Monday, October 1, 2007

The Blue Kite - Dialectics of Chronology

Released in 1993, Tian Zhuangzhuang’s “The Blue Kite” is considered to be one among the several controversial films that were produced by China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers. Along with films like “Farewell my concubine” and “To Live”, “The Blue Kite” bravely exposes how the actions done by the Chinese Communist Party had been detrimental to the lives of the ordinary Chinese citizens. By serving as a reminder to its viewers about the negative plight that the Chinese have experienced during the Maoist era, films like this are powerful tools that could be used to socialize Chinese citizens to question the practices of its government. In fact, it could even be considered as propaganda against the government. Given that it poses a threat to the existence of the communist government of China, this film was banned from being shown in the said country. Consequently, Tian was also banned from making films for six years. However, the film still gain international recognition by being awarded as the Best Feature film in the Hawaii International Film Festival (1993), Gran Prix in the Tokyo International Film Festival (1993), and Best Foreign Film in the Independent Spirit Awards (1995).

In the movie, it was shown that life during the Maoist era was very uncertain. Things that you could normally do now may not be allowed on the forthcoming days for new policies will be passed, which may make you be branded as a counterrevolutionary. This shows how citizen action is contingent upon the limitations that the governments have set. In this essay, I will focus on how the governments, being the ones who possess the power within the state, control the behaviour of its citizens. In particular, I will focus on how people within authoritarian communist governments are being socialized to be submissive to the control of the communist party and why despite the oppressions that citizens have experienced, communist governments still continue to thrive.

Citizen actions are being limited in order for governments to achieve its goal of preserving the values of the state. Laws in democratic societies, which aim to promote the value of order, limit citizen action by stating what is not allowed to be done. Moreover, governments use state institutions such as the military, the police, and the judiciary in order for them to be able to prevent any dissent, which could pose a threat to their existence, from escalating. It is the control of the government on these state institutions that make the ones in power able protect their own interests.

Though government control over its citizens is manifested no matter what the government form is, some form of governments has more control over its citizens than the other. In particular, authoritarian governments (wherein communist governments are classified), possesses a greater control over its citizens than democratic governments. On societies governed by an authoritarian rule, it is common that the values being protected are values that are in line with the interest of the party governing the state. The mere fact that they are not bound by any law and that they are not accountable to anyone, such as the people and the different branches of government in the context of democracies, makes it easy for them to execute their own actions. As long as they feel that there is a need for a certain action to be done based on their own standards, they could easily do it no matter how oppressive it may be. Such great control of power leaves people living under authoritarian governments powerless and defenceless as compared to democratic societies wherein people are empowered to question illegitimate government activities.

Given that the authoritarian government could threaten anyone that goes against it, it becomes easy for them to manipulate people to accede to their actions. People are forced to commit actions that they would otherwise not have done because there is the threat coming from the government. As individuals, their primary concern is their own safety as well as those of people who are significant for them. We’ve seen various manifestations of this kind of behaviour in the movie. For instance, Shaolong was reported by his colleagues as a rightist to the Communist government even though he is not just because there was a quota that their office has to meet in line with the Communist Party’s Anti- Rightist movement. It resulted to him having to leave his family because he has to go to a work camp. During the second episode of the film, Shujuan had to leave Tietou for three months because she has to work in agricultural fields, because it is part of communist government’s Great Leap Forward agenda. On the last episode of the film, Lao Wu, Tietou’s stepfather had to divorce with Shujuan just for them to ensure their safety because he doesn’t want them to get involved in the trouble he is about to face given that he has a threat of being arrested by the Red Guards. On these instances, we saw how individuals are cornered to limited options by their own government.

Human by nature doesn’t want his individuality to be corrupted. Though we could see that there is only a limited space by which individuals could move within societies as they are bound by the rules espoused by their own governments, they still try to make the most out of this limited sphere by doing actions that aren’t contradictory to the laws present and won’t compromise their individual safety. Thus, we could see a constant struggle in finding the best life that could be experienced. In the movie, we saw that when Mrs. Lan wished to safeguard wheat for her own consumption (though this was confiscated later when communist forces discovered about it). We could also interpret Shujuan’s constant remarrying as an action done to ensure that her son will grow up having a father and that they will get their daily needs since it is only men who are mostly entitled to most of the privileges in the communist society that they are living at.

