Saturday, September 1, 2007

Raise The Red Lantern - Hierarchy of Societal Priorities


Based on the film “Raise the Red Lantern,” politics within the home is hierarchical and is bounded by family rules, custom and tradition. Before I discuss my report further, I would like to clarify what I think is the underlying concept in my thesis statement – politics. According to Colin Hay, politics is concerned with the distribution, exercise and consequences of power. In other words, politics concerns power relations. To explain further, according to Hobbes, power is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests. Therefore, let us examine the power relations within the home.

First, let us focus on the power of the head of the family (Master) over his mistresses. In the patriarchal structure of the home, power rested most on the Master, who was a male. The Master had relatively more power than his mistresses, who were females. The Master had the power to decide on whose quarter he would stay for the night or whenever he wanted to, thereby choosing among his mistresses who would get a foot massage, who would be allowed to decide what food she wanted to eat, and who would receive the most attention from him and from the servants. In fact, power rested most on the Master to the extent that he could manipulate events within the home in accordance with his interests. This was evident in the film when the Master talked to Songlian after she saw Meishan hanged in a room at the rooftop.


“What did you see?”
“You killed Meishan. You murderers! Murderers!”
“ No! You saw nothing! You’re mad!”

Of course, it was not in the interest of the Master to be called a “murderer,” that is why he attempted to “brainwash” Songlian and to manipulate the details of the incident by saying that she saw nothing, and that she was mad.

Second, let us talk about the power of the mistresses over the Master. Although relatively less powerful, power was also held by the mistresses – who were females – because the physical desires of the Master, and his desire of having children (particularly male children), would not have been satisfied if it were not for their help. This was very evident in the character of Songlian. She was able to deceive the Master, the mistresses and the servants that she was pregnant, until, of course, Dr. Gao told the Master that she was not pregnant. Before the discovery of Songlian’s fake pregnancy, everything was happening according to her plans. She certainly held the power over everyone else, including the Master, and, especially, over the other mistresses. This leads us to the competition for power among the mistresses.

Third, let us focus on the competition for power among the mistresses. I did not include the first mistress in the interplay of the other mistresses for power because she did not do anything – implicitly or explicitly – that would have implied that she was also trying to win the Master’s attention. It was probably because she already served the Master, and the Master already got what he wanted from the first mistress by giving birth to their son, Feipu. Aside from that, the other mistresses were way younger than her; therefore, I would have to assume that they could give more pleasure to the Master than her because of their youth.


The three mistresses had to compete against one another for the Master’s attention and for all the benefits that come with it. In the competition that the mistresses were in, only one among them could emerge triumphant every night, or whenever the Master wanted. All the mistresses with their respective servants had to wait at a common area outside their respective quarters for the announcement on whose quarter the Master would spend the night in. For instance, when the housekeeper announced: “Light the lantern at the fourth quarter!”, it meant that the fourth mistress emerged as the winner – and therefore, the “powerful” – in the competition, leaving the others powerless as of that moment. One mistress’s triumph was very temporary, that is why they all had to continue formulating and implementing ways on how to emerge and/or how to maintain herself as the winner and the powerful. The mistresses even resorted to deceiving others in order to win in the competition. For instance, when Zhuoyun initially befriended Songlian by praising her beauty and by giving her an expensive silk as a gift, she didn’t want Songlian to view her as an opponent. Zhuoyun hoped that that strategy of hers would help her win the Master’s attention over the other mistresses. Unfortunately for Zhuoyun, Songlian soon knew about her deceitful acts. Competition was so intense among the mistresses that serving another mistress who was equally in pursuit of the Master’s attention was certainly not a part of the plan of any of the mistresses. This was highly evident in the scene when Zhuoyun was very reluctant in giving Songlian a back massage. Nevertheless, Zhuoyun was convinced to give Songlian the back massage she wanted because it was the Master’s order. Just like what Meishan told Zhuoyun while they were eating with the first mistress, “maybe the Master will like you more if you give a back massage to Fourth Sister.” When a mistress would temporarily win the Master’s attention, the other mistresses would be left with nothing. This was highlighted in the scene when Zhuoyun asked Songlian why she was drunk. Songlian said, “What do I have to lose?...I have nothing! Nothing!” Hence, for the mistresses who do not win the Master’s attention, they look for “other sources of pleasure.” In the case of Meishan, she had Dr. Gao. Fortunately for her, her feelings towards Dr. Gao was reciprocated. Unfortunately for Songlian, her affection (although not explicitly shown in the film) toward Feipu was not reciprocated. In the scene where Songlian was let herself get drunk while celebrating her 20th birthday, I, as a viewer, felt her desire for someone to make her feel loved, or to simply to be her company. In Songlian’s case, I think that Songlian desired to have Feipu as her company with the aim of getting rid of her feelings of loneliness and lack of purpose.

Fourth, let us discuss the power of the mistresses over the servants. Based on the hierarchical relations within the home, the mistresses had power over the servants. That is why when Songlian had to be subjected to the family rules for claiming that she was pregnant (although she as not), she revealed Yang’s secret about the red lanterns in her room. Songlian would not allow herself to be subjected to the family rules without Yang being subjected to the rules as well. There was barely anything that a servant could do to defy or resist the mistress’s demands, except to do petty and even pathetic acts of resistance, just like when Yang forcefully spat on Songlian’s clothes before washing them.


Finally, let us focus on the politics of the home. All the actors in the conceptual diagram were bounded by family rules, custom and tradition. That is why those who attempted to challenge those rules had to deal with the consequences of their actions. For instance, Yang had to kneel on the snow until she admitted that she was wrong in secretly lighting lanterns in her room; Meishan had to be hanged secretly in a room at the top of the roof after the discovery of her affair with Dr. Gao; and, Songlian did not win the Master’s attention anymore after deceiving everyone about a fake pregnancy. Moreover, family rules continue despite resistance. At the latter part of the film, Songlian ended up losing her sanity after challenging the rules. The same rules would continue to be observed even in the coming of the fifth mistress. Just like what Dr. Casambre mentioned in our PS 110 class, rules endure even if warm bodies come and go.

The film “Raise the Red Lantern” was an effective medium for political socialization in an “emotionally cold” way. The film portrayed marriage without any “intimate affection” toward one’s partner. This feeling was aggravated because there were four mistresses who competed against one another for the attention of one person, the Master. After watching this film, the viewers would acquire political beliefs and values that would be either in favor of or against the portrayed power relations of actors within the home in China in the 1920s. Hopefully, those political beliefs and values would lead to better power relations within the home (by “better,” I mean more opportunities for each actor to acquire his wants within less constraining rules, customs and traditions), and would be transmitted from generation to generation.

- R. A. Alejandro


Why is it that whenever we win a competition we express our outright gratitude to someone else other than ourselves? Instead of thanking ourselves, we appreciate the role our family, coach, even God, etc. had taken part in helping us in our endeavor/s. We somehow tend to forget ourselves for our innate talent/s, effort, and determination for the accomplishments we have achieved. And whenever we fail, we often blame ourselves. Are we just being unselfish or has society dictated us in doing so? This particular circumstance highlights the ascendancy of macro-structural processes over that of individual preferences in the course of our [political] socialization.

The film Red Lantern (Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao gua) depicts the struggle of four concubines for the limited amount of attention of the Chen household's master. In particular, it captures the life of Songlian (Gong Li), who, despite having attended university becomes one of the concubines of the master of the wealthy Chen family at a young age of nineteen. Upon entry, she quickly learns the rules within the symmetrically-designed compound, which represents equality among the concubines: whoever wife the master presently favors into sleeping with is graced by his attention, lavish foot massages, and scores of red lanterns which are lit in front of her house. The passionate competition among the concubines for the master's rewards soon entangles Songlian in a fierce struggle for the red lanterns, those of irresistible foot massages, and the master's attention. What starts out as a harmless internal strife soon turns to deception, backstabbing, and worse – death. The film exposes patterns of intrigues, deceptions, and exploitation within the Chen household. The political dimension within the film is represented by the competition of the four wives for their husband's favor.


Ultimately, rules prescribe and fashion our roles/functionality within the society. In reference to the film, the role performed by women within the household is dictated by the hierarchical-character of the hundred-year traditions and customs of the Chen family. They define how concubines within the house should socialize with the master and with one another. For example, in the concubine-master relationship, the concubines should always bear in mind the fact of their lives of enticing the master using their wits, skills, looks, whatever they have, into sleeping with one of them. In addition, the presence of certain facets of the norms and traditions reinforces these macro-structural household rules. The embededness of incentives and rewards, such as the lavish foot massages, scores of red lanterns being lit, and the favors of the master, within these family norms and traditions greases the engine of competition among the four wives and at the same time, affirms the stability of such rules. The character of these rules, being at societal equilibrium, is further buttressed by the historical determination of the lives of these concubines, for example, Songlian's economic situation before her entry into the household. On the other hand, non-compliance with these rules can result to something worse – death, as what became of the fate of the third concubine. For Songlian's part, she cannot accept the reality of the third concubine being murdered by the master, and in retort, one way for her to stop responding to the dictation of society while protecting herself from punishment for non compliance (death) is through becoming insane.


On a general note, these rules are governed by society. However, society, in this sense, is not seen as a static structure but rather as a constant process. According to evolutionary game theory, the constant strategic interactions among `bounded' rational players within a societal setting produce outcomes with respect to their preferences (or utilities), more often than not, none of which might have been intended (intention versus predestination) by any of them. The interdependence of the strategic players `bounded' rational choices tailor-make the shared character of macro-structural rules. Accordingly, to such macro-structural rules is the human behavior generally ascribed to, where our actions depend on what several agents choose to do and where our choices depend on what others choose to do. However, we cannot discredit the fact that other players can be dominant against the others within society. Primarily, the possession of wealth and power levels the playing field to a player's advantage, to the point where he/she can set the parameters of the rules of the game and define the behavior of others. With regard to the film, the wealth of the master affirms his superior position over his concubines and servants within the hierarchical (patriarchal) character of the household. This circumstance justifies the master's right to command the individuals within his household. In a nutshell, the established social roles accorded to women are all penned by society. In reference to the film, the shared aspects of socialization, in the form of household norms in the story, defines the behavior of individuals within the Chen compound. Society, with the master penning the rules, is seen as the main culprit behind the oppression of concubines. Moreover, individuals who do not conform to culturally defined standards of normalcy because they were "abnormally" socialized, which is to say that they have not internalized the norms of society are usually labeled by their society as deviant or even mentally ill. Accordingly, in this strictest intuitive sense, sharing the suggestion of many existential philosopohers, we can label society as evil.

