesthetic aspects but also of its potential to politically socialize by altering and realigning expectations and imprinting ideas to its viewers.

The first theme I would want to focus my thoughts on is the notion of the public and private divide. According to the film, to what extent does the public affect the private and vice versa? As far as the character of Dieyi is concerned, the delineation between these two realms is nonexistent. At a very young age, Douzi (Dieyi as a child) was conditioned to faithfully portray his role on stage no matter how contradictory it is with what the reality he has known, that is, his “lived life”. In effect, he faced a long period of struggle of suspending his nature for the sake of the perfection that is prerequisite to the opera. One significant pivotal point of his life is when Dieyi, who seemingly had a newfound conviction and passion for the opera, got the “I am by nature, a girl, not a boy” line right for the first time.
He then became obsessed with perfection; so much so that unconsciously he eventually came to believe that to maintain a personality different from the character of Concubine Yu would inject ineffectiveness into his performance hence, violating the perfectionist dogma of the opera. In fact, I would go as far as to theorize that Dieyi gradually killed his inner self in order to let Concubine Yu resurrect and reincarnate through his body. As Master Yuan put it describing Dieyi's performance, “ was as if Concubine Yu has risen back to life.” Duan Xiaolou on the contrary had the very distinguished notion of private and public life. His public life was his role as King Chu and his private life included his own personality, his decisions, his feelings, and his relationships. Uniquely, Juxian would as much as possible eschew from the public realm. This was evident in the part of the film where she blamed Duan's partnership with Dieyi and his career for the “karmic retributions” that occurred in their lives. She viewed the private realm of simple married life as a world where she was safe, secure, and accepted. This was brought about by the trauma of her past life of humiliation and insecurity in the House of Blossoms.

The sharing between the public and the private realm, the lived and imagined life is synonymous to the interaction between the society and the individual. The society has an enormous capacity to actively influence the personal growth and development of its individual citizens. But while this may be true, every individual has a filtering mechanism of what to take in or reject. This is proven by the existence of subcultures and deviant behaviors within societies.

Going back to the film, it answers the issue of whether Dieyi's change of sexual orientation is entirely due to societal circumstance or personal choice. In the beginning of the film, his admittance to the training school was not his choice; it was his mother's. Society answered that he could not enter because he had an eleventh finger. But his mother cut his abnormality so that he could join. As an insight to this, I conclude that neither the social dictum nor nature (i.e, biological aspect of an individual) decides the fate of the individual. In the end it is the individual himself who is to be held responsible for his actions.
Think about this. Dieyi had a chance to escape before when he and Laizi were able to get out of the school. But instead of not showing up anymore, he comes back. Not only is this so, but when he saw Shitou (Duan) being punished, he boldly admits to his crime and voluntarily puts himself to the bench to be flogged even if he was aware it might result to his death. I don't think these behaviors of Dieyi as a child were due to Shitou's, the sadist master's, or anybody else's imposition.
No, it was Dieyi all along.

“An individual is as strong as he chooses to be.”

mAc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mAc said...

Life is a stage; and we are all actors.

-Gary Oldman

One important point of enquiry that calls for closer inspection on the subject of political socialization is the debate on free will versus predestination. In reference to Deiyi’s homosexuality in the film, we find many instances in it that seemingly reflect the dominance of predestination over free will. For one, Deiyi was born with eleven fingers. Because of the customary and accepted belief that many people assumed and perceived of the normal and proper physical appearance of an individual, the possession of a superfluous finger translates to the bearer’s ‘automatic’ belonging to the lower social stratum. His mother, who is a prostitute, regarded this and their economic and societal situation (her being a prostitute) as burden and decided to get rid of him by enlisting him in local opera band since, during that time, the opera was gaining much attention and fame. Disappointed of the troupe master’s decision not to recruit her son because of his abnormality, Deiyi’s mother resolved the dilemma by cutting his extra finger. Soon after admission, there were many pre-ordained incidences and revelation in his life that paved the way for the emancipation of Deiyi’s gender identification. For one, the role that he was assigned to, which was a concubine, negated Deiyi’s sexual orientation. One of Deiyi’s significant lines in the play ‘By nature I'm a girl, not a boy’ influenced heavily the realization of his gender preference. The constant brutal, strict, and traumatizing training that he has undergone facilitated the acquiescence of Deiyi onto learning by heart and soul this ‘unforgettable’ line, making it possible to spill over into his private life. Deiyi’s amicable relationship with Xiaolou over the years has developed his one-sided intimate feelings for Xiaolou which in the process affected his sexual orientation. His experience of being raped by an old and influential patron after revealing a knack for acting in his debut stage play Farewell My Concubine has also influence Deiyi’s sexual behavior. In addition, when they became a hit in Beijing, a [male] patron slowly courts the grown-up Dieyi after falling in love with Dieyi’s character. All in all, these, among other things, different experiences of Deiyi have ultimately repackaged the audience’s perception of his gender affiliation.

Although one can argue that it was Deiyi’s personal decision, one cannot discredit the fact that the situation within which he exercised his will to select his gender preference is ultimately the choice rendered to him by his societal context. The point here is that the social environment within which Deiyi is situated upon profoundly influences the way he socializes with others. If a person is born biologically male/female, it follows that he/she should perform his/her role of being a male/female. Thus, sexual orientation is a function of one’s categorization of sex in biological terms. If a person is born with abnormalities, it follows that he/she is recognized as belonging to lower social status. If a person is born of a prostitute, it also follows that he/she is recognized as belonging to lower social status. And so on.