The Chinese people are conditioned to obey their communist leaders by the structure that was set by the government for them. It is only the government who could provide them their daily needs. The previous means of living by which people are surviving are taken away by the governments from the people. Thus, the people can’t go against the government because aside from the fact that they will face a corresponding punishment, they will also be deprived of the basic things they need to survive within the society by which they are living. This kind of psyche that every Chinese citizen has imbibed makes the communist left unchallenged by the people, makes their perpetuation of their oppressive acts continue, and makes the lives of every Chinese still dependent upon their government. A vicious cycle is kept from being repeated.

The bleakness of the shots of the scenes in the movie “The Blue Kite” reflects the uncertainty of life in that society. However, despite all of these uncertainties, it was shown by the director that there are still better days as signified by the days when Tietou plays with his blue kite, days which he enjoys. Tian Zhuangzhuang used the character of a kid, who is optimistic, ambitious, and is very hopeful, to relay to the audience how he hopes to see a better China in the future. However, the director reminds us that the concretization of our hopes is hard to be achieved for oftentimes, barriers and failure may come on our way just like when we saw Tietou lying on the ground at the end of the film.

Hague, R., & Harrop, M. (2004). Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
The Blue Kite- Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. (2007, September 17). Retrieved September 27, 2007, from Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia:

- R. Beltran

BLUE KITE (Lán fēngzheng) [1993] is a Chinese political melodrama. It tells the story of the Chen-Li family, from 1953 to 1968 in Beijing told from the perspective of a young boy (Tietou). It covers three periods in Chinese history – the Rectification Movement, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – which also coincides with the three changing patriarchs in the family and the film’s three episodes entitled “Father”, “Uncle”, and “Stepfather” (Wikipedia). It presents a subtle but very effective indictment of Maoist China. This is not surprising because director Tian Zhuangzhuang belongs to the Fifth Generation Chinese filmmakers (along with Chen Kaige of “Farewell My Concubine”) known for their staunch criticism to the Cultural Revolution. It resulted to the film’s banning in China despite, or perhaps even so with, its warm international reception.

In the film, a blue kite is promised by Tietou’s father and later by Tietou to a child then last seen as at the movie’s end as a broken object caught in the branches of a tree. It is generally regarded as symbolizing hope (blue) although one writer suggests it could represent “freedom and democracy, which is fragile and liable to be ensnared by the hostile branches of an unthinking bureaucratic tree” (Lyen in FilmsAsia).

Chinese filmmaking inevitably takes its starting point from the relation of the character to the social space it moves. This assumes that the relationship among the self, the family, the workplace and the state that as reflected in the contemporary Chinese cinema is a continuation of the negotiation of the pre-Liberation traditions of Confucianism and the post-Liberation ideologies of socialism (Browne et al, 1994). The emotional contradictions found in this negotiation have been argued by authors as best captured by what is known as the “melodrama” (Browne et al, 1994; Bratton et al, 1994). However, melodrama is not part of the Asian genre system (Browne et al, 1994) and as they are known for their effectiveness in “illuminating diverse cultures” (Dissanayake, 1993), it requires a shift in cultural perspective. The idea of an Asian melodrama as both a distinctive popular film form and a framework for analysis (especially within the larger framework of cross-cultural research) became prominent in the 1990s using 1980s films like Xie Jin’s “Hibiscus Town” and the “The Legend of the Tianyun Mountain. Although these films are decidedly less radical than the fourth and fifth generation films, they set the pace by breaking from the propagandistic traditional of the Cultural Revolution (Browne et al, 1994; Dissanayake, 1993).