On the issue of women's rights, it was hard to recognize any violations perpetrated by the master in the very beginning of the movie simply because Songlian had a choice not to concede to the offer tendered by the master to become one of his concubines. However, at the request of her dying mother and because of their economic situation she decided to become one of the concubines of the master. At the moment Songlian joined the bandwagon, she also consented (not forced), at least, to the terms of becoming one of master's concubines. And having received a certain level of education at a university, she must possess some knowledge about how concubines are being treated. In light of this, we can identify the mother as the primary offender of women's rights in the film. She does not have the right to dictate her daughter's decision since Songlian, at the age of nineteen, is already mature enough to decide for herself and has even received education from a university. This instance can be seen parallel to John Stuart Mill's assertion `tyranny of majority'. As the film progresses, the audience can see how the concubines are being pampered by the master. They are provided with their basic needs and wants: housing, food, clothings, servants, medical services, etc. Although one may notice that in exchange for all these things is their liberty. At this point, one can label the master a violator of women's rights. Their confinement within the thick and towering concrete walls of the Chen's compound is an indicative circumstance. In the end of the film, the master's decision to kill the third concubine further implicated him as a violator of women's rights.

The film can be interpreted as an allegory for the corruption of modern society in China. We can perceive of Songlian's mother as the submissive people who during the communist revolution did not even question the legitimacy of their revolutionary government thus rendering the absence of checks and balances within the system, Songlian as the exploited individuals, the master as the government, and the customs of the household as the `anti-human-rights' laws of the country. "It's an archaic system that rewards those who play within the rules and destroys those who violate them. And, when an atrocity occurs (as it did in Tiannamen Square), not only is culpability denied, but the entire incident is claimed not to have happened" (Berardinelli, J. 1996).

Berardinelli, J. (1996). Raise the red Lantern: A Film Review.
Accessed on August 30, 2007<
http://www.reelviews.net/movies/r/raise.html>.

- L. Tamondong



24 comments:

Ron S.R. said...

Raise the Red Lantern (Power Politics)
This movie is indeed a portrayal of politics, power politics in particular. In fact, one can make real world nation-state analogies to this movie based on the dynamics of the power relations of this movie, its characters in particular. The game theoretic approach as discussed by Lester was indeed a good approach on studying the dynamics of the characters in the movie, and placed in the context of power, such an approach would further show us the intensity of the interactions between these nodes of powers in the Chen household.

From a game theoretic perspective, the characters—the four mistresses of the compound can be classified as the players of our non-zero sum game. Where based on the rules of the Chen household (custom’s, traditions, etc as discussed in class), the players employ various strategies in order to attain their goals or gain the payoff’s. Clearly a good approach, for this article, what I shall focus will be on the strategies employed in the context of power and gaining power being the payoff or the goal. We shall still approach such discussions within the game theoretic model.

As in game theory, strategies are the vital factor in gaining the payoff. As we can see in the film, everyone is vying for power—power in a sense that they can request whatever they want and do whatever they want so long as it is within the rules. Obtaining such power is important for the mistresses since only one can have “optimum” power (OP) at any given time. Though not a finite resource, its allocation is clearly regulated—the power holder of the household can then demand—say, breakfast in bed, or a foot-massage or whatever she can request as compared to the losers of our game—having to have to contend with “limited” power through their servants. What intensifies such power relation is the fact that the source of such a power is only from a single entity—that entity being Master Chen and thus, every player seeks to gain Master Chens favor in order to gain optimum power or become the current power holder.

So when these players employ their strategy, they employ it with full force and maximum brutality (from my view). First focusing on the strategy of M2 (2nd Mistress), seeing that her power is further threatened by another player M4 (self explanatory) which is likely to gain the OP since she is new and still “hot”. Thus, realizing this threat, she employs a strategy of maximizing her intelligence database through befriending M4 to gain more information to use against her. From this approach, we see M2 employing a strategy based on the likelihood of M4 being gullible and in a way, out of the blue. But at this point, M4 has the OP but is easily lost to M3 which employs a strategy fitting for the actions of M4 (her being passive), thus, she simply makes a scene or complaint that easily gets Master Chen’s (MC) attention thus transferring the OP to her. She then gets what she requests since MC is perceived to favor her at the moment. Meanwhile, M2 further threatened with the 2 newer mistresses, extends her strategy with M4 knowing that the power environment is still to M4’s favor her being the new one, she befriends her and manipulates her to thinking devilishly of M3’s actions, which succeeds, M4 now employing counter-strategies against M3 which by then gains her MC’s favor ergo the OP as well.

M2 being an ally of M4 at the moment, it is not hard for her to sway the MC’s favor towards her without the hostile response of M4, thus OP is slowly transferring to M2. By then, M4 realizes this is to her disadvantage, by this time, she is now fully into the game and thus employs strategies at gaining back the OP through means that counter M2’s strategies. M4 pretends to be pregnant, thus gaining the OP, seeing this strategy employed, M2 now counters with her calling Dr. Gao after finding out she (M4) had a period. This gains M2 the OP having only M3 to worry—upon finding that a potential alliance (ergo a threat) between M3 and M4, she secures OP by ordering (indirectly through MC) the death of M3 after finding out information about an anti-family affair from a drunken M4. In the end, M2 ultimately secures OP after M3 hangs in the gallows on the rooftop and M4 incapable of lucid thoughts (and M1 doesn’t really pose a significant threat—she’s old). From what we’ve discussed, we’ve seen the power play between power holders, employing strategies to gain optimum power that is confined to a single entity. We see the interactions of the power holders and the strategies and counter-strategies employed so as to secure power even if it is only power within the household of Master Chen. Indeed power is an important commodity for these characters.

Employing such an approach in the realm of IR is not far-fetched, with a uni-polar power balance (it isn’t balanced if there is only one) or structure in the international system, the US being the only superpower, it is not hard for us to analogize this situation with our approach of the movie—Master Chen being the US and say TWC’s as the mistresses, vying for the favor of the US to gain optimum power in their region under the approval of the US. Possibly an analogy for the Philippines and its SEA neighbors, our government being so “friendly” with Uncle Sam so he’d give us the military aide, the economic deals and such perks so we can be the Pearl of the Orient once again, or at the least—be the leading nation of the SEA region. But then again, our power is only so much as the US can give us them being the master of the global household.

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

Why is it that whenever we win a competition we express our outright gratitude to someone else other than ourselves? Instead of thanking ourselves, we appreciate the role our family, coach, even God, etc. had taken part in helping us in our endeavor/s. We somehow tend to forget ourselves for our innate talent/s, effort, and determination for the accomplishments we have achieved. And whenever we fail, we often blame ourselves. Are we just being unselfish or has society dictated us in doing so? This particular circumstance highlights the ascendancy of macro-structural processes over that of individual preferences in the course of our [political] socialization.

The film Red Lantern (Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao gua) depicts the struggle of four concubines for the limited amount of attention of the Chen household’s master. In particular, it captures the life of Songlian (Gong Li), who, despite having attended university becomes one of the concubines of the master of the wealthy Chen family at a young age of nineteen. Upon entry, she quickly learns the rules within the symmetrically-designed compound, which represents equality among the concubines: whoever wife the master presently favors into sleeping with is graced by his attention, lavish foot massages, and scores of red lanterns which are lit in front of her house. The passionate competition among the concubines for the master’s rewards soon entangles Songlian in a fierce struggle for the red lanterns, those of irresistible foot massages, and the master’s attention. What starts out as a harmless internal strife soon turns to deception, backstabbing, and worse – death. The film exposes patterns of intrigues, deceptions, and exploitation within the Chen household. The political dimension within the film is represented by the competition of the four wives for their husband’s favor.

Ultimately, rules prescribe and fashion our roles/functionality within the society. In reference to the film, the role performed by women within the household is dictated by the hierarchical-character of the hundred-year traditions and customs of the Chen family. They define how concubines within the house should socialize with the master and with one another. For example, in the concubine-master relationship, the concubines should always bear in mind the fact of their lives of enticing the master using their wits, skills, looks, whatever they have, into sleeping with one of them. In addition, the presence of certain facets of the norms and traditions reinforces these macro-structural household rules. The embededness of incentives and rewards, such as the lavish foot massages, scores of red lanterns being lit, and the favors of the master, within these family norms and traditions greases the engine of competition among the four wives and at the same time, affirms the stability of such rules. The character of these rules, being at societal equilibrium, is further buttressed by the historical determination of the lives of these concubines, for example, Songlian’s economic situation before her entry into the household. On the other hand, non-compliance with these rules can result to something worse – death, as what became of the fate of the third concubine. For Songlian’s part, she cannot accept the reality of the third concubine being murdered by the master, and in retort, one way for her to stop responding to the dictation of society while protecting herself from punishment for non compliance (death) is through becoming insane.

On a general note, these rules are governed by society. However, society, in this sense, is not seen as a static structure but rather as a constant process. According to evolutionary game theory, the constant strategic interactions among ‘bounded’ rational players within a societal setting produce outcomes with respect to their preferences (or utilities), more often than not, none of which might have been intended (intention versus predestination) by any of them. The interdependence of the strategic players ‘bounded’ rational choices tailor-make the shared character of macro-structural rules. Accordingly, to such macro-structural rules is the human behavior generally ascribed to, where our actions depend on what several agents choose to do and where our choices depend on what others choose to do. However, we cannot discredit the fact that other players can be dominant against the others within society. Primarily, the possession of wealth and power levels the playing field to a player’s advantage, to the point where he/she can set the parameters of the rules of the game and define the behavior of others. With regard to the film, the wealth of the master affirms his superior position over his concubines and servants within the hierarchical (patriarchal) character of the household. This circumstance justifies the master’s right to command the individuals within his household. In a nutshell, the established social roles accorded to women are all penned by society. In reference to the film, the shared aspects of socialization, in the form of household norms in the story, defines the behavior of individuals within the Chen compound. Society, with the master penning the rules, is seen as the main culprit behind the oppression of concubines. Moreover, individuals who do not conform to culturally defined standards of normalcy because they were “abnormally” socialized, which is to say that they have not internalized the norms of society are usually labeled by their society as deviant or even mentally ill. Accordingly, in this strictest intuitive sense, sharing the suggestion of many existential philosopohers, we can label society as evil.