In reference to the movie, I find that roles for political socialization are already customed-made. For Hague and Haropp (2004), political socialization is a mechanism through which political culture is transmitted across the generations. It is the process through which we learn about politics. One important assumption for political socialization is that the social and political institutions, such as the family, state, economy, that are concerned as to how we acquire social and political emotions, identities, and skills as well as information, already exist and define and dictate the nature of how an individual acts within the political sphere. For instance, Almond and Verba (1980) identify the different typology of political culture: (i) participant political culture, wherein citizens believe both that they can contribute to the system and that they are affected by it, (ii) parochial political culture, wherein citizens are only indistinctly aware of the existence of a central government, as with remote tribes whose existence is seemingly unaffected by national decisions made by the central government, and (iii) subject political culture, wherein citizens see themselves not as participants in the political process but as subjects of the government, as with people living under a dictatorship, in sustaining a dynamic political participation. Crucial to the understanding of these different typology of political cultures are the presence of social and political institutions that govern, regulate, and constrain the behaviour of individuals whenever they participate in the political arena. Participant political culture should be observed within a democratic polity where political participation is deemed as significant a political right; in a political system where the incidence of cultural diversity is high, intuitively, it follows that a parochial political culture is observed; and where participants in the political process perceived themselves as subjects of the government, as with people living under a dictatorship, a subject political culture is observed. The existence of norms, standards, shared interests, and consensus fashion the manner in which a person socializes politically. Indeed, in reference to Gary Oldman’s famous Nokia-advertisement statement, Life is a stage; and we are all actors; we are all, figuratively, theatrical actors playing different roles accorded unto us by our society. And further emphasizing the seemingly dominance of predestination over free will, (paraphrasing Karl Marx) we make history, but not on circumstances of our own choosing.

Almond, G. & Verba, S. (1963). The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. In Hague, R. & Harrop, M. (2004) Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction. London: MacMillan Press Ltd.

Hague, R. & Harrop, M. (2004) Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction. London: MacMillan Press Ltd.


Felicia said...

The 1993 Chinese film, “Farewell My Concubine” (henceforth referred to as “Concubine”) by Chen Kaige, is an epic drama based on the novel by Lilian Lee with the same title. Its central focus is the lives and the relationships among the its three main characters, Cheng Dieyi, Duan Xiaolou and Juxian, and how the events of China's modern history, specifically the Cultural Revolution, had deeply wounded and scarred them for life. Parenthetically, of course, what with the strong political content of the movie, the Chinese Communist government naturally banned the movie within their territory. The main theme found in “Concubine” is that of one's public and private lives. However, this writer would like to focus on one of the most identified genres to which “Concubine” belongs, which is the epic. In fact, the thesis of this essay is that the epic, with “Concubine” as its model, was and remains to be an effective medium of political socialization, and possibly an agent for political mobilization, in the context of the current times and changing preferences of the audience.

Technically, an epic is a long narrative poem “in elevated style” telling the deeds of a hero. In terms of a movie, an epic is “a long (more than an episode), poetic (cinematic) picture in an elevated style (superbly photographed and edited), concentrated on a valid hero.” ( Practically speaking, an epic movie is not only long, filled with historical accounts and needs a hero, but it also appears to be ambitious, visually appealing (if not spectacular), and emotionally overwhelming; all of us can certainly name an epic or two which have an impact on us in one way or another. The capability of the epic to overwhelm the audience appeals to the visceral reaction of the audience; and such rawness of reaction is more directly related to the level of political socialization than intellectualization is. Therefore, the idea behind the epic is impact, whether it is in the content, or the visuals, the controversy engendered, et cetera. And with impact comes influence, positive or negative, making it an effective medium for socialization.

However, in recent times, according to Roger Ebert, “[t]he epic is a threatened art form at the movies. Audiences seem to prefer less ambitious, more simple-minded stories.” In fact, referring to “Concubine”, Desson Howe had said that, “[l]ike [Dieyi] Cheung's plaintive voice, the movie is a siren song that's appealing at first, but held too long. It becomes an increasing whine.” This statement, however unfortunate, connotes the movie's length. As for its episodic character, according to James Berardinelli, “Concubine” “is neatly divided into eight chapters ... Each section represents a different era in Chinese history and the lives of the characters. The historical background from the time of the Warlords through the Cultural Revolution,... is integral to the plot.” The visual appeal in “Concubine” is manifested in that, according to Ebert, “[t]he Peking Opera itself is filmed in lavish detail; the costumes ... the rich colors...” And of course, the controversy lies in the content, which shows the Cultural Revolution, and the Communist ideals altogether, in a bad light. And finally, the hero in “Concubine” is a rather unconventional hero (at least in terms of heroes in the traditional sense found in traditional epics): Cheung Dieyi, a closet-homosexual opera star.

Now that its belongingness to the epic genre is established, we will now attempt to show how “Concubine” is an effective medium for political socialization in terms of its being an epic. First of all, despite the changing audience preference to movies where the hero controls the events over movies where he is “buffeted” by events, the latter is still more realistic, and therefore the audience can still relate to this. In “Concubine”, Dieyi faced risky situations which called for desperate decisions, of which a good example was when he performed for the Japanese just to take Xiaolou out of their detention. In reality, these situations are inevitable (although this one is particularly extreme), and thus it would not be difficult for the audience to relate themselves to Dieyi, in that they themselves would most probably do similar things for their most beloved ones. Also, manifestations of feelings such as love and jealousy, as well as occasional lapses in judgment definitely humanize him, and are very much present in the lives of the audience members, thus even more relating them to him. This realistic quality makes the hero bridge the audience to the movie as a whole, thus socializing them through him. Secondly, in terms of the episodic aspect of the movie, “Concubine” paints a picture of the life of a Chinese national during such turbulent times in his country, imparting the audience, specifically the Chinese, what they may have missed in their history textbooks, and presenting accounts in the individual level, making the audience relate to “Concubine”. Thirdly, the cultural consciousness of the audience, especially the Chinese, may be enriched by “Concubine”, in that the cultural gaps created by the Cultural Revolution is filled using the visual lavishness and cultural richness conveyed in “Concubine”, once again experiencing what they may have missed. These factors contribute to one overarching effect, such that the visceral reaction of the Chinese audience (at least for those who have had the opportunity to watch “Concubine”) may be one that is overwhelmed and surged with socialization, maybe even making the propensity to mobilize greater. This propensity may account that, being able to fulfill their basic needs, especially now that their economic situation is improving, hence (referring to Maslow's hierarchy of needs), they can now move on to other priorities, such as pursuing their roots and their once rich culture. Indeed, it is then no wonder that the Chinese Communist government had banned “Concubine” time and again.