From this so-called Chinese melodrama, let us look its tree important aspects (as enumerated in Dissanayake, 1993) within “Blue Kite”. First, melodramas tend to give prominence to the activities, emotions, and experience of women. In the film, the most enduring character is Shujuan (Tietou’s mother) despite the loss of all three men in her life, the challenges of rearing a rebellious child, the misfortunes of her siblings, and in coping with the changing political situations. Zhu Ying (the girlfriend of Tietou’s Uncle Shusheng) also demonstrated a strong personality by going through imprisonment courageously due to the unfounded allegations of her Rightist leanings when she refused the marriage proposal of a senior officer in the army and trying to protect Shusheng. Tietou’s grandmother persistent in caring for her family despite the misfortunes befalling her children owing to their direct and indirect involvement to the party. One of the most explicit statements of the film regarding its consternation to the Cultural Revolution is when the grandmother expressed her weariness of the revolution.

A second aspect is the growing realization of the “complex and subtle working of the ideology in melodramas” especially as a “vital segment of the popular entertainment” (Dissanayake, 1993). This came with the spread of postmodernist thinking which did away from traditional distinctions (e.g. high and low art) . The writer herself has been unsuspecting about the ideological content of the film at first and thinks that even if she has no background about Fifth Generation films and the political history of China, Blue kite is still an entertaining and engaging piece. In here, a criticism to Communism (particularly the Maoist variant) and resulting destructive political and economic polices is central. It could also be claimed that with the new pace in the world today, films offer a quick but interesting overview of history, culture and politics across space and time.

That goes to the third aspect of melodrama which is its importance because of the ways they “illuminate the deeper structures of diverse cultures”. In “Blue Kite”, suffering – one of the central Asian concepts – is given nuanced portrayal. Moreover, the hope symbolized by the blue kite refers to the liberation from the sufferings brought about by the government. Let it be noted too that while melodramas in all its variants gives prominence to the family, the centrality of the family as the most significant socio-political entity in Chinese culture is further highlighted by bringing the effects of the changing political climate to all the Chen-Li family members. The focus is not the individual (not Tieto nor Shujuan) as it would have been to a Western melodrama but their whole extended family (by blood and affinity). The narration was left to the youngest member Tietou in order to allow him seemingly childish and naïve yet essential questions.

Some theoretical parameters of the melodrama also deserve mention. These includes the melodrama as essentially (1) moving in the “domestic” sphere; and the employment of (2) exaggerations/excesses, (3) the use of allegorical or stereotypical good versus evil forces; and (4) the individual shown as out of the mercy of something beyond his/her control (Dissanayake, 1993).

The first parameter is suggested in the development of the storyline along the Chen-Li’s family life. The second criteria is somehow tricky because there is, in one sense no elemental exaggerations/excesses but in another sense, the scenes describing the excesses of the party in power without consciously ‘exaggerating’ it suggests the gravity of the party’s misdeeds. The third parameter is also implied yet very much felt. Although the party itself could not be personified, the film had slowly built them to the ‘evil’ side and that somehow, the ‘good’ side in an absolute sense remained an aspiration. The last parameter is the most striking because a feeling of helplessness apparent especially as the film progresses towards the end.

To end; in discussing political socialization in the film, two settings deserve attention. First, from the film content, the strength of the state as an agent of political socialization can be most clearly illustrated when it profoundly affected the lives and consequently the beliefs and ensuing actions of the family members. The family has been said to be the primary agent of socialization (something that we, Political Science students understand by heart); hence, if the family itself, especially ordinary, law-abiding families like the Chen-Lis has to significantly alter their “family culture” to accommodate a insistent “political culture” as espoused by the state then the state has, for better or worse, greatly influenced political socialization. The retroactive stance of Fifth Generation films as exemplified by “Blue Kite” is in itself a manifestation of deep impression of living in similar conditions as Tietou (Fifth Generation filmmakers grew up in the 1950s and 1960s).

Second, viewers of “Blue Kite” could easily relate scenes in the movie because it revolves around family life. It also chose to take a lower middle class condition and emphasizes motherhood to invest on the emotional appeal. Lu Liping’s exemplary performance (earning Best Actress Award in the Independent Spirits Award, 1995) and changing palette – from warm bright lights along with the children’s laughter at the onset of the film to the cold blue shade and dismal faces towards the end – are also instrumental in subtly translating to the audience the hardships of surviving in a society where freedom, consistency and individualism is subjugated by ambitious political leaders under the guise of a distorted Communist ideology.