On the issue of women’s rights, it was hard to recognize any violations perpetrated by the master in the very beginning of the movie simply because Songlian had a choice not to concede to the offer tendered by the master to become one of his concubines. However, at the request of her dying mother and because of their economic situation she decided to become one of the concubines of the master. At the moment Songlian joined the bandwagon, she also consented (not forced), at least, to the terms of becoming one of master’s concubines. And having received a certain level of education at a university, she must possess some knowledge about how concubines are being treated. In light of this, we can identify the mother as the primary offender of women’s rights in the film. She does not have the right to dictate her daughter’s decision since Songlian, at the age of nineteen, is already mature enough to decide for herself and has even received education from a university. This instance can be seen parallel to John Stuart Mill’s assertion ‘tyranny of majority’. As the film progresses, the audience can see how the concubines are being pampered by the master. They are provided with their basic needs and wants: housing, food, clothings, servants, medical services, etc. Although one may notice that in exchange for all these things is their liberty. At this point, one can label the master a violator of women’s rights. Their confinement within the thick and towering concrete walls of the Chen’s compound is an indicative circumstance. In the end of the film, the master’s decision to kill the third concubine further implicated him as a violator of women’s rights.

The film can be interpreted as an allegory for the corruption of modern society in China. We can perceive of Songlian’s mother as the submissive people who during the communist revolution did not even question the legitimacy of their revolutionary government thus rendering the absence of checks and balances within the system, Songlian as the exploited individuals, the master as the government, and the customs of the household as the ‘anti-human-rights’ laws of the country. “It’s an archaic system that rewards those who play within the rules and destroys those who violate them. And, when an atrocity occurs (as it did in Tiannamen Square), not only is culpability denied, but the entire incident is claimed not to have happened” (Berardinelli, J. 1996).

Berardinelli, J. (1996). Raise the red Lantern: A Film Review. Accessed on August 30, 2007< http://www.reelviews.net/movies/r/raise.html>.

TAMONDONG

abeleda said...

Raise the Red Lantern

In the beginning of the film, “Raise the Red Lantern”, university student Songlian talks to her stepmother resolutely. She is looking straight at the camera. She is a woman with dignity and the camera shot her with her back on a square Chinese wall design. At the end of the film, the camera focuses on the mad fourth mistress who looks from behind two square designs. She does not look straight at the camera but the wall design she looks through seems to frame her in the wall, seems to imprison her. The scenes such as the foregoing in this film tell a narrative as impressive as the breadth of the storyline.

By depicting the systematic “erasure” of a woman’s dignity, the movie “Raise the Red Lantern” delivers a powerful blow to our patriarchal society in general and to the Chinese society in particular.

First, Songlian’s name was erased. In a manner far more insidious than a woman taking the name of her husband, Songlian was given the title “Fourth Mistress”, being the fourth concubine of the Master and everybody referred to her by that name, henceforth. Thus, she was no longer considered to be a learned woman but a mere mistress, and a “fourth” one at that.

Songlian’s only connection to her earlier life was erased when the master burned her flute. Her life,therefore, could now only revolve around the Master (whose face was never explicitly shown, making us imagine him to be all the more menacing) and the other Mistresses of the house. She was given the opulent comforts of a rich woman, but only within bounds: that of the master’s house.

She was effectively, a prisoner of the house. But more deplorable than being a prisoner, she was trained to be one of the master’s Pavlovian dogs. Through a series of conditioned response to a stimulus (sound of foot massage) she was made to want the pleasure of being selected as the bed-fellow of the master for the night in order for her to enjoy the foot massages and other perks.

She mistakenly imagines herself to be powerful and thus tries to push a servant around. But her power is but an illusion. When the Mistresses gather in the dining hall to eat together, the favored Mistress is given the choice to select the food to eat, but alas, that is but a token power. Within the room there are imposing pictures of male ancestors of the Master looking them over sternly, dwarfing them even. These women may think they have power but the images tell otherwise: it is the men who wield the strings.

In a desperate attempt to seize control/power, Songlian, the Fourth Mistress tried to fake a pregnancy. It is intimated that she gave in to the particular demands of Chinese society that women should bear their husbands an offspring (preferably a son) to be considered a favored wife.

In the end, the woman is a victim of society’s rules. Songlian could not accept the fact that the Third Mistress was hanged and that she may have been partly responsibly for that having transpired. Her moral conviction and the rules of her current station could not reconcile so her fragile mind took the emergency way out: insanity. Her whole being is effectively erased. When the fifth mistress asks about her, a servant readily dismisses her. “She’s the fourth mistress who’s gone completely mad”. Her “erasure” is now complete.

Feminists may argue that the film cops out in the end because the protagonist did not fight for her rights but opted for madness instead. But Songlian is at the end of her line. She cannot be redeemed as a character. She has Yan’s blood on her hands, she has the Third Mistress’ blood likewise. But more than that, the Fourth Mistress is at the end of her line because she could not cope with the rules inside the house. In Asian and Confucian societies, rules must be obeyed without question and by “choosing” to be insane, the filmmaker is essentially questioning the very structure of Asian and Confucian societies and the place of women in them. The Fourth Mistress is bound by the rules, imprisoned even. This situation is akin to the last scene in the movie “Thelma and Louise”: both of them could not dare risk going back to the male-dominated society of man, so they opted to drive over the cliff.

Ultimately, the “Raise the Red Lantern” dare ask the difficult questions: What are women for? To give birth to sons? To serve his master in bed? To be submissive to the will of the husband? Like most good films, the movie may not provide all the answers but it does provoke all the red-lantern questions.

odessawoods said...

Raise the Red Lantern, Yimou Zhang, China/Hong Kong/Taiwan, 1991

Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Woman: without her, man is nothing.
A very engaging film because of its social relevance, Raise the Red Lantern is the story of Songlian, the fourth mistress in the House of Chen.
Songlian was a student who had to stop schooling after her father's death. And because no one will provide for her anymore and she was not sure of her future, he agreed to marry the rich man.
The cinematography, lighting and technical aspects added to the beauty of the plot with every scene presented as a priceless painting, the bold colors, angles and all.
It is said that this film is a critique of the Chinese politics and government, but I think the film was not that effective in conveying such message (at least on my part, I only learned about it from the reporters). I saw the movie mainly as a gender film, particularly discussing the issues about women's situation and their rights. It presents the power relations within traditional Chinese homes—the hierarchy from the master to the concubines to the servants, and between man and woman, the man being the provider therefore being more powerful. As shown in the film, Songlian did not finish her education because her father died, no one would finance her studies, so she married Master Chen to secure her future (rather material needs/wants). This shows the reliance of women on men.
Society cannot always dictate on women; women have the power and once they realize that, they will have control. More than introducing the viewers to the situation, the director showed a struggle in his film. There was resistance of the individual from society and more so of the woman from culture and tradition. This was depicted when the third mistress Meishan had an affair with Doctor Gao. It was her choice to keep another relationship despite the strict rules of the house; it showed braveness.as for Songlian, after she witnessed the hanging of Meishan and not wanting to follow the master's rule to keep quiet, instead lost her sanity.
In this sense, the director was effective in showing women empowerment, even in the slightest context. First of all, he chose the character to be an educated woman. And instead of abiding by traditions, he let the characters make their own decision (for Songlian's case, she was not really forced to marry, it was also her choice).
Even if trapped within society's confines, the woman could break free from norms, in this case, male domination. I think more than a feminist movie, Raise the Red Lantern sees the importance and strengths of women. When this film was released, women were already making their mark and voicing out their concerns in society.
True enough, as empirical data and statistics show, investment in women (women's health, education) profits greatly. When you educate one woman, you can be sure that a whole generation will be educated, because it is the mother who teaches her children and makes sure that values are instilled and passed on, as compared to an educated man who, most likely will share his knowledge only to himself. It is sad though that even in present times, women in Afghanistan are not allowed to enter school and be educated. If this film was shown there, it would make an impact (wala lang, just an idea; and then again there's culture and religion, norms).

me_delas_alas said...

One of the emerging interests in the field of political science and sociology is feminism, which is an ideology committed to promoting the social role of women and in most cases, dedicated to the goal of gender equality (Heywood, 2002). The principles behind feminist articulation can be seen in one of Gong Li’s finest films yet, Raise the Red Lantern. The struggle of women in the realm of both their public and private lives as depicted in the film affected their way of thinking, their actions and the fate that these factors had sealed. Evidently, the subordination of women as inferior and as a commodity for personal satisfaction created a theme that speaks of how women are being treated in today’s society.

We see the first evidence of women struggle when Gong Li’s character became a mistress, with the primary objective of living off a better life. Anyway, a woman will eventually become nothing but any man’s partner even if she has finished a university degree. She seemed to have limited options, and her choices were always repressive: either she stays in poverty, which is physically disabling, or become the other woman of some man, which brings emotional suffering. Ultimately, she had no choice but to be physically better. In today’s societies, we seem to perpetuate the cycle in which women often are presented with a narrow set of options, either she becomes a wife or her life will not prosper. We see women as someone who thrives with her emotions as one of her guiding principles, the rock in which her actions sit firmly. She can be swayed easily; she will not even try to counter react. In short, we see them as weaklings. As for feminists and advocates of human rights, women should not be regarded as the “other”, a crippling part of a male dominated community. Rather, women should be treated with at least the same privileges as what men enjoy. Options should be created, and choices should be unrestricted.

Because of continuous subordination of women, a vital and crucial part of the society remains very silent, which if voiced properly, should create a more vibrant and equitable world, both in theory and empirically. According to Prof. Solita Collas-Monsod of the School of Economics – University of the Philippines, the feedback effect of women’s participation (or their unpaid household services which would have been worth something if the service is rendered outside the home), if included in the computation of national total output, will significantly have a high social return. In effect, investment in women, according to studies, will produce a better citizenry in the future. Better health of women and greater education opportunities will have an infectious effect on the family, which will then transcend toward the next generation. Sadly, as what the film portrays, women’s actions are limited, their space is very tight and their lives are constricted by laws that deprive basic human necessities. And even though the fourth mistress had university education, the institutions in which she now belongs i.e. the household of Master Chen have not recognized it, rather all those were put to waste. The film tries to socialize us with the off-putting effects of what subordination breeds. We see that suppression of women affects her participation in the system in which she is part of.