“Concubine” is indeed a relevant epic capable of political socialization in the context of the changing times. It can be said that it is an evolved epic in that the hero is unconventional, homosexual and more humanized. In fact, with this modification, the epic is made more effective as an agent of political socialization.


__________. (23 May 2007). The Best Epic Films Ever. Date retrieved: 06 August 2007. From: mvie-review-6829-8A8EB97-391C90BC-prod5

Berardinelli, James (1993). Farewell My Concubine. Date retrieved: 04 August 2007. From:

Ebert, Roger. (29 October 1993). Farewell My Concubine. Date retrieved: 04 August 2007. From:

Howe, Desson (29 October 1993). 'Farewell My Concubine'. Date retrieved: 04 August 2007. From:

mvga said...

In one way or another, our lives are significantly affected by the public.
In the movie, “Farewell My Concubine”, the main characters’ lives were greatly affected by external forces or by their environment. Die-yi as a young boy was forced to live and train for the opera. At first he was rejected because his mother was a whore. In Chinese culture and elsewhere, being a whore does not invite respect and reverence from the people.
While learning the opera, Dei-yi and Xiao-lou and other children were subjected to hard trainings and disciplining. Dei-yi, in a play had to recite a line where he was supposed to say that by nature he was a girl and not a boy but he kept on saying that by nature he was a boy and not a girl. I saw this as a form of resistance against the outside force (his master teacher). However, as the movie progressed it showed that Dei-yi became a homosexual. I am not sure if there is a direct correlation between what happened to him during his childhood and him becoming a homosexual but I think that his environment and upbringing had an influence on his sexuality.
Xiao-lou married Ju-xian, who is a whore in the House of Blossoms. Ju-xian married Xiao-lou but the movie did not depict that “love” was the reason why Ju-xian married Xiao-lou. She thought that when she marries Xiao-lou she would earn more and her social status would be elevated and in addition to this ,Xiao-lou is interested in marrying her despite the fact that she is a whore. Though this could be seen as a situation wherein the actor has control over her situation, the decision she made was nevertheless affected by how her environment perceived her.
Xiao-lou during the public inquiry on the truth about them being anti-party divulged the secrets of Dei-yi. Furthermore, he said that he didn’t love his wife anymore when the public knew that Ju-xian was a slut. In this scene the movie showed that even deep relationships could be tainted and worse, be totally broken because of certain circumstances.
In spite of all these examples I made to show that it is the environment or the public that affects how a person lives his life, I also do not want to be blind about the free will that every person has. In the above examples, I think that each of the characters was also influenced by his/her own free will. Although there are several explanations as to why and how Dei-yi became a homosexual, the movie only clearly showed that Dei-yi was a homosexual when he, with his consent, had sex with his patron Mr. Yuan.
In every situation, though one might think that only one of the environment factor or actor’s will factor that affects how a person lives his/her life, we must not forget that these two are also be present at the same time. The interplay between these two should also be given emphasized.

v_alberto said...

The central theme of the film focuses on an interplay between the private and public realms of life.

We look at the beginning of the film, when Dieyi and Xiaolou were trained to become actors. Dieyi was taught to always remain in character, to keep his focus solely on the opera. From here we can see the distinctions between what he, Dieyi, really is and the character he portrays.

As grown-up men, Dieyi and Xiaolou became famous actors, known mostly for their roles in Farewell My Concubine. Xiaolou always knew the distinction between his public life, his character as the king, and his private life.

Dieyi, who grew up with his role as a concubine etched so deeply into his character, was a different story. His public life and his private life are now so intertwined that he doesn’t seem to know where one ends and one begins. He seems to be in love with Xiaolou, though until now it is not clear to me if he really is a homosexual or he just continues to play the role of Concubine Yu even in his everyday life, if his private self has truly been overshadowed by his public self.

Homosexuality, I think, is not really the main theme of this film, but it plays a role in emphasizing the constant conflict between Dieyi’s public and private life. Was he really a homosexual or was he just acting out the part of Concubine Yu? In his youth he was raped by their acting school’s patron, the traumatic experience may have frightened him off of same-sex relationships for the rest of his life but he still seems to be in love with Xiaolou, even though his feelings were never reciprocated. Maybe it’s because he has learned as a child to become so dependent on Xiaolou (one of his fellow trainees even said that he couldn’t survive without Xiaolou).

But it seems more likely that Dieyi’s feelings for Xiaolou has been brought about by his obsession with his role. We can see it in his obsession with the opera, when the changes brought about by the Cultural Revolution enraged him so much that he drove Xiao Si, the boy that he trained as his apprentice, to betray him to the communists. His love for the opera caused him to stand by it and his role, to portray his role whole-heartedly regardless of who he was playing it for. He maintained the integrity of the opera, to entertain the audience, no matter who the members are. He was condemned by the communists for this, because they did not understand the reason for his acts.

Towards the end of the film, we can see that Dieyi’s private life is now nonexistent, that even in his most private moments he still continues to play the role of Concubine Yu to Xiaolou, even though the latter is unaware of it.

In the final moments of the film, when Dieyi kills himself, we were asked the significance of this action, that Dieyi’s ultimate goal has reached its realization with this action, to portray the role of Concubine Yu until the very end.
Dieyi managed to maintain the dignity of the opera. He survived the changes brought about by the Cultural Revolution and he played his role until the very end. He brought back the glamour, the art that Peking opera was known for. The opera became his life that he no longer saw a life outside of it, the conflict between his private and public sides now ended.

asama said...