Bratton, Jacky, Jim Cook and Christine Gledhill. (Eds.). (1994). Melodrama: Stage, Picture, Screen. London: British Film Institute.

Browne, Nick et al. (Eds.). (1994). New Chinese Cinemas: Forms Identities, Politics. Cambridge University Press.

Dissanayake, Wimal. (Ed.). (1993). Melodrama and Asian Cinema. Cambridge University Press.

Lyen. Kenneth. The Blue Kite. In FilmsAsia.

Wikipedia. Blue Kite.

- E. Gutierrez

We have seen a Chen Kaige and a Zhang Yimou, and to complete our roster of films from the Fifth Generation Chinese filmmakers Triumvirate is the Blue Kite, directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang. The movie was a chronicle of a mother and child who lived to experience the Communist Revolution. Set at mid-20th century, the film maintained that the mis-en-scenes especially the color schemes were in sync in communicating the distress of the mother Shujuan and the child Tietou amidst the revolution. Watching the movie was like staring at a painting of a Madonna with a background of blazing reds, which represent Communism, and overcast blues, which stand for poverty and hardship. At a surface-level analysis, its abrupt scenes and fast-paced storyline might easily leave its viewers hanging in the air. However, no other style of editing could be more fitting enough to depict the oscillating condition of China during the said era.

Szymon Chodak was a sociologist known for his studies and conceptualization of modernization and its types. He defined modernization in general as a process of a radical transformation of a society into a new national identity from a traditional culture. Berger, Berger, and Kellner (1973) in their famous book entitled “The Homeless Mind” draw their conclusions using Chodak’s perspective as their premise. From their conclusions, I derive my thesis statement for the film which is essentially centered on the effects of modernization on human cognition and affection:

The process of modernization and the institutions that accompany it have had a negative impact on human consciousness of reality… The modernization process, which is supposed to free individuals, rather increases feelings of helplessness, frustration, and alienation that beset individuals threats of meaninglessness (Berger, Berger & Kellner, 1973).

Any radical societal transformation therefore has serious cognitive effects to individuals -- impact on human perception of reality in particular -- and affective effects – specifically feelings of misery and “homelessness”. The film consistently reiterated this by the experiences of Shujuan and Tietou and the others who are all aboard in the ship towards communism. To further explain and prove this claim is to necessitate a historical background of China during early 1950s and late 1960s, which is the context of the narrative of the film and is the key to fully grasping the depth of the film’s message.

The movie starts off at Dry Well Lane, Beijing during the time when China was governed by the policies of the first Five Year Plan (1953-1958) as a policy that aims to smooth the transition to socialism. Shujuan marries Shaolong who was a member of the Rectification Movement, a deceptive ideology movement which was mere bait for those who have political leanings opposite to the communist thought. It was the time when the Chinese landless peasants were all set to throw off the landlord yoke, to gain land, stock, implements, and houses. They were hyped up for change because of what their perception of what was to come and what should they do to fully achieve it. However in this first part of the film, which was explicitly entitled “Father”, we see Shaolong being sent for labor camp and leaving his wife and son less secure and more anxious. We then see a broken disoriented widowed Shujuan and cute little Tietou who was not in good terms with his father the last time he was still with him.

The first Five Year Plan was not quite a success and was responded by the government with the Great Leap Forward campaign. With this backdrop was the story of Shujuan and Tietou with the assistance of a loving “uncle” Guodong who at first only helped the two out just because he felt guilty and responsible for breaking the Lin-Chen home. The relationship soon progresses and Shujuan marries Guodong. He provided and gave them his everything even to point that he set aside his illness that it caused him his life. Significant markers of the Great Leap Forward, which were deliberately incorporated in the film, were the confiscation of the Dry Well Lane landlady’s stock of pork buns and Shujuan being sent away from home to work for a few months. These two scenarios gave emphasis to two key objectives of the Communist Party at the outset of the Great Leap Forward – the development of the communal system and the increased involvement of women in the mode of production.