In the film, the mistresses were depicted as someone we certainly are most familiar of: women as sexual objects, something to heat up the senses. In this context alone, subordination is exhibited. Since the Master has the sole option of whom to spend the night with, his power over the women ultimately determines their places in the structured hierarchy of the household. By virtue of being the patriarch, the Master took advantage of his power (even using family traditions to justify them) which can eventually perpetuate women’s position as always being secondary; no power, no influence, no right or capability to decide what the system will be like. Like Master Chen, there are certain factors that implicitly reinforce the notion of women as a weak sex. Take for one of my most favorite empirical examples on the inequality of women. The Metro Rail Transit, commonly known as the MRT, has been implementing its segregation scheme for passengers. A separate coach are dedicate for the use of women (including children, elderly and disabled). In the process for trying to give them a better ride, their supposedly weak nature is being reinforced further, implicitly stating that they cannot keep abreast with men because of the special advantage the railway company gives. These small things may eventually contribute to the always existing patriarchal beliefs in our society.

Women empowerment is now the topic of debates and inquiry the world over. In trying to emancipate women, we should not employ values that will implicitly; rather we should give them the privileges of options and choices, of how to go about their world without any suppression. As what the film tries to impart to its audience, women should not end up mentally challenged, rather, women too have the capabilities to contribute to the society. It may be different by the means, but importantly, the ends which men and women achieve should be of equal worth and recognition.

buagñin said...

Set in the 1920s China, “Raise the Red Lantern” shows the consequences of the warlord era. It is believed that this film is an allegory of the current communist government of China. In fact, there was a period when this film was banned for screening in China. Generally, the film talks about the story of an educated nineteen-year old woman named Songlian who marries the wealthy Master Chen due to her family’s poor situation. She is then referred as the Fourth Mistress of the Chen family’s household. Inside the household, she and the other three mistresses are treated like royalty. However, this luxurious treatment is received only if the Master has chosen you to spend with him for the night. This has been the cause of the competition among the mistresses which is to continually seek for their husband’s affection and attention. If one wins to get the master’s attention and affection, the red lanterns of the mistress’s house will then be lighted as a signal.

So how does this film become a protest against the Contemporary Chinese government?

First, the notion of a master-servant relationship is seen as the relationship between the government and its people. Like in Chen’s household, there are rules that must be followed or else you will be punished. In other words, the actions of the people inside the household are governed and controlled by the head master. In the communist government of China, the people are also under the control of the party – Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In this case, the people are also governed by rules that are imposed by the government. Moreover, the film’s master-servant relationship also shows how the master preserves the loyalties of his servants by giving them their basic needs. Same as with the China’s government, the people are entitled to some luxury like house facilities if and only if they obey the rulings of the government. In some case, it benefits all actors in the society in a sense that they both get what they want to fulfill their needs. However, this kind of relationship shows how an enormous power can lead to manipulation of the minds of the people. For example, in the film the master persuades his household that Songlian’s words or stories are just a product of her craziness. The master has actually used his power to hide his faults. In comparison with contemporary China, the government also used its power by limiting its people to violate any rules that it imposed. The power of the government is also used to manipulate the minds of the people so as to hide any faulty acts of the party. In this kind of system, the master acts as the government, the customs of the household pertains to the laws governing China and Songlian signifies the individual. This kind of metaphor perhaps can be the cause of the banning of the film.

Another allegory of this film towards the Chinese society is the competition and struggle among the mistresses just to get the master’s attention and affection. The mistresses prepare themselves just to make the master stays with him for the night. If you think about it, what encourages them to struggle against the other mistresses just to win the master’s attention? Is it because of love? Perhaps, it is. But from what I have seen, these mistresses especially Songlian battle with each other because it is the norm of the household. It will be demoralizing for them not to get the attention of the master. It makes them feel worthless. Thus, serving the master by getting his attention is a must for them. Even Songlian who has been unwilling at first to be married with Master Chen finds herself competing against the other mistresses. It will be so much to say that Songlian has fallen in love with the master. It could happen but for me Songlian has indulged herself to compete because of the luxury of it. Whoever chosen by the master to sleep with for the night will get a royal treatment and the envy of the other mistresses. This kind of set up may appear in the contemporary China in that the people express their full loyalty to the government because of the goods and services they get. The film perhaps tries to describe that in China the people value the government because it is the one which can fulfill their desires. Thus competition may arise among the individuals so as to appear worthy towards the government.

Moreover, the hanging of the third mistress because of her adultery also describes the rules governing China. The film tries to show that any violation or disloyalty towards the master will result in one’s death. Thus, one should always be loyal to the master and follow the customs of the household. Whenever someone violates these, the master can put him or her to death. This characterizes how the Chinese government controls its people to become loyal to them. Perhaps, the people are unaware of these because it has already instilled in their minds that disloyalty to the state is bad. However, the film shows a case wherein an individual has actually crossed the line even though she is aware of it. This depicts how brutal one can be because of gaining power.

However, the film has shown how one can escape from these cruel realities. The film shows that being insane when one no longer understands the rules and laws governing the society can temporarily save one’s life. It only means that these rules and laws are only suited or applied for those who actually understands and perceives them. Thus, the master can no longer control Songlian’s actions and mind because it has already not working under the norms of society.

In general, the film is a critic of the contemporary government of China wherein it shows how the master uses his power to serve his own good. The film is actually an eye opener to the Chinese people or even to the others to be aware of their rights and freedom as a human being. This is to let the people know how they behave in their certain societies and what makes them behave as it is. I think the film tries to tell its audience that these rules and laws that we obey are just a product of manipulation of the powerful. We are enclosed in a society guarded by rules and laws that if we try to escape death will be on us.

mimah said...

Power always involves a relationship. Power would be just an abstraction if it would not involve interpersonal relationships. In the film, power is very apparent within the grounds of Master Chen’s home. It is the sole thing that actually runs the household. His relationship with his concubines and his servants serve as the venue for his power to perpetuate. We only know that he is Master Chen, who belongs to an influential and wealthy clan. His possession of power entails inequality within the household. He enjoys his status, a concept defined as “the position a person occupies in society by virtue of his age, sex, birth, marriage, occupation or achievement.” (Lecture notes in Sociology 101) It can be said that, one’s status greatly affects the extent of one’s power whether one is a man or a woman.

With power, one enjoys certain privileges. Master Chen has enough resources for him to afford four mistresses, to choose with whom he would spend the night and to continually follow the traditions of his family, which all in turn, strengthens his position. The concubines on the other hand, are always in each other’s necks, maybe except for the First Mistress, just to get the Master’s attention to enjoy some privileges too. Privileges which maybe superficial for us but serve like crowns for the concubines. They would compete just to enjoy foot massages and the right to choose what food they wish to eat.

Morever, with power, one acquires prestige. Master Chen already has that prestige. He would not have been able to attract mistresses and would not have been attractive enough to compete for. His face need not be shown in the film to stress how powerful he is, I think. For the concubines, prestige is something they have to fight for every day. Being the ‘mistress of the day’ somehow raises one’s status in the household. She would be the one given more importance and more attention. But then they are all aware that this prestige is fleeting and so they always have to plan to get ahead of others. They would really do everything in their power just to enjoy the privileges and prestige.

We can see here that power is not confined to man only. Yes, it is very evident that women, the concubines, are inferior to the master but they too, play a part in the power politics inside the household to some extent. In fact, it seems that it is just the Master who is above them. They are all second in line in a hierarchy. They just have to compete among themselves. They have their own personal servants. The servants give them respect, maybe except for Songlian whose servant is envious of her. They are all treated as precious possessions of the Master. They can exert their “bratty-ness” any time they wish even if it means forcing the Master himself, to change quarters at night just like what the Third Mistress did at the first night of the Master and Songlian. At times, the concubines can deceive the Master just like how Songlian made him believe she is pregnant. Songlian, out of anger and frustration, was able to let her servant be punished for destroying her plans. But at the end of the day, the Master is still the most powerful of all. This can be observed when he punished Songlian by covering all of her rad lanterns with black cloth, when he ordered the death of the Third Mistress and when he made Songlian think and believe that she did not see anything and that she is going crazy.

To end, red is the color of love and of power. Red, such a striking color, plays an important role in politics. It has been use in national flags, in military uniforms and as a symbol of communism or socialism. In the film, red is effectively used as the color of the lanterns. These red lanterns that are shot against fade colors of black, brown and gray background, emphasize their significance for the four concubines. These red lanterns imply that one has won the competition, one’s tactics are effective, and one has obtained the privileges and prestige along with power for that day. Red is more perceived as a color of power than a color of love. I guess there was no love at all or maybe it was not explicitly shown. Really, how can one love a man who well, provides all the luxuries the concubines needed but is also the source of hatred, competition, grief and even discontentment? But they chose to maintain their relationship with Master Chan definitely not primarily because of love but because of their desire to experience power even for a short period of time.

Bartolome

asama said...

Once one enters the compound of the master and be permanently a part of it, that person becomes a robot that is programmed by the master to make limited actions, choose from limited choices, and yet derive pleasure from all that are just available to them.

The mistresses in the compound do the same things everyday. They eat, chat, or play with other mistresses in their everyday life. They are seemed to be programmed to do the same things everyday. And more importantly, they seem to live to sleep with the master. The highlight of the day: the moment that the red lantern is raised in the quarter of the mistress who is chosen by the master for that night. I did not really feel that sleeping with the master really gives them pleasure. But sleeping with the master also means a foot massage and a privilege to choose the menu for the next day, a privilege that will give the chosen mistress a sort of superiority among the mistresses, something that will give her a sense of pride and pleasure, a privilege that will surely bring the other three mistresses to envy. Having the red lanterns raised in their quarter became a symbol of their pleasure and pride in the compound. They have been molded to think that their ultimate goal is to be chosen by the master every night. This is where they base all their actions, their tactics, even if they may harm another mistress. Being the chosen mistress has even become a competition for them, a competition for something that in their limited world is what they live for.