The term personality came from the greek “persona”, meaning mask. In the theater of the ancient Latin-speaking world, the mask was not used as a plot device to disguise the identity of a character, but rather was a convention employed to represent or typify that character.* In the Peking Opera, it still served the same function. We could easily distinguish who is Concubine Yu and the emperor, typified by their masks(literally). Yes the mask was not made to disguise the identity of the character, but it was used to disguise the identity of the actor, supposedly, temporarily. The film “Farewell My Concubine” is more than a film about the Chinese opera, it is a film about actors and acting (not just on stage), and the grandest theatrical piece there is, which is called life.

Dieyi and Xialou were socialized to become great opera actors. One of the tools used to really greatly affect their behavior in their school is that of a system of punishments. Rewards were implicitly absent. But of course, the two boys are always thinking of the reward in the long run, and that is being opera actors. They knew there was no room for mistakes in their school. One wrong move and inhuman beatings shall follow for them. And all the while, all that they are carrying is the motivation to become actors furthered by their watching of the opera, and seeing how much the people applauded for the actors, and how these actors are very much respected as representatives of the art form, Peking Opera.

Dieyi, always playing a female role, particularly the role of Concubine Yu, seems to bring with him this impression even when he is outside the opera stage. He has physically suffered much under the hands of his school handlers, all in the name of opera. Now that he has finally achieved his goal through years of training, he attached himself tightly to this end. He felt the respect, the glamour and the “opportunity for intimacy” that Concubine Yu's mask gives him, making him not to want to remove it. He then acquired the most important characteristic of Concubine Yu in his years of playing this role – her femininity. But of course I cannot say of Dieyi being female in sex but in gender. And another characteristic of Concubine Yu that he is devoted to – falling in love with the emperor. But there was no emperor, there was just Xiaolou.

Xiaolou remained an actor (as opposed to Dieyi who became who he played). I did not feel that he had a difficulty leaving the opera either when his wife asked him to. He could remove the mask anytime he wants. If he had a reason not to leave the opera, it was because it was the only thing he knows. But his life is not the opera, and the opera alone. Even if there was no significant difference in Xiaolou’s personality (at least not as much as the change in Dieyi which are very much obvious), we cannot easily disregard the idea that the opera had not influenced him. He played the role of the emperor and might have acquired characteristics of the emperor.

Juxian was a prostitute from the House of Blossoms. And she is someone who hated just what it is like to be a prostitute. She hated how men wanted her to drink wine from their mouth, how men treat women like her, and how society humiliates them. Before meeting Xiaolou, it could be a wonder how she managed to stay in the House of Blossoms knowing that prostitutes are not given respect not only by men but by the society. It could be that being a prostitute is still the rational thing to do. It still boils down to the function of survival. Juxian is one solid proof that what you do habitually (I assume that she ‘has been’ practicing prostitution) is not necessarily what you become. And what you do is not necessarily what you want to do. Just like actors. Actors wear the mask and play another person when they are onstage, and remove it when they are offstage. Juxian was like an actress, and the House of Blossoms is her stage. There, she had to act like a prostitute because it was “needed”. I still believe she was playing another person when she was playing the prostitute. Yes she had the freedom to choose, and prostitution was not determined, but survival dictated her to be another someone, just like actors being paid for acting.

In a sense, we are all actors. And we wear masks that we may choose to wear temporarily or permanently. The characters of Dieyi, Xiaolou, and Juxian surely are not static. And the film showed us how this was made possible by the circumstances they were in and their environment, also by their political socialization. We saw the boys evolved from their early brutal days in the opera school. We saw Juxian from the House of Blossoms to her escape from prostitution. And it is not only them who wear different masks in the whole duration of their stay in this world. We are all actors. The world is our big stage. And we play a piece called life. It is not really the mask that we wear at one moment that tells who we are. The process of decision-making on the kind of mask we wear and how we use it determines our personality.

Personality Psychology. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 05 August 2007.

Uy said...

From punishment to fame.
From friendship to betrayal.
From nobody to somebody.
From start to end.
Fair and well, my concubine.

He internalized the societal values and attitudes in the Peking Opera where his mother forced him to live and grow. In this masculine atmosphere, he experienced the difficult training, endured the rough courses and stood all the punishments (may also be considered disciplinary measures). More so, he was coerced to perform a female role (the concubine of the king) in the Peking Opera until he won the people’s cheer and applause. This is Deiyi – formed in a homosocial environment and crafted by playing the role of a “concubine”. Therefore, Deiyi is a product of a limited socializing worldview – the culture of the stage. His social reality is restricted to his male ‘brothers’ and his instructors only. Similarly, we have homosocial institutions which strongly transform and change the values, beliefs and lives of people. We have the detention centres or prisons, the military insitution, seminaries and exclusive school systems.

“Humans go to opera; beasts do not” Master Guan

This is an explicit illustration of a cultural authority dictating who humans are (under an opera culture). Master Guan may be regarded as a ‘living’ institution socializing his male students into the opera world. Master Guan reflects the identity of the cultural stage – the opera – dictating the pace and manners of the system.

According to Ross, culture offers a shared account of action and its meaning providing people with social and political identities; it is manifested in a way of life transmitted over time, and embodies in a community’s institutions, values and behaviour regularities (Ross, 1997, 45). Culture may then explain why and how individuals and groups behave – expressing individual uniqueness but still bond by a shared community. Furthermore, culture marks “a distinctive way of life” (Ross, 1997, 46). Therefore, it shows the daily, yearly and life cycle rhythms of its members and reveal how people view past, present and future events and understand choices they face.

“I am not a boy in nature; I am a girl” Deiyi

Learning and reinforcement involve institutional contexts in which a person (child or adult) practices and then masters, key behaviours, infusing them with emotional significance (Ross, 1997, 49). Deiyi’s femininity may be explained through the reinforcement and demand of the opera environment (consisting of the homosocial opera, the audience) in his concubine role. Deiyi felt so ‘at home’ with his stage acting role that he carries with him even at the backstage. His role in the opera and his masculine atmosphere history may have built his emotional and delicate femininity.