Instead of losing hope in the ideals of Communism after the prior policy failures, the Great Leap Forward gave them renewed optimism. The film was saying that the reality consisted of famine, unbalanced production, oppression, women’s double burden in the labor force and the household, fathers dying because of self-sacrifice for his family, and negative psychological effects on children due to lack of parental care. But going back to my thesis statement, human consciousness of reality was distorted by modernization, and it is for this reason that the Chinese people during this time tended to overlook these realities.

The third part of the film was entitled “Stepfather” wherein the distinction rested on the qualities of the third patriarch. Lao Wu was a minor political party official who was silent, intellectual, a military man, and unemotional. His involvement in the lives of Shujuan and Tietou was during the outset of the third and one of the most momentous historical periods in China – the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution happened only after China’s reaffirmation of traditions under the leadership of Liu Shao Chi during 1961-66. Here we see Shujuan performing the domestic duties of the typical wife showing the Chinese society’s return to traditional family roles yet maintaining the major Communist principles. Tietou even sarcastically referred to his mother as “the maid” when he was calling his stepfather for dinner. It was 1966 when Mao wrestled political power from Liu Shao Chi through the Cultural Revolution, when he encouraged the youth to become Red Guards who struggled (politically humiliated and corrected) their principals, and purged the party members of that time. One of those party members was Lao Wu, who offered Shujuan a divorce with the intentions of protecting his wife and her son from the violence of the system. In the end, Shujuan and Tietou’s deeply entrenched sense of family made them come back to check up on their patriarch. They resisted the Red Guards and were beaten up; Shujuan was carried along with the ailing Lao Wu and Tietou was left all alone, lying on the ground, looking up sorely at the tattered blue kite which hung from the leafless tree. Indeed, it was the feeling of helplessness, frustration, and meaninglessness that overwhelmed me as I watched this last scene. It was then that I realized what the blue kite meant. The blue kite stood as the mechanism of the state to induce the feeling of hope through a political system or structure presented with seemingly sound policies and with promises that ensure a future for every family and individual. But just as a blue kite that was merely made from paper, sticks, and strings gets destroyed easily, the weak system will eventually fail without remedy such that the only option is to create a new one. I recount an adorable conversation between Tietou and his stepsister’s little daughter: “Look, the kite was stuck on the tree, should we come and get it?” the girl asks. Then Tietou, unconsciously mimicking the words of his first father, says, “No, don’t bother. I’ll just make you another one.”

- V. Ambrona


Uy said...

Three equals one. Can this be possible?
God said, �Go on and multiply�; not add.
Not one plus one plus one; but, one times one times one is equal to one.

The film �Blue Kites� presents THREE different periods (the Rectification movement, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) that portrays ONE history � China�s authoritative (Maoist) era. These three phases on the history of China marks the empowerment and opens opportunities to women in China. Therefore, I would like to focus my discussion on the experience of women, pointing to Chen Shujuan, during these periods and how was their gender role altered by the principles of the regime.

In the film Blue Kites, Chen Shujuan�s marriage to the THREE men, who shares ONE similar role (husband and father) and realizing ONE �goal� (party-oriented and/or party-centered), shows the escape/release of women from the bondage placed on them by the patriarchal society. Prior to the Cultural Revolution, subordinate view on women was prevalent; their husband controlled their lives similar to the authoritative rule that limits the lives of the private/personal freedom. The society then was male dominance and male oppressors. Oppression against women could be examined in the footbinding tradition and few and non-desirable roles of women (wife, concubine or prostitute). This means that women were given limited boundary on how to live their lives; leading to full female personhood.

According to Rofel, �sexual difference in the social division of labor � that men plow and women weave � carried significance of dominance and subordination. It suggested the dominant position men occupied in social production and the dependent or supplementary role of women� (O�Donnell 2001).

But comes the Maoist era, particularly the Cultural Revolution, the revolution under Mao turned the role of gender up-side down � providing, at least theoretically, women and men equality in social roles. The communist regime under Mao introduced reforms in the laws and changes in the family customs. The transformation of these customs was based on his philosophy: equality. This had a positive impact on the lives of women; women were liberated � liberated from physical bruises, mental and psychological abuses and subordination and inferiority. During this period, the old practiced footbinding was put into an end, ban of concubines and the regime established a new marriage law that legalized divorce and ended arranged marriages. As a result, women and men were working together for common goals, placing their gender differences aside for the family. As shown in the film Blue Skies, Chen Shujuan was able to marry three different men who even loved and protected her and her child. As women grew empowered, the society was also being built through family integration where women and men were comfortable living together.