They feel like they are the most blessed in the compound, having the opportunity to sleep with the master, get a foot massage, pick the menu for the next day, and get their own servants. They did not realize that they have become mere puppets of the master, living by the rules of the master and the traditions in the master’s compound. But to a certain degree, yes, they are lucky, because there are also classes that are below them that are not only subject to the master’s power but also to theirs. Perhaps this is where Yang, Songlian’s servant, based her illusion of being one of the master’s mistresses. Compared to the mistresses, Yang has a lower social status in the compound. If the mistresses have been made to think that they get the best by being a mistress, so had Yang. Even without experiencing the foot massage herself, it is easy to figure from the face of the mistresses that they love the foot massage, that even just hearing the noise of the foot massage tool already gives the feeling of desire for it. Yang showed this desire to be a mistress by lighting red lanterns in her quarter, which is strictly a tradition followed only by the mistresses. Breaking this rule eventually led her to be punished, causing her death.

I think the film “Raise the Red Lantern” is an effective tool for political socialization. Each shot filled with strong colors (usually of red) makes it easy for the audience to capture the strong emotions that are being conveyed in the film. But aside from this technical aspect, it is the very message of the film that is most striking. The movie was banned in China because it was said to be a critique of the authoritarian system in that country. True enough, the master and an authoritarian leader have things in common. They both limit the rights of the people that are under them. The mistresses all have limited rights, and sometimes they only get a right when they get picked as the mistress of the night. Both may feed their people with hypnotic propaganda. In the case of the master, he convinces that being picked as the mistress of the night is such a great privilege by making them experience the pleasure of a foot massage and be the one to pick the menu for the next day. And I think more importantly is being able to keep the mere label of being a “mistress”, which is desired by some. Also, on both systems, everything that the people are allowed to do are those that come from the master’s rules, otherwise they get punished.

This leads to me to thinking that…

If I would be given the chance to be the fifth mistress (hypothetically :D), given that I am not desperate and broke, and given that I know the life of a mistress inside the compound, I would not grab the opportunity. I would rather live outside the master’s house and forget about the foot massage and other privileges. And live with the hopefully less behavior-constraining and rights-limiting system outside.

Given that I have a choice.

Tephanie said...

Gong Li have once again challenged communism. She wasn’t just playing tough and strong, but she was being rebellious. The red lanterns are sure to be raised in her quarters tonight.

It is a celebrated prison. The household of the master, with his four concubines, illustrates nothing but grandeur, formality, customs, and rules. Everyone living inside this household seemed to be contained and imprisoned within the imaginary bars encircling them. Everything not conforming to family traditions is out. Everything beyond the rules is barred. Everyone within the household are imprisoned, deliberately.

It could never be completely criticized as it was these people’s “voluntary” actions that they were situated within the walls of this household. There liberty might be impaired but necessity and equity is at least, provided. That might be what the government in China has been thinking.

There will always be that debate on equity and liberty, and there will always be those who will never be better off with either of the two. Songlian could not afford not to take the opportunity and marry the rich master. But as she chose to be one of the master’s concubines, she knows that she could never have her liberty back. However, it really might be far better than struggling from poverty and from her stepmother’s wrath. The society in which she belonged to is a picture of social inequality, in which she belonged to a low “class”. It was also not liberty at its fullness since she was allowed to make a choice among the limited options that were given to here.

In other words, in or out, I didn’t matter, as wherever she goes, equity and liberty, in their genuine sense might never be in existence.

The film Raise the Red Lantern is certainly strong piece depicting issue on liberty versus necessity or equity. If you’re the type who could give up liberty for necessities, you could be made to think again, same with preferring liberty over necessity.

It’s really always been about tradeoffs. The best one can do is to live with whatever it is he/she has.

Steph said...

Raise the Red Lantern indeed goes beyond women’s right and/or gender roles: it interestingly depicts the numerous facades of power. There are abundant films on this subject matter; however, this specific one is extremely effective in unwrapping the different layers of power by using a unique plot which revolves around of the lives of a so-called traditional family consisting of a male supreme, his four female subordinates and the rest of the household (servants). Not only should we analyze how power is exploited within the given plot—rather, we should appreciate the command that such a plot entails when the concept of power is unraveled. We should not stop and see the film as is—politics within a household—rather, we should be fascinated by how such a seemingly mundane setting could actually provide the most precise approach on encapsulating the power dynamics of everyday politics.

Gender roles and the consequential inequality are powerfully utilized to depict unpopular notions of power relations. Unfortunately, the desire for the concubines to obtain power is in order to enjoy rights that are supposedly given freely to them and not to have to be worked for. But once again, we can see how the women have used this unfortunate situation into becoming their very tool to achieve their purpose. In the main commentary, although it is agreeable that the Master relatively had more power than the mistresses since he could choose whose quarter he would stay in for the night, it must be emphasized that his choice was due to the manipulations of the concubines. This mirrors the view of power that it is the ability of A to exercise influence over B to do something that B would otherwise not do; influence can be coercive, attractive, cooperative and competitive (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_in_international_relations) . These aspects are certainly evident in the film as all concubines used these differing types of influences to affect the Master’s decision.

The film can be viewed in a very shallow approach and thus be criticized as simply nothing more than a Chinese rendition of “The Women” (Hal Hinson in The Washington Post, 1992). Zhang Yimou, the film’s director, masterfully crafted the film in such a way that he was able to manipulate his surrounding society to subtly, yet powerfully, strike upon typical notions of power and politics. Furthermore, Yimou did not have to expose the patterns of exploitation amongst women in a typical Chinese household (Hinson, 1992)—such stories go back decades into the pasts of several cultures in which some exploit women to even more extreme cases such as female circumcision and deathly physical abuse; rather, she manipulated such a compelling plot to expand the horizon into an even wider scope: that of power and politics in general.

One may view the film as simply a hierarchy of power within the compound in which sex is the main determination (Hinson, 1992). On the other hand, the film does not seem to focus on sex as an objective or even a reward; as with the latter, sex seems to be only a consolation and not even the primary prize. Furthermore, sex becomes but a necessary action in order for the concubines to gain even more power—the highly sought-after bearing of a son. When the red lantern is raised, only traditional thinkers would view this as an achievement of sex since the vital, underlying declaration of raising the lanterns is the flaunting (in all senses: sight of lit lanterns, sound of foot massage bells, taste of desired food, touch of sexual intimacy, and smelling the stench of jealousy from others) to the entire household of the power and privileges that it entails. Viewers should take note that the power achieved is a result of hard work by a consciously scheming concubine.

Interestingly, the concubines all connived against each other with the outlook that even just one, single night with the Master is very precious. With the thought of a lifetime, the concubines seem fanatical when they grieve over being the loser for one night. However, we must realize that time is also against the concubines—sooner or later, they obtain more wrinkles and the Master moves on to another new concubine. Throughout the entire movie, the first concubine never received a single night of raised lanterns in her courtyard; subtly showing that power and prestige can slip through one’s hands in a snap. When this happens and you accept that this just is the natural flow of power, you remain unhappy yet sane. As shown at the end of the movie, when you become consumed with the notion of obtaining power yet suddenly lose it, and then cannot accept this fate, you can go insane. Inasmuch as the director sternly dismisses the notion that this film is an allegory of post-Cultural Revolution China (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raise_the_red_lantern#_note-3), the final state of the Fourth Concubine shows the eventual fate of people who are stripped away of any power and privilege (since democracy is viewed as giving everyone some amount of power, such as right of suffrage, justice and protection of life).

The fact that the Master’s face is never even shown may imply that the Master is not the object of desire—rather, it is power that everyone wants to pounce upon. There are some who have accepted their place in society: the servants reminding themselves and each other that they can never be more than what place they are given in society. Naturally, some oppose this so-called fate as shown in the character of Yang who dreams of becoming a concubine. It is actually quite ironic that Yang sees the despicable conspiracies among the concubines, yet still yearns to be thrown into the war; the film does not show much hints of Yang’s love for the Master, other than the stubborn love of what the Master symbolizes.

Being an adaptation of Su Tong’s novel Wives and Concubines, Raise the Red Lantern faced the challenge to be effective in visually showcasing power; this was triumphantly executed by through the play on color contrasts of scenes throughout the film. Chinese filmmakers are notorious with using such visual effects. Amidst gray, white and other faded shades, bursts of color would be highlighted in situations when power was the issue.

Women may be viewed as weak and subservient, like that in traditional cultures. Yet the film explores the daunting vivacity of women who seeks to manipulate her environment and circumstances in order to gain power—and more importantly—is successful in achieving such goals. In the film, the concubines are depicted as strong, witty, and demanding—characteristics that are not typical of women, most especially in China during the warlord era of the 1920s. The film showcases how power can and has been manipulated by women, who typically are characters in society that are most ostracized for their frailty. They are a metaphor to all others in society who are classically viewed as lower citizens, challenging them to use their supposed weaknesses and reversing these into means of power gain. The film successfully manipulates a mundane plot of a patriarchal household and abuse of women’s rights (mundane since this is normal to the featured culture) while simultaneously proves that we can all manipulate personal weaknesses into weapons to achieve rightful power.

-Stephanie L. Tan

dominic_barnachea said...

Raise the Red Lantern is supposedly a great film. Having a Western audience appreciate the culture a rather polar Eastern society is an achievement in itself. Being able to criticize the present Chinese communist system with the film’s plot without much notice is also another feat. And lastly its contribution to further awareness of human rights, especially on women, is very much something worth noting.

On Women

Here the film gives a concrete example on the objectification of women - how women are viewed as objects of utility, which a male can exploit and extract satisfaction from, physical pleasure and otherwise. Though the plot is too exaggerated, and even impossible to occur in the modern times, surely there are some parallelisms with present issues as domestic violence, polygamy and prostitution. And with the female objectification normally comes patriarchy and patrimony, which generally places power over anything at the hands of the male. In real life, the Master is personified not only in the present male-dominated China, but practically in every country, democratic or not. The moral bases and other justification are another issue, but I think everyone will agree that female objectification, and subjection, hence male dominance, is everywhere.

On Tradition

The film also presented the extent on how powerful traditions can be. Songlian married, lived and got crazy by the tradition. The Third Mistress died by the tradition. The Master is the god of the house by tradition. In a modern democratic era, things like these are very much absurd, and yet they happened. Why? Because they are justified by tradition. It is very much interesting how traditions can make wrong things right through time, how absurd behaviors of people escape criticism because of tradition. In this aspect we can then say tradition supports and ensures the survival of values and behaviors, however wrong they may be.