Deiyi and Xiaolou returns and visits their Master (Guan)

People sharing cultural attachments have common experiences that facilitate the developmental task of incorporating group identity into one’s own sense of self (Ross, 1997, 56). As I have mentioned above, Master Guan may be considered a ‘living’ institution for the Peking Opera, meaning a cultural symbol for the students particularly Deiyi and Xiaolou. When the both of them visits the memorable training ground (for Peking opera), they still observed and respected the traditional values and norms (for example, the punishments, respect, integrity and oneness). This is culture – shared meaning and common identity. Furthermore, social experiences in the opera institution, which provided them with cultural messages about the groups’ motives, their behaviour and how one is to act toward another member, taped them together in pursuing their opera roles and dedication

Choosing priorities. Prioritizing choices.

Deiyi, Juxian and especially Xiaolou encountered the same dilemma in their social lives (outside the stage) – choice and sacrifice. However, sometimes, they were culturally entrapped on their choices because they had to face their social reality and priorities (Deiyi – opera vs. Xiaolou; Juxian – integrity vs. Xiaolou; Xiaolou – Deiyi vs. Juxian). Because at the end, they have to weigh and choose considering if its ‘worth’ the fight.

Likewise, culture orders political priorities (Ross, 1997, 62). It defines the symbolic and material objects considered valuable and worth fighting over, the contexts in which such disputes occur, the rules (both formal and informal) by which politics takes place and who participates in it. In doing so, culture defines interests and how they are to be pursued. As Ross puts it, culture offers an account of political behaviour that makes particular actions more or less likely and connects the fate of individuals and the group (Ross, 1997, 63).

Acting became living; living became believing; believing resulted to leaving.
Farewell my concubine, be fair and well. (Deiyi)

Ross, Marc, “Culture and Identity in Comparative Analysis,” Chapter 3 of Mark
Lichbach’s and Alan Zuckerman’s Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure (1997)

dominic_barnachea said...

Farewell My Concubine vividly presents the concept of the public and private divide as basically society’s continuous struggle to answer the three equally important questions very much related to one another: who should draw the line between the public and the private, when and where should the line be drawn and how should it be drawn. In the film’s case, the public and private divide was focused in Cheng Dieyi, the central character. His public life focused on his career as an opera actor portraying Concubine Yi while his private life may be focused on his rather ambiguous relationships with Xiaolu, Juxian or even with other characters as Master Yuan

Who should draw the line?

The first important issue is who should draw the line between the public and the private. In the film we see three characters jostling to dominate that role. First is Cheng Dieyi, who chose to not draw the line which resulted to his living his private life as parallel to Concubine Yi’s, the public opera character he is portraying. Next are the immediate persons around Dieyi, his academy master, Xiaolu, Juxian and Master Yuan to name a few. Each of them delineated Dieyi’s life in different ways and drew line of different thickness. Dieyi’s opera master started to erase his (Dieyi) public and private divide by forcing him to internalize the concubine role which he eventually overdid. Xaiolu and Juxian made a modest effort to “bring him back to reality” with their remarks, and more importantly their marriage. Yet, they were only able to draw a rather vague, indistinct line that did not significantly affect Dieyi’s public-private fusion. Master Yuan perpetuated the status quo, with his infatuation and indecent actions towards Dieyi. Chinese society itself can be considered the last character. While the initial Chinese society Dieyi grew up in emphasized internalization of public roles, this public-private merge is certainly only temporary, and opera students still had private life, as exemplified by Xaiolu. Yet the later communist Chinese society forwarded a total public-private fusion in all aspects of life.

So, who should be the right one to draw the public-private divide in a person’s life? A more individualist approach will certainly opt for the person himself. Yet a more societal approach may opt for the immediate people around the person, since they provide a third person, relatively unbiased and knowledgeable opinion, or it may opt for the larger, more uniform, relatively most unbiased opinion, yet very much ignorant of the person considered. Clearly, there is not absolute answer to this question. Not even the film can shed light to this dilemma, although Dieyi’s ‘ultimate victory’ in the end may put premium to the individualist approach.

When and where should the line be drawn?

As the film presents, the concept of time is vital in the public-private divide dilemma. Delineation of what is considered public and private changes over time. As written above, the initial Chinese society experiences public-private fusion only in exceptional cases, like opera rehearsals and presentations. However, decades later the communist ideology of complete public-private fusion in most, if not all, aspects of life became dominant. In a more contemporary setting, cases of domestic violence are once considered private matters, but are now subject to formal public scrutiny. The timing and the dominant ideology it contains is vital in drawing the public-private line.

A very much similar issue is where should the line be drawn. What activities should belong to the category Public and what should belong to the category Private? As written above, this line shifts over time. What was once considered private yesterday can now be considered a public concern, as the case of domestic violence. Or it can be the other way around, with private matters in the past now being considered public, as the case of communist societies, where almost all activities and subject to scrutiny by the public eye. The persecution of opera actors in the later parts of the film focused on the private activities of the characters in which the Red Guards found blemishes.

Therefore, not only should the issue be the timing and the ideology it contains drawing the public private line, the position of where that line should be drawn must also be considered.

How should the line be drawn?

Either the person or the larger society he’s situated in draws the line. Both of them take into consideration the period and the dominant ideology it contains when deciding where the line should be drawn. So lastly, how should the line be drawn? How should the public and the private be divided?

Dieyi’s opera master drew two overlapping circles, with the common area as the opera life, where public and private ought to meet (in order to be a great actor). Xiaolu drew a vague line. Juxian tried to thicken it with her marriage with Xiaolu but was not noticed (or rather ignored) by Dieyi. Dieyi didn’t draw a line. Or if ever he did he enlarged the common area as he placed both the public and the private into one big circle, no crooked nor straight divisions in between. Master Yuan feasted on this setting. And the communist Chinese society created a larger single circle (implying public-private fusion as well, but whose ideology is distinct from Dieyi’s fusion) in which all people must fit in.