Yes, three is equal to one; the father, the mother and the child/ren building one family. The family becomes now a ground wherein the children can fly their Blue Kites � up high and even higher.


Fulton, J. Holding up Half the Heavens: The Effect of Communist Rule on China's Women. Online. Internet. Accessed date: October 1, 2007.

O'Donnell, C. (2001). Online. Internet. Accessed date: October 1, 2007.

me_delas_alas said...

ne facet of the film Blue Kite have something to do with China as a nation bound by differing sets of beliefs, and as the years pass on, we have seen the different transformation of China as an emerging tiger bound to awe the world, rising from its Communist past and thriving in the world of democratization and modernization. While most will assume and write on the Blue Kite as an interpretation of Chinese Communism, I will examine the progress China has been doing, moreso because of an increasing interest in how it will affect the current order of the world as it tries to set a benchmark for development as embodied in its bid to awe the world in next year's Olympic Games.

As citizens of the Philippines, we were socialized into thinking that China is the largest exporter of toys, kitchen utensils and all things found in the mall throughout the world. We knew of its traditions, of its majesty and of its rich heritage. But little do people know of its dark past, of the struggle of the Chinese people during the Communist rule, and symbolically this ideology also sipped into the Filipino political life through the works of Jose Ma. Sison. At present, China has been on an effort to straddle with democratic principles, although it is still under a one party rule. In any case, China, for all we know, may be the biggest tiger roaring throughout the workld in the near future, one step at a time. One pivotal point: their hosting of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, widely regarded as the most extravagant games ever to be staged in recent history.

Opening China to the world and trying to embrace different cultures seem to be the real essence of this remarkable undertaking. However, the Chinese Olympics may be one way of asserting itself in the global order as a country that has both money to finance something as magnificent as the Olympics and culture for them to boast and take pride. In economic terms, such hosting will show the world of China's ever expanding economic capability, with Beijing currently undergoing a complete overhaul, the biggest and most expansive transformation of any capital city in the world. But what the world feels, the common Chinese people do not.

Poverty still lingers on the outskirts of China. Although increasing, the per capita income is still relatively low, even if the population is ever increasing. Alongside construction of the most amazing buildings such as the CCTV Building and The Nest (the official Stadium of the Summer Games) are common Chinese people who works tears and sweat to catapult China to international superstardom status. Other issues such as environmental degradation, action towards Myanmar and the widespread practice of piracy also surges throughout the Chinese territory. Such issues are sometimes drowned, especially because of the highly ambitious staging of the Olympics.

Seemingly enough, China has moved from one of the most brutal nations to a prospering country. However, these has not been without any consequences. In the effort to rise above the world, its people are lagging far behind. Development is only for Beijing and neighboring cities, and not entirely for the Chinese citizenry in general. China is then a concrete example of growth, but not of development.

Why China? In a world of globalization and the rising interdependence of states, it is of no doubt that China has been everywhere in the world. Its impacts, politically, economically and culturally, has been significant in the understanding of current trends in international relations. Moreover, all eyes are once again in China, and news agencies such as CNN have devoted much time trying to trace the roots of Chinese fame throughout the region and the world. It is now regarded as an important player in the global arena, one that must be monitored closely because of its competitiveness. But as much as China is asserting itself, its priorities should have been its people, over a billion of them, and their welfare. Some have been questioning the morality of the Chinese hosting of the 2008 Games amidst poverty and underdevelopment in the region. All states, China included, and even the smallest ones, should prioritize the people more before actual development happens. In that case, a continous and moral economic and political action will be more legitimate, not only in the eyes of the international community but also of the people with China.

Tephanie said...