Richard Henrick said...

What is power is still subjected to the dictates of the society. In the film “Raise the Red Lantern”, the concubines of Master Chen are competing for the raising of the red lanterns on their own quarters for it bestows them with power over the other mistresses. The mistress whose lantern will be lit will be the one with whom the master will spend the night with. It also means that they are entitled to a foot massage and to their own food preference. Getting something that others don’t get is what defines power in the context of the concubines. To some extent, the power they get after the red lanterns had been raised on their quarters may also fit Robert Dahl’s famous definition that power is a matter of getting people to do what they would not have otherwise have done for the mistresses could easily order servants to do things that they want. However, their position in the society limits their power only up to that. They could not have a say on family customs nor with any other rules in the palace. It is reserved to those who have the higher position in their small society, which would be Master Chen. Indeed, just like in any other society, the higher your position in the societal hierarchy is, the more powerful you become. Likewise, the lower your position is, the more subjugated you are. Servants like Yang in the movie are most of the time left without any option but to obey their masters.

While it is true that your power is limited by your societal position, it does not necessarily mean that you could not do anything to make it higher. Context-specific scenarios may make a person have power that people in his/her class don’t usually possess. In short, power could be increased beyond the drawn line. In the movie, while an ordinary mistress could not enjoy a full servant service, a pregnant mistress could do so. While it is a custom, I say that Songlian still crossed the line when she pretended that she was pregnant. By doing that, she was able to have more power than the other mistresses, who are not pregnant just like her. She was even able to force Zhuoyun, the second mistress, to give her a massage by letting the Master order it for her. Yang, the servant, was also able to get power beyond what ordinary servants could have. While it is forbidden for servants to have their own red lanterns lit on their quarters, Yang was still able to continue to have hers lit even after Songlian discovered it because she let Songlian know who helped her write Songlian’s name on the doll they used to curse Songlian. Indeed, these incidents shows to us that we could extend our powers beyond the imposed limit.

However, gaining power in an illegitimate manner is always dangerous especially if there are people who are competing with you in attaining it. The struggle for power indeed makes a person do certain things that he or she would not otherwise do. In the movie, we’ve seen how crab mentality is present among people competing for power. In order for one to not get the power she desires, the others would always use different strategies. For instance, Meishan demands for the presence of Master Chen while he is sleeping with Songlian and even disturbs them by singing at an early hour so that Songlian will not get the satisfaction she deserves. Zhuoyun is the most competitive among them all for she will employ brutal means just to get the master’s attention away from the other mistresses. While in the start she was very friendly with Songlian, it was discovered in the latter part of the film how cruel Zhouyan could be when Meishan narrated how Zhouyun slipped abortion pills on her food and even paid expensive injections so that she would be the first one to deliver a son to the Master Chen. Moreover, she was the one who exposed the fraud Songlian is committing about her pregnancy after gaining some evidence from her spy, Yang. At the end of the movie, she was also the one who revealed Meishan’s affair with Dr. Cao, which caused Meishan to be sentenced to death. Indeed, this shows how one could be so inhumane just for the sake of ambition.

In conclusion, the competition for power is never an easy battle field. One who is participating in such a quest should be aware how their other competitors play their cards for they may lose all of a sudden. What’s sad is that when someone lost at the end of the battle, that loser may pull others also into losing just like what Songlian did after her red lanterns were covered wherein she revealed Yang’s secret red lanterns as well as Meishan’s affair with Dr. Cao. Indeed power politics is a game and winning it all depends on one’s strategy.

venus said...

Rules, laws, precepts. They were meant to mould our knowledge and character, to limit our opportunity for transgression, to distinguish us from the predominantly anarchic animal kingdom, and control our animalistic tendencies. They were meant to protect us from the consequences of miscalculated actions. The law is essence wise, good. But the initial intention of any rule in the sanheyuan or Chinese courtyard of the Chen family only provoked its marginalized characters, the mistresses and the servants who all happened to be women, to do things out of control. They became worse instead of better. Chinese Confucian ethics applied to the Chinese society, as exemplified in the film, only strangled those oppressed by the rules ever since it was proclaimed as a state orthodoxy in China.

Only when things are investigated is knowledge extended; only when knowledge is extended are thoughts sincere; only when thoughts are sincere are minds rectified; only when minds are rectified are the characters of persons cultivated; only when characters are cultivated are families regulated; only when families are regulated are states well governed; only when states are well governed is there peace in the world. (Confucius, 551-479 B.C.) The Chinese culture viewed the family as the most important institution which should be regulated in order that the aim of good governance and social welfare is attained. That is why upholding the customs and traditions of the family is also essential; doing so will also preserve China as one of the countries with the richest cultures. Fair enough, but the way Confucianism regulates the family has made the discrepancy between what Chinese society has become and it what should have been. More and more, the security of the state was valued more than human security. It seemed like every individual who lacked power was engulfed into the system to the point of blind obedience, just for the sake of traditionalism. This was the purpose of the making of the Fifth Generation film Raise the Red Lantern, to open the eyes of the society to the subtle cruelty that was right in front of them, that was encroaching on their natural rights. For instance, Songlian have no right to decide for their future because according to tradition, and to one of Songlian’s memorable lines in the film, a woman is fated to be a concubine. Better than being what Meishan the Third Mistress could have achieved as a Peking Opera singer/actress and better than the scholarship Songlian could have achieved as a university student, being a concubine was having everything you want without much physical toil. The Chinese Courtyard Architecture was a structure very similar to that of the Chinese Communism, wherein the walls were supposed to serve as protection and the compound as the Utopia.

I don’t think the mistresses were competing for power more than for self-worth. They knew that being a concubine is in other words, pleasuring the Master and being a bearer of the seed that will carry on the descent. Hence, without discharging the said duties they lose significance and will to live. In a desperate attempt to win it all, Songlian pretended that she was pregnant which only resulted to her being detested by the Master and the covering of her lanterns. This was the triggering point of the tragedy. She became frustrated that she wanted to take revenge with Yang by revealing her misdemeanor of lighting the sacred lanterns, then from frustration it built up to guilt because of Yang’s death, from guilt she experienced desperation for something to value her in the person of Fei Pu, from rejection due to the impossibility of a relationship with him to remorse for causing the death of Meishan, the only person she was able to consider a friend.

Even the foot massage, which was one of the few satisfactions they got inside the false utopia, was also a symbolism of one of the enslaving mechanisms of their culture. Women’s beauty was based on the daintiness of the feet, so much so that we hear of them painstakingly wearing foot binding steel, their flesh and bones getting squished just so they could perform their roles in the society. This is a prism through which the real image of the Chinese government can be reflected. You as a citizen could only choose among the following: (1) Follow the rules despite strangulation; (2) Violate them and be executed; or (3) Go insane. The film was a warning, a prophecy of what was bound to happen if the system perpetuates.

Uy said...

It was not RAISING the red lantern to FULFILL the pleasant foot massage; but it was RACING for the red lantern to FULLY FEEL the soothing foot massage.

Raising the red lantern symbolizes the concubines’ position and privilege in the household – marked by foot massage and the right to ‘food-choice’. Within those walls, there are existing culturally and traditionally kept practices, symbols and rituals which vanguard the personal beliefs and character. Furthermore, this practices, symbols and rituals have sustained and maintained the relationship established among the concubines and the master. However, these rituals are vital in affecting the individual’s level of action. We have seen that these symbols and practices have triggered them (the concubines) to acquire power over others through strategically and competitively getting their master to sleep with them. The point is that cultural roots and traditional practices produce an interest in how rituals create meanings and shape actions (taken from Gusfielf 1966, Ross 1997).

Similarly, political rituals are particularly critical in constructing political reality for most people (taken from Edelman 1988, Ross 1997). According to Ross (1997), politics is a passing parade of symbols to which we react on two levels: the cognitive, which involves the information any symbol communicates; and the affective, which consists of powerful feelings political symbols can invoke. Therefore, political rituals are important means of influencing people’s ideas about political events, political policies, political systems and political leaders. Through the rituals shown in the movie Raise the Red Lantern, the concubines developed their ideas about what are appropriate gestures, manners, actions, procedures and appropriate qualities. In short, rituals, either culturally or politically, are important instruments of control or may be considered a mechanism for obtaining and maintaining power.

Moreover, the invocation of symbols and use of rituals do not just indicate points of consensus; they are also efforts to overcome contradictions (taken from Kurtz 1991, Ross 1997). There are standards and norms to be followed in order to preserve the ‘togetherness’ and order in society. Therefore, powerful political rituals are those that utilize deep cultural roots and that provide meanings to offer a vision of reality to the societal structure (Ross 1997).

But sometimes, to preserve culture and tradition, the society shouts “RAISE THE RED LANTERN” which marks fear on people to observe and conform to the practices and rituals.


References:

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

Felicia said...

The 1991 Chinese film, “Raise the Red Lantern” (henceforth referred to as “Red Lantern”) was directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Gong Li, who this writer considers as Zhang's muse. This writer mainly asserts that the Chen compound dictates the decisions and the actions of the members within its boundaries. This essay reflects the perspective of the traditional (or old) institutionalism approach, which, as basically described by Johnson and Ridley as cited in Vivien Lowndes, “is a subject matter covering the rules, procedures and formal organizations of government. ... to explain the constraints on both political behaviorand democratic effectiveness...” (John and Ridley, as cited in Lowndes, 2002, 92) Moreover, it focuses on the Chen compound, where the story is literally confined. However, this is definitely not to say that “Red Lantern” is also figuratively confined in the Chen compound; on the contrary, its figurative value transcends the high walls of Chen's opulent abode.

The traditional institutional approach is further elaborated, according to Lowndes, as focusing more upon “formal rules and organizations rather than informal conventions; and upon official structures of government rather than broader institutional constraints on governance (outside as well as within the state). Peters (1999: 6-11) characterizes the 'proto-theory of old institutionalism: normative (concerned with 'good government'), structuralist (structures determine political behavior), historicist (the central influence of history), legalist (law plays a major role in governing) and holistic (concerned with describing and comparing whole systems of government). John (1998: 40-1) points to a strong functionalist tendency – it is, the assumption that particular institutions are the 'manifestations of the functions of political life', or 'necessary for a democracy'.” (Lowndes, 2002, 92) Naturally, the principles of the old institutionalism able to encapsulate “Red Lantern” are its focus on “formal rules and organizations”, and its historicist and structuralist principles; each relevant provision will be discussed accordingly in this essay.