Clearly, the question is normative rather than positive. The answer to the never-ending dilemma of which character is more fit to draw the line, when and where should it be drawn, how thick or thin, how crooked, straight or curved should the line be drawn, or should there any line to draw at all in the first place is determined on a case-to-case basis. There is no absolute answer applicable to all.

But at the end of the day, we should recognize that the public-private divide is merely a process to achieve a larger goal- identity formation. Because at the end of the day, who placed you, when, where and how you are placed in the public-private spectrum only implies that you exist , whether or not you are “by nature a boy, not a girl.”

mimah said...
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Agpalo said...

What is the realm of the state? Up to where does it yield its powers?
What is its control over the lives of its citizens?
All these are mere question of the role of the state on the society. As we delve deeper we then face the bigger question of the distinction between the private sphere and the public?
What is essentially private? And what are to be considered public?
As mentioned in the class reporting, Heywood defined public as institutions of the state that are responsible for the collective organization of community life. While the private sphere are the areas which people can manage for them selves. The artistic sphere is categorized under the private sphere.
I believe that this is the very same delineation between the two that the film Farewell my concubine wants to emphasize on (though I do agree that the distinction between the two spheres are also portrayed on the life of Cheng Dieyi as perceived and lived, as an actor of the Peking Opera and as concubine Yu ).
The film Farewell my Concubine is not just a critique of the Cultural Revolution in China. It did not only show what the reporters of this class argued, how China lost its higher art because of the Cultural Revolution. For the want of a better and new society, everything that belonged to the old society must be destroyed. To depict how the communists applied and practiced these thoughts, the film spent a great fraction of its time in showing how cups of jade are broken and how costumes are burnt and finally how actors of the Peking opera are dragged to the streets to be humiliated.
More than a critique of the Cultural Revolution, it is I believe a critique on the interference of the state on what is considered the private sphere of the citizens.
I go back to what I consider the most controversial question raised in the film.

Cheng Dieyi asks, “ Why does the concubine have to die?”

Cheng Dieyi represents the Peking opera. He represents what the film stresses that culture is part of the private sphere and that the state should get its hands off it. We see that the Peking opera flourished so does the life of Dieyi even as the dynasty fell, as the Japanese came, won and eventually was defeated. This was attributed to the fact that it was relatively left alone. We remember how student protesters get dismissed when they demanded Dieyi to be politically involved just before the Japanese invaded China. The Japanese never intervened in the Peking Opera. The backdrop changes but the play utterly remained the same. The situation is however different when the communists won for they not only tried to change the Peking Opera, they branded its practice as counter-revolutionary and prohibited it. In this sense, the Peking Opera dies when the sate came in.

Cheng Dieyi eventually commits suicide, until his final moments, played the role of Concubine Yu.

We should always remember that the film is merely an arbiter of it’s creators beliefs or what he wants to project as truth. I do not question the validity of the facts the film presented. I do want to focus on how stories are chosen to be made into a film. How facts, data, stories are treated. These all undergo a process in such a way that the result would be support a certain claim. The characters, the setting, and every tragedy that the main character experiences, all these are part if the interplay to create a certain feel to the film.

mimah said...

During the report, I asked myself, what the hell is a fifth-generation film? Does this mean that the directors came from a clan of filmmakers and they are the fifth-generation? I have the feeling this fifth-generation thing has played a role in the making of this film. True enough, fifth-generation filmmakers are those who graduated from Beijing Film Academy, the only film school in China after the Cultural Revolution. In the past four decades, art, film in particular, is used as a political tool of the communist party for propaganda purposes. But in the fifth generation, the main topic is the effects and influences of Cultural Revolution in the lives of the people. (Ziesing) One of these films is Farewell My Concubine directed by Chen Kaige, one of the fifth-generation filmmakers.

It is interesting to note that in the film, betrayal is its main theme. And this is inspired by Chen Kaige’s very own experience of betraying his own father. He was ineligible for the Party since his father joined the Kuomintang army during the civil war. In an interview he said, "My best friends in the class, we played together, and then, the next day, they were totally different, they just ignored me. That's why I decided to denounce my father when my classmates asked me to. It was the turning point of my life…” (Ziesing) As a fifth-generation filmmaker, experiencing the Cultural Revolution has played a part in creating his film. He showed what were the effects of the Cultural Revolution.

In the film, betrayal happened when characters were forced to denounce each other at the height of Cultural Revolution. Xiaolou revealed that Deiyi performed for the Japanese and so he is a traitor to the country. Deiyi in return, made known to the public that Juxian is a prostitute. Dieyi, was trained since childhood to portray the role of a girl. Much as he not want to, he eventually perfected his line as Concubine Yu, “I am by nature a girl, not a boy.” It is shown that Deiyi loves Xiaolou dearly that he was jealous when Xialou married Juxian. He never wanted to part ways with Xiaolou, he did everything just to stay beside him, on and off the stage. In the end, he fully succumbed to his role as a concubine. He was living his life, not merely performing opera on stage. He was not able to separate his public and private life, which leads him to play as Xiaolou’s unofficial concubine. However, all this time, Xialou was just playing his part as a king, for him, everything is just part of the act. He has his own life, and being an actor in the opera is just a part of it. Juxian, on the other hand, a prostitute and being branded as one describes her position in society. No matter what she does, her being a former prostitute entails a lot of prejudice and assumptions from the people around her. She remains an outcast. She thought marrying Xiaolou would erase the dark mark from her face, but she was wrong. It’s a sad a thing that Xiaolou denied he ever loved her after promising the other night that he won’t leave her. Xialou’s decision to denounce his love for Juxian and friendship with Deiyi, is I guess not purely from his own will, it is more of a forced decision to escape from their unfortunate condition.