Constancy amidst constant change. Subtlety amidst Cruelty. Another astounding production of a Chinese film has been strongly conceptualized to show revolt. The Blue Kite surely is a powerful masterpiece depicting the abrupt periodical changes in the lives of the Chinese people and the sanctity of the family as the main protector of its members.
Tietou, the narrator in the movie, and his family’s life mirrored the events that left China no choice but to accept and to live with it. Incidentally, the narrator has been able to witness the whole of the story as he was born just after the first marriage features in the film. For me it is a way of justifying how certain reactions were made, that the boy has indeed the right to tell this story for he was directly involved. He would be the prefect repr3esentation of china undergoing some rough changes in living conditions if you ask me.
During the lifetime of Tietou , the transitions that were taking place were so abrupt, and I should also say that some events were brought about by some silly acts like when the father was killed by a falling tree. Don’t know if it’s a deliberate mockery of the macro events happening in China during that time but it was all so self-consuming, especially that of the film’s subtleness. The characters were seemingly living in a monotonous tone that even events such as the deaths of the father and the uncle had been unable to extract some strong emotions from the characters.
You could get lost in the world they’re living, but the characters, they just seem to be as intact as ever paralleled with very minimal change in human emotions despite the drastic changes in their living conditions. You might even be the one who gets frustrated that they don’t react in an expected manner, in a rebellious manner. Everything seems to fall apart and yet, they seemed so calm, still.
With that, I was very fascinated how upon seeing all of those, I felt a strong sense of frustration, frustration top react, and to do something about the life of the poor mother and her child. It was such a powerful medium for political socialization as it was very provocative. It amuses me how such a subtle, weak, blunt film was able to display such tremendous suffering. Who says you need it display obvious, loud suffering to portray one? It was such an artistic way of rebelling.

abeleda said...

The patriarch plays an indisputably important part in Asian society. The male head of the household is revered. It is unthinkable for instance, for an Asian child to call his father, by his first name, in the same manner that Bart (of the US animated series The Simpson’s) casually calls his dad by his first name, “Homer”. Any criticism of the patriarch in Asian society, be it the leader of the country or the country itself, is done very, very subtly.

Instead of directly critiquing Iranian policy on women, for instance, Jafar Panahi made an excellent soccer film about women soccer fans posing as men to get inside the soccer stadium in “Offside”. The criticism of how women are treated then is blunted: officially, this is not really about the pernicious laws against Iranian women but a simple gripe about the singular policy of not allowing women soccer fans into the soccer stadiums. (Ah, but we know better for we can read between the lines---or between the shots, in this case.) Contrast this with the way America’s Oliver Stone or Michael Moore pummels away with their head-on criticisms of the State. I am not saying one method is better than the other only that it takes a certain mindset, a cultural re-orientation, so to speak, to fully decode and thus, enjoy, a typical Asian film making a political statement.

The film “Blue Kite” makes such a subtle political statement. But the powers-that-be in China decided to ban it anyway despite its subtlety.

The film conveys a very subtle political statement about certain policies in China but coats it a reverent tones, typical of many Chinese films.

Indeed, the film manages to criticize three major political events in China from the 1950’s to 1960’s such as the Rectification movement, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, but it was never in a direct manner (except perhaps for the doubts expressed by the ageing grandmother near the end of the film), but rather demonstrated through the hardships that Tietou’s family underwent. So officially, the filmmaker could claim that there was never any direct condemnation of the policies adopted by the Chinese leadership. But then again, pictures speak louder than words particularly in a visual medium like the cinema. The disintegration of Tietou’s family resulting from the seemingly harsh and self-righteous Chinese laws and policies and their innumerable sufferings serve as the criticism itself of the state, even if all of the characters remain loyal to the so-called ideologies of the State. So on one hand, the film shows us the resolute loyalty of the Chinese to the State and on the other it shows us their wretchedness because of their loyalty.

Another proof of the subtle nature of criticism is found in the symbolic use of the blue kite. The blue kite is the Chinese society. Whenever the kite gets entangled to a tree, the father’s or Tietou’s solution is just to build another one. This, I surmise, is how the Chinese sees its own great civilization: it is not a society of continuous advancement but every time it does encounter a hindrance, the Chinese society just goes on. Officially then, the film is telling the Chinese people that despite these missteps in the past, they should just rebuild their nation, just as the kite was re-built. This nationalistic sentiment is common among Chinese films, from “Kung-fu Soccer” to “Once Upon a Time in China”.