According to director Zhang Yimou, the Chen compound is “a gilded cage … an ancient feudal-patriarchal compound in Shanxi Province. "Its high walls formed a rigid square-grid pattern that perfectly expresses the age-old obsession with strict order," he said in 1993. "We [Chinese] have a historical legacy of extinguishing human desire."” (Yimou, as cited in Nelson, 2007) The within it is composed of four quarters, one for each concubine, and the master’s quarter, right at the end of the long straight path from the compound gates. And although the hierarchical structure of the Chen household permits the concubine’s authority over the servants, the physical, more concrete, thus fixed, structure of the Chen compound per se permits the master’s absolute power, such overt and uncontested dominance, over his servants and his concubines; that his own quarter is given premium, as it is at the center and has a path directly leading to it right from the gate, is the most important architectural indication of such absolute supremacy. In fact, according to Nelson (2007), “Zhang's intermittent aerial shots make clear that a wife of any rank is dwarfed by the master's design.” More specifically, according to Roger Ebert, this “master shot, which is returns [sic]to again and again, looks down the central space of the house, which is open to the sky, with the houses of the wives arrayed on either side, and the vast house of the master at the end. As the seasons pass, the courtyard is sprinkled with snow, or dripping with rain, or bathed in hot, still sunlight. The servants come and go. Up on the roof of the house is a little shed which is sometimes whispered about. It has something to do with an earlier wife, who did not adjust well." (Ebert, 1992) In other words, the Chen compound instigates and embodies the relevant provisions of traditional institutionalism, with its physical structure characterizing the established organization of the household, making the main setting of “Red Lantern” a snug-fit focus in terms of old institutionalism.

The rules being enforced through the Chen compound’s rigid organization and boundaries, as well as through many generations, are the family customs. These rules and customs, aside from the worship of the ancestors, also include that, according to Celeste Heiter, “each afternoon, Chen Baishun, the master's valet, announces which wife the master has chosen to spend the night with, and orders the lighting of the red silk lanterns outside her quarters in honor of the occasion,” (Heiter, 2004) These house rules and family customs therefore personify the historicist character of the old institutionalism mainly because it has been accepted, and thus established and legitimized, by the past generations, whom the members worship.

Finally, and consequently, the four concubines, representing four personalities and dispositions, with four vested interests, are all pitted against one another by the seemingly shrinking size and increasingly narrowing physical boundaries of the Chen compound. According to David Macdonald, “these women, with their fighting over who will be with the husband tonight, and other general attacks on each other, are only acting this way because they live in a society in which women do not have very many rights. Due to their lack of freedom, they fight for what they could conceivably get, which in this case is the attention of the husband and the privileges which go with being the chosen one for the evening.” There was the first mistress, who, although was physical close to the rest of the members of the household, exerts no significant effort in outwitting, outplaying and outlasting the other concubines, as she had already, shall we say, ‘had her time’: since she was the first concubine, whatever desires she might have back in her youth must have been exhausted already, as there were no competitors to madly keep her on her toes, unlike in the case of the other three women. Besides, she was already sure that she would remain favorable to Master Chen, at least to a degree, because she gave him a son. In fact, according to James Berardinelli (1996), “bearing a male child is more critical to each woman's standing than possessing a pleasing countenance,” thus securing the status of the first concubine. The second concubine, on another hand, who would later be revealed as a manipulative, duplicitous character, has had an insecure standing among the other concubines, as she is not only getting old, but she also ‘only’ gave Master Chen a daughter, which, as stipulated in the rules, would prove her less favorable to the master. Therefore, her best decision would be to actively participate in the “Survivor”-like game: forming alliances with the members of the household and fleece-wearing-fox friendships with Songlian, the initially unsuspecting but equally clever fourth mistress. In other words, the rules of the house have compelled the second mistress to be such. On another hand, the third mistress has a relatively stronger hold on the Master than the first two mistresses do, since not only is she famous, pretty and young, but she also bore the Master a son; in fact, she can be considered an opposite of the second mistress. Therefore, she is secured and favored by the rules, and thus also by the Master. However, upon the arrival of the fourth mistress, she decided that, given her fulfilled desires and good position, she might as well secretly violate at least one rule, allowing herself to find love with Dr. Gao. Finally, Songlian, the fourth mistress, an educated woman whose future was put to an end when she was married off to Chen by her mother, soon learned of the prevailing rules and quickly adapted to them to get ahead. In fact, “Songlian, after enjoying a brief stint as the man's woman of choice, turns to tearing a rival's flesh, faking a pregnancy” (Nelson, 2007). Therefore, overall, the concubines manifest the structuralist quality of the traditional institutionalism, in the sense that each of the concubines’ actions were compelled by these rules, and their lives were bound and bettered (as well as terminated, in the case of the third mistress) by them.

In conclusion, “Red Lantern” is an effective medium of political socialization because, literally, and through the depicted confines of the Chen compound, it "offers a view of life within a closed, dictatorial social community" (Berardinelli, 1996), impinging all the actors’ behavior. And more importantly, in the macropolitical picture, “Red Lantern” is considered “a parable for the corruption of modern society in China. Songlian is the individual, the master is the government, and the customs of the house are the laws of the country. It's an archaic system that rewards those who play within the rules and destroys those who [challenge] them. And, when an atrocity occurs (as it did in Tiannamen Square [in 1989]), not only is culpability denied, but the entire incident is claimed not to have happened.” (Berardinelli, 1996) This writer believes that Songlian’s madness is the symbol of a repressive government shutting down the moral sensibilities of its members and confining them within the asylum that is society.


References:

Berardinelli, James. "Raise the Red Lantern" Date published: 1996 Date retrieved: 2007 September 01. From:
http://www.reelviews.net/movies/r/raise.html

Ebert, Roger. "Raise the Red Lantern". Date published: 1992 March 27 Date retrieved: 2007 September 01. From: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19920327/REVIEWS/203270303/1023

Heiter, Celeste. "Film Review: Raise the Red Lantern" Date published: 2004 September 14 Date retrieved: 2007 September 01 From: http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/3068

Lowndes, Vivien. (2002) “Institutionalism”, from Marsh, David and Stoker, Gerry (eds.) “Theory and Methods in Political Science” (2nd ed.). New York:St. Martin's Press.

Macdonald, David. “Raise the Red Lantern Movie Review”. Date retrieved: 01 September 2007. From:
http://www.thezreview.co.uk/reviews/r/raisetheredlantern.htm

Nelson, Rob. "Girl Power". Date published: 2007 February 27 Date retrieved: 2007 September 01 From: http://www.villagevoice.com/film/0709,nelson,75924,20.htm

eva marie said...

There is little dispute that “Raise the Red Lantern” (Da hong deng long gao gao gua) is a very remarkable film. This might come with the film’s power to suggest different layers of meaning with the confluence of the film’s storyline, historical and cultural background as well as laudable cinematographic effects. Much credit is attributed to director Yimou Zhang’s meaningful manipulation of such elements to create one of the masterpieces of the 1990s.

Let me expound my discussion on what has been mentioned in class regarding the film’s apparent critique to the Chinese government (although Yimou Zhang denies this), this time referring to the parallelism of the state and the Chen household coming from what I have learned so far about this vital and dynamic concept in the study of politics in general and as an agent of socialization in particular.

First, the Chen household (state) has its members (population), a defined spatial sphere i.e. the Chen residence which includes the courtyard where the mistresses lives (territory) and a master (sovereign government) with effective control over the rest of the members of the household as long as they are within the premises of the Chen household.

Second, the much-felt existence of the state despite its non-physical form is manifested in the film with everyone deferring a higher authority in the form of the set of norms and house rules that everyone must follow. It could only be perceived in some way through the government (Master Chen). There is a distinctive form but a clear and closer view seems improbable – effectively conveyed in the film by showing the figure of Master Chen from a distant view or half-concealed by veils or curtains but never a close-up to his face. Those who posses some power in the household (the mistresses) could have an intimate encounter with the Master but they remained somewhat unattached to the Master, and definitely none could ‘possess’ the Master absolutely. Moreover, advantage towards other power-holders is very temporary. In the same way, the citizen of the state could deal with governmental processes in a intimidate manner but it will not mean getting a hold of this processes. Also, getting benefits is not a permanent certainty especially as other power-holders need to be accommodated.

Third, the state as an entity remains despite the changing faces of its components and some how these transients need to conform with the preset norms to be able to forge meaningful relationships to other components who/which exist guided by the same principles. Like the Master of the house, governments or administrations come and go, but there is a continuity of the set of rules that guides the whole system. And reminders are always set in place; for instance, the portraits of past masters in the dining room where the mistresses dine together and of course, the red lanterns which stands as a symbol of the benefits of pleasing the master and conforming to the wider rules. This, however, does not guarantee compliance at all times. Songlian defies some of the rules even when the red lanterns are covered and she started getting used to living without them. Initially, her refusal to have breakfast at the dining room is symbolic of her attempt to be out of the gaze of the past masters and the rules they perpetuated. More severe punishments are also in place, just like the ‘hanging’ room amidst the Chen estate.

Fourth, there are exemptions to the rules and they are not always consistent. Special considerations that is necessary for continuity of the household brings privileges, in the movie this is when the mistresses are pregnant. However, these privileges may vary. As when Songlian was able to convince the Master to make the Second Mistress give her a back massage and staying out of the dining room for the second time.

Fifth, different players employ different strategies. Meishan who may represent artists express her emotions through singing – her art that is admired by the Master and other mistresses despite themselves. Songlian who could be seen as representative of the intellectuals, on the other hand, uses her wit (though not so smartly, as Feipu, the heir, comments). Breaking the rules by whoever of the mistresses (power-holders) have grave consequences. For Meishan, it was death (symbolic of a government’s usual move to eradicate artistic forms showing defiance and criticism), while for Songlian, it was insanity. But what is insanity but a deviation from what is considered normal? Perhaps, it is a voluntary recourse for those unwilling to accept the conditionality imposed by the state. Before this, the mistresses’ compliance was encouraged by the benefits of living a comfortable, albeit limited, lifestyle. We could see this as another technique of states (especially authoritarian ones) which prefers ‘cooptation’ to minimize the grievance of its people and thus preventing outcry (like Songlian shouting about the inhumane death of Meishan).