In all of the situations, we can evidently see how Cultural Revolution has influenced or even shaped the lives of the director himself and the characters in his own film. All these circumstances happened to ensure survival, to belong and to be accepted. This is a strong basis that there is indeed an interaction between the public and private sphere of individuals. It is inevitable for one to ignore the public in making decisions for one’s private life. And at times, there is no such thing as a public and private divide like in Deiyi’s case. The film is a brave critique of the said revolution. Cultural Revolution, or Communism was not that good as leaders wish to portray it. Chen Kaige, who belongs to Fifth-Generation filmmakers, exposed to Western film, deviate from the norms or standards of the former filmmakers. Farewell My Concubine was a flop in its own home. The government initially banned the film for they are sure that this film, as a political tool, is indeed effective to convey messages to the audience, which could lead to destabilizing their administration.


Richard Henrick said...
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Richard Henrick said...

The lives that we are currently experiencing are something that is moulded by the decisions that we’ve made for ourselves. As individuals, we always value our right to self-determination and we always insist that we make our own decisions for ourselves. However, we could not at all times assert our freedom to make our own choice. At times, the society where we live forbid us to make a specific choice probably because it is stated in a particular rule or law crafted by the authorities of the state. Disobedience to such rules equates to a corresponding punishment. Oftentimes, our decision, though freely made, is something that is done against our own will. A certain condition just pushes us to make that decision that given another condition, we would not succumb into making that certain choice. Indeed, the society is very powerful in affecting our decisions. This shows to us that the public and the private sphere are intertwined with each other.

We saw in the film “Farewell my concubine” all the hardships that a student of opera has to undergo in order for him to become a well-renowned actor. For him to master the play and execute the scenes perfectly in front of the audience, he has to undergo lots of years getting spanked at the ass for every line of dialogue he misses. The children have no option but to obey their masters and do whatever it is that they command them to do. We could say that the atmosphere bred within the opera house resembles that of both the communist and authoritarian governments. It resembles communism because the plight of everybody within the school is dependent upon the actions of each one of them. When the young Dieyi and the young Xiaolou went out of the opera house’s gates, it is not only the two of them who were punished but the other boys as well who let them escape. Also, Dieyi was pressured by his colleagues to deliver his lines properly in front of the royal official so that all of them will benefit from the royal performance that they are about to get. On the other hand, the opera school resembles authoritarian governments because it is a place where you could not freely make your own choice. When Dieyi made his choice of reciting “by nature, I am a boy, not a girl” as his line rather than “by nature, I am a girl, not a boy” during the royal official’s opera screening, one of his colleagues made his mouth bleed as a form of punishment. On both communist and authoritarian societies, choices available to man become limited due to the restrictions and pressures created within the environment.

Looking on the Peking Opera in terms of how it forms individual identities of people working within it views it as a public sphere. However, seeing it as a form of art, that evolves and adapts through changing times in history makes it a part of the private sphere. Just like an individual, we saw how the Peking Opera makes certain adjustments towards what is wanted by the authorities in power in order for it to ensure its survivability. It fought to live, as what we’ve seen in Dieyi’s performances in front of the Japanese soldiers even without the costume. Just like individuals, it has its own ups and downs in its life and it aims to pass its blood to the succeeding generations. However, given that it is not revered during the rise of the communist power because of its bourgeois element, it was also left with no other choice but to give in to the powers and surrender the beauty that it once possessed.

Throughout the entire film, we saw events wherein the characters were led into making a decision that they would not have made haven’t they been constrained by events or pushed to do it. From the beginning, upon the cutting of Dieyi’s finger by his mother, we saw how his prostitute mother was just forced to do it to her son so that he may be accepted in the opera house and won’t be rejected. Dieyi’s homosexuality could be argued to be a product of his environment as he was being made to internalize the female character of concubine Yu. On the other hand, Juxian committed herself to Xiaolou on the night when he proposed at the House of Blossoms because that is the best choice she had on that moment given that she was cornered by men who wants to harass her. When Juxian committed suicide after Xiaolou’s betrayal and announcement to the public that she was once a whore, we saw how choices we’ve made before could have an effect on our future regardless if we forgot about it or not. More than that, Juxian’s suicide showed to us how stereotype towards people could cause others to commit grave actions.

Inevitably, we make decisions based on standards set by the society. However, given that we all have our own inner identities, we always have the option to assert it despite the challenges that we might be facing. With Dieyi and Xiaolou in the Peking Opera, we’ve seen that if something is worth keeping, it is worth fighting for. Unfortunately, not everything leads to a happy ending. In the fight of asserting identities, there is always the winner… and the loser. Sadly, during the Cultural Revolution, losing was what the Peking Opera experienced.


Ron S.R. said...

Fighting the Change

The movie, Farewell My Concubine, had a myriad of themes that one can explore for various courses; film, art, sociology, even political science. If one were to choose, any choice would be interesting in many aspects from whatever angle it was tackled. For this short article from a political scientist, one may expect the writer to write something with a more obvious political perspective on the movie, however this writer wishes to write on one particular theme of the movie that is less obvious, somewhat implicit (in the movie) and has a more general perspective but political nonetheless.

Though some/many may argue, the idea of the inevitability of change and the futility of resisting it was a theme in the movie. From beginning to end, the movie showed the constant changes that occurred throughout the lifetime of Duan and Dieyi as actors or otherwise. In general, the movie tackled the changes that occurred in China, to its culture, to its people, to its heritage, to the arts, basically the changing Chinese’ collective identity through the eyes of those who knew these things best—actors from a most cherished art in China (at that time before it was banned); the opera.