As an instrument of political socialization, the film entices the viewer to look beyond the canvasses of images to its deeper meaning but at the same time allowing specific conclusions to be drawn but the viewer himself. The film speaks for itself but the viewer is left for what manifest reactions there is to make.


Reference:

Leanlegal.com. http://www.leanlegal.com/dictionary/s.asp

kat suyat said...

If there was one thing I’ve learned because of the film Raise the Red Lantern, it would be the fact that not all films that involve women (more so as its main characters) are about women empowerment.

Clearly, the Chinese film Raise the Red Lantern is not about a film that shows the female race being empowered even if the story involves three Chinese women as its main characters. Rather, it is a film about women disempowerment as depicted by the power relations existing in Chinese society, which is brought about by the hierarchical, traditional culture that it embodies.

Power has been one of the most central concepts in politics as well as in almost all societies. It is said to exist in almost everything and anything that we do that it is deemed impossible that one would be exempted to the struggle for power or any power relations. Because of this given fact, there had been a lot of definitions that have arise from different authors and from different eras. Perhaps the most common and overtly used among these given definitions is the pluralist conception of power, upon which Robert Dahl’s definition is most known. For Dahl, power is seen as : A has power over B to the extent that she can ‘get B to do something that B would not other wise do’ and, crucially, where there is an overt conflict of interests (which Hay assumes to be synonymous with preferences) between the actors involved (Hay 2002). Based on the given definition, we see that power relations thus involve two actors whose interests or preferences are in conflict with one another.

In the film Raise the Red Lantern, the existing power relations is seen in two ways. One is the e power relations between the master and his concubines. The second would be the power exerted by the traditions of the old Chinese society over the three concubines. Notice that in both cases, the concubines, or in a more general view, women, are the ones upon which power is exerted over- leaving them disempowered, with no choice but to follow what the other wishes to do. Now, how is the power exerted by the master over the concubines portrayed in the film? There are a lot of instances where this kind of relation is shown. One case would be the fact that all actions that the concubines do must be in accordance, if not, should have the approval, of the master. Another would be the fact that it is only the master who can choose who to sleep with and when that would happen. Even if we assume that there is no love involved with these relationships, the mere fact that the concubines do not have a say to these relationships, they are already disempowered.

Another instance that shows the existing power relations in the film would be the power struggle between the concubines and the traditional Chinese culture. Although culture may not be a living, tangible actor, it still exerts power over the concubines. How is this seen in the film? When Songlian (the third sister) first arrived at the house, she was asked to visit the houses of the first, second and third mistress even though she did not want to. Also, she was forced to eat with them during lunch, which is part of the tradition that exists within their society. Another case that further exemplifies this power relation would be the foot massages and the red lanterns raised which is also a part of their traditions and customs. You may view that there is nothing wrong with foot massages and red lanterns for these are just incentives given to the concubines but these same incentives cause jealousy among the concubines which eventually leads to problems and conflict within the household.

To end, I would just like to point out that women have equal right as men when it comes to power. Women are not just toys that men can choose upon, collecting as many as they can, and then leaving the other toys behind once they don’t like it anymore. Women do not deserve to be treated like as if everything that we do should be rout nary. Women have the same bright minds that men have, and all should have equal opportunities to enter universities and choose who they want to marry someday. I may sound like a bitter woman in saying all this but I guess this is the real main point of the film Raise the Red Lantern. We, women are not nothing.

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

Chinese conception of women as weak, timid, and sexually exploitable as well as dangerous, powerful, and sexually insatiable have been exemplified in the film Raise the Red Lantern. Some essays in Chinese literature suggest that women are labeled unclean and polluting in life, women's identity and sexuality in Chinese society are clearly undermined. Moreover, there is also a presumption that women's sexual appetites keep them ever on the alert for sexual adventures. This was proved by the case of the third mistress wherein she sneaks behind her husband's back for the prolongation of her sexual relationship with Dr. Gao. Chinese women have revealed their attitude toward sex, it tends to be both negative and heavily influenced by a fear of the exploitation of their sexuality. Some of the women in a study say that the poor quality of sexual relationships accounted for low birth rate in “the old days.” and this was also shown in the film, that even though Songlian and the master have slept together for quite some time, she still was not fortunate to conceive a child. The film introduces to us not just a call for feminism in Chinese society, but also a clear distinction between educated and peasant women. Women who leave their families to earn a living become servants and concubines. As what the film shows, Songlian was forced to marry someone she doesn't love for her to have a better life even if it was against her true desires. But most peasant women understandably preferred to cope, to make their way within the system. Just like Yang in the film, she makes herself believe that someday she will become the master's mistress too, lighting red lanterns secretly in her quarters as well. On another point of view, peasant women did not simply submit to the oppressions of the traditional family. They searched out and made use of every source of power they could and do to gain some influence over their fate. This argument is exemplified by Songlian and Yang. The former pretended that she was pregnant inorder to gain the master's attention and the foot massage that her body longs to have. While the latter, made use of her little ways such as the doll with the needles all over. She was able to do this through the help of Songlian's other competitor, the second mistress. Her spitting on the clothes of her mistress every time she is about to wash it are the ways in which she tries to take control of her fate as a subordinate, to the point where she is satisfied to be a “filler” for the master when Songlian is not around.
Chinese women also use less dramatic means of acquiring some control over their lives. Chinese beliefs about conception allot women their full share in the creation and development of the unborn child, and women seem to have some awareness of the power this fertility gives them. As what i have mentioned earlier, when Songlian decided to pretend she was pregnant, she knew that this move would give her advantage over the other mistresses. Before the Japanese occupation, women had little control over aspects of their lives related to child-bearing. Their marriages were arranged without their consent and their husbands could and did take additional wives and towards the end, the fifth mistress was already presented.
The traditional Chinese value favoring sons is reinforced for natives by the lineages. Lineage membership is accorded only to sons, and for a family to continue in the lineage and receive its share of lineage property in the next generation, it must have at least one son. In Raise the Red Lantern, it is evident that giving birth to a son is an honor. And the second mistress, as have been detailed by the third concubine has used methods in which she can give birth earlier so that there is a sense of hierarchy in which she can use to her own advantage. But when she gave birth to a daughter, it entailed such disappointment for her part.
In terms of socialization, the film explains a great deal of the subordination of women in early China, and its gradual reform upon the coming of communism. One of the greatest social achievements of the Chinese Communist Party has been the change brought about in the lives of Chinese women since 1949. Women have always had a special place in party policy because they are considered to have been subjected to a special kind of oppression – both within the family and within the society as a whole. Engels observed that the husband's obligation to earn a living and support his family gives him a position of supremacy. And this is what was clearly stated in the film. The master has the supremacy and the authority and the mistresses can only obey.
As a whole, the film poses a great amount of Chinese history and culture, and the role of women in Chinese society. And from this context, it can be derived the emergence of an ideology geared towards promoting the social role of women and dedicated to the goal of gender equality.

References:

Wolf, Margery and Roxane Witke. Women in Chinese Society. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 1975.

Heywood, Andrew. Poltics. Palgrave Macmillan; New York. 2nd edition, 2002. p. 423.

Agpalo said...

The film Raise the Red Lantern mirrors the Chinese society at a certain era.
It reflected how highly hierarchical the Chinese society was which was bounded by its strict culture and traditions.
We see the process of socialization women in the movie underwent as they tried to play by the strict rules of their society, constantly aware of the role society dictates them to have, and constantly re-interpreting the lines drawn to restrict them. These things and factors lead them to different ends.
As the female characters tests the boundaries set for them by the highly patriarchal society, we see how society based on their traditions reacted to the women’s actions in defiance to the said rules. We witnessed how they are punished for not abiding by the rules and how they are rewarded for pleasing their male master.
Before they became mistresses, Songlian was a university student while Meishan was a famous opera singer. Their previous lives also give us an overview of the society outside the walls of their quarters and outside the rules of the red lanterns. These in formations only aggravated our overview of women’s conditions and roles in their society. Songlian and Meishan are the basic stereotypes of Chinese women. Meishan is the symbol of women as entertainment for men Songlian on the other hand stands for the characteristics of women that shows their capability for independence. Songlian shows, how women are forced to concede with the restrictions that the society chains her. That women are not by nature stupid but society, trough its rigid rules dictates women to be stupid and to stoop down to simple affairs of competing for their masters attention. This rigidity and machismo is given shape in the form of the red lanterns.
Aside from this it can be noticed how highly subjected still are the rules and traditions of the Chinese society but these rules are against women liberation.
However, it is important to note that this hierarchy based on gender is not void of class. We witness that the mistresses, though highly repressed indeed, still enjoy a degree of control and power. Over servants whom as we’ve witnessed are the true repressed characters in film. Songlian and her servant are both ‘concubines’ of the master in the sense that they both sleep with him but they differ still on their status. Songlian enjoys certain privileges for the main reason that she is married to the master and she enjoys a higher privilege once she bore him a son. This is not the case for her young servant who does not enjoy the comforts brought by lighting her quarters with the red lanterns. This is primary rooted by the fact that she is but a servant. Though she serves as her master’s lover even before Songlian came, her status never changed just like what the other servant told her that she should stop fantasizing for the master would never choose her as a mistress for she would remain as a servant forever.
The film is and effective medium for socialization for it showcase an issue that is not just bound by territories. Gender issues, though would differ from one society to another proves to be a recurring constant issue whatever culture a society has. It may differ in rules, but the face of women’s repression is similar across societies.

nksolns said...

This movie depicts as people whose roles in the society to be dictated by men. It is a good movie though

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KL said...

It is indeed quite tempting to say that this movie show the inequality between genders in 1920s China.

But in reality, the patriarchal society as depicted in the film really favors men of the rich and privileged, as oppose to men in general.

Think of it, for every additional wife/mistress/concubine a master like the in the film acquired, there is a man out there who will not have a wife.

Songlian did indeed have a choice...and it seems some women would rather be the fourth, or even fifth mistress to a rich man than being the first and only wife to a poor man.

And men in the lower socio-economic ladder, they do not have the opportunity as women do to better themselves via marriage. They have to do it through hard work..something the wives in the film wanted to avoid as they is why they married the master to begin with.

Indeed, Songlian's servant dreamt of being a concubine herself; despite having seen herself first hand the powerplays and intrigue among the mistresses.