To begin with, we are shown a scene where a mother chops off his own son’s hand (well, an extra finger) just so he can be permitted to join the theater training camp. The master would not allow a deformed being to perform in Chinese opera. One could interpret this scene in many ways, but in the context of this articles’ topic, one could propose that at that time, Chinese opera was a high standard practice, it was necessary that the ones who joined it were “perfect” in many ways. It was not something that anyone can do. And as we see when the film progresses, the training is brutal; everyday practice, severe punishment for every mistake, non-stop indoctrination in the importance of their craft. One can sum up that the Chinese opera at that time (when Dieyi was young) was significant in Chinese culture at the nature of its practice was high standard. But as we can see in the latter parts of the film, with the invasion of the Japanese, and the prior events, we can get the impression of the degradation of the Chinese opera. And right after the Second World War, the scene where they performed in front of Chinese soldiers manifested the changing audience of Chinese opera. As the communist party began the cultural revolution, it further degraded the Chinese opera. The audience were no longer that interested in the arts as they saw it as bourgeois privilege. That became more apparent when they performed badly yet still applauded simply because the audience were told to do so, and more so when they were actually discussing the future of their craft-- when the younger member suggested to adopt the ways of the modern opera. Here, amongst other scenes, the resistance of Dieyi to the changes were apparent-- Dieyi, without regard for the possible consequences of his argument with this communist party loyalist (whom he trained as an actor) tried to insist that traditional Chinese opera should be the opera of China.

Also, prior to that, his not accepting the limitations of his relationship with Duan especially when Duan and Juxian were already engaged manifested Dieyi's resistance to change which proved to be detrimental to him and others. It also manifested the futility of such resistance. Duan and Juxian eventually got married.

In the case of Duan and Juxian, drastic change came in the form of Duan's leaving the opera for his wife's companionship which proved to be too much for Duan that he wanted to reverse it and go back to theater which he saw as his passion and profession but again, proved to be a futile attempt.

Throughout the movie, a constant influx of change alters the nature of the characters and the dynamics of the movie. And in most of these changes (as aforementioned), the main characters resisted the change in hopes that they could retain what was the “good times”; times when theater was appreciated, when all they did was to act in front of the stage, times when after each show people stood in applause for their art. They tried in every way to resist change to no avail, China fell to the communist and theater became a bourgeois element, married life became hard, actors became jobless and went after each others' throats. The main characters ended up betraying each other, as one could only propose; that the changes they experience in their lives overwhelmed them to the point that each blamed each other. Theirs was a time when change came so fast that they could only do so much as to delay the change, but as hard as they did, they could not stop the change.

The point being; change is the only constant in this world, the movie portrayed a scenario when we defy such a mechanism of time, that we will always fail-- fail in a way that if one were to exert the effort to avoid change, one would only damage oneself. Change is part of nature, as many would put it “just go with the flow”. Though, another question may arise; if we go with the flow (change), in what way can we influence it? Is it predetermined or do we have a choice, for the movie, perhaps both, change happened, they (the main characters; D & D) resisted, which was possibly choice, but in the end, they were in a way predestined to fail. Thus we had such a tragic (though artistic) conclusion to the movie that also portrayed in a way that we see what the characters really wanted in the first place; to act in the opera, but “change” changed all that.

Change may be good or bad, but change will always be there, one can only accept those changes and make the most of it, maybe perhaps guide this change in a way that is good for us or if it is preprogrammed, then we can only hope that what is programmed is good for us.


jeejee said...

Is homosexuality innate or developed? Some would say it is innate, others, developed. But Cheng Dieyi proved that homosexuality is a combination of both. When he was young, he may have had the tendencies, which could result to either vulgarity or concealment of his gayness. But those tendencies were supplemented by his close relationship with Xiaolou, his singing partner in the Peking Opera. This shows that the established relationship with Xiaolou was the turning point in determining Cheng’s sexual identity.

Given the backdrop of Farewell my Concubine are the changing politics and culture of China, the Japanese invasion in the 1930s, the surrender of the Japanese at the end of World War II, the rule of the Nationalist Government, the Chinese civil war, the Communist victory in 1949 and finally, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the issue of homosexuality is very crucial. However, this is also the period where Cheng Dieyi, one of the main characters’ homosexuality becomes evident.

The very first sign of Cheng’s appreciation for Xiaolou was when the former first entered the school and was harassed by the other apprentices, then Xiaolou started defending him. This act of protection from harm is a trigger in softening anybody’s heart. This was followed by other events which brought them closer to each other. When Xiaolou was punished out in the cold and when he finally entered the common room of the apprentices, Cheng immediately warmed and nursed him. When Cheng was being slapped by their master, Xiaolou presented himself to be punished instead.

Along the progress of their friendship is the progress of their career as famous opera singer-actors. The span of time that they are together made Cheng feel that they are inseparable and the bond that they have established with the opera appeared as though it was a lifetime commitment. The complication arose when Xiaolou fails to see Cheng’s homosexual feelings for him. That’s because he is a straight guy and when he decides to marry Juxian. Their ways parted after Xiaolou’s marriage then Cheng takes up with a wealthy older man who becomes both his patron and his lover. It is understandable that the initial reaction of Cheng was to distance himself because of the pain, however, despite of the pain is the reality that he still loves Xiaolou more than a friend and that he would still do anything for that one person who actually cared for him. The homosexuality of Cheng Dieyi did not end in his rejection. That’s why when Xiaolou was caught, he still did what he could (i.e., presented in front of the Japanese) in order to save him.

Cheng Dieyi’s homosexuality was “developed” in a sense that because of his feminine physique and manner, he was given the role of the concubine in the opera. In the part where he was mandated to sing a specific line which is “I am by nature a girl” and instead of a “girl” he says “boy” illustrates an act of resistance but when he was punished by Xiaolou because he embarrassed the school in a way, he sang it right then and there. On one hand, we can say that the reason why he did it right is because of the pain, and on the other, maybe he did it for Xiaolou, because he was on the process of having emotions for him. Another was when he was raped by the old man. A sense of inferiority was built within him and the only person whom he thinks could rescue him from distress is Xiaolou. And to top it all, is his role as the concubine. In childhood, the refrain of "I am a girl" is drilled into him so that he can effectively assume the role of the concubine in the opera, but upon the existence of deeper emotion for his partner, the line between reality and acting has become blurred.
Homosexuality picks no one and no time. Whether it is at the hub of political upheaval or at the peak of childhood, the issue of homosexuality remains coherent up to the very end of the life of Cheng Dieyi in Farewell my Concubine.