The Chinese censors, however, do not heed. It sees only the color blue as antithesis to its red coat-of-arms; it sees only the kite as a symbol for the Chinese people’s longing for freedom.

The coup-de-grace of the film is the ingenious subtlety of its recurring motif: that of rebuilding the kite. If indeed, the kite is the Chinese society and that the kite was torn by the patriarchs at the end of the film, then it certainly begs a very important question: what will the Chinese people do now with the tattered society?

This is something which the censors do not want answered, or asked, for that matter. But, alas, the truth in art outlasts censors and we may all be at the threshold of that question in today’s China.

Steph said...

The controversial film, “Blue Kite” (Zhuangzhuang Tian, 1993) delves into the authoritarian world of historical China, as the country’s Fifth Generation filmmaker exposes experiences during the Communist era. The film visually stimulates its audience by showing the various stages that the Communist victory results to. The film begins, in the first episode, with a wedding—happy, colorful and brightly lit—which reflects the positive beginnings of Communism. Bitterly, this happy beginning is abruptly halted with visions of the dark, cold scene where Shaolong is chosen to be reported as a "rightist" just to meet Mao's quota for the Anti-Rightist Movement. Shujuan receives a letter that her husband was killed by a falling tree—an image of how the natural world (men are born free) has fallen. In the second episode, the atmosphere of coldness persists with the tones of blue—with the uniforms and the architecture. The deteriorating atmosphere of the film concludes with a gloomy aura where the third episode does not have any wedding celebration, unlike the first two, and life becomes robotic: human association is mum as evident in Lao Wu’s house; relationships occur just to save lives.
In terms of the notion that citizen action is contingent upon the limitation that the government have set, this may not necessarily be true because no matter how limited the space for expression is, people have always found a way to rise above their situation. The more repressive a regime, the more creative its constituents become. People generally have a choice in terms of the conditions they live in: if a majority feels strongly regarding a certain sentiment, they have the choice to gather and revolt—this has been proven many times throughout history as a possible success. Perhaps the reason why Communist governments still continue to thrive is the fact that the people living in it are not as miserable as we think they are. “Blue Kite” offers such a cheerless position to the living conditions in China; it is an effective tool in politically socializing the audience into the era of the film, yet in a biased way. It seems illogical for Communism to continue to thrive if it really was all that bad—thus, it probably was not. On the other side, its continued existence could be seen on a different aspect. Like mentioned, people within authoritarian communist governments are being socialized to be submissive to the control of the Party and depending on the success of the repression, such governments will continue to exist.
Let us examine the difference of a Liberal state versus a Marxist one, wherein the former is the generally adhered political tradition of the West and other democratic states while the latter is the adhered tradition of communists. For Liberalists, the role of the state is as a neutral arbiter among individuals, ensuring that there are checks and balances and protection of individual rights; Marxists see the role of the state as an instrument for rule of one class over another (particularly the proletariat over the bourgeois). From this we can already see the great contrast of state intervention—yet I applaud the Marxist's concept of "positive liberty" wherein a citizen has the freedom to acquire resources of basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, education, income) to pursue the right to have the capacity to develop their potential as human beings in order to meaningfully participate in a community. I think it is particularly this idealistic, albeit utopian, frame of thinking that allows the continuation of the communist society in China to exist--in such desperate societies thriving in poverty, one would naturally desire a state that ensures the acquisition of the means to survive.
In terms of how individuals are boxed into limited options by authoritarian governments, as exemplified in the stories of Shaolong, Shujuan and Lao Wu n the film, we must explore how even Liberalist societies artistically manipulate individuals into limitations—subtle oppression, but oppression nonetheless. For instance, the capitalistic nature (to extract as much profit) of one individual over another does not necessarily protect the latter's welfare rights. Through the concept of inheritance, some are already born with a comparative advantage over another—by having a state that imparts a recipient of massive inheritance the right to be left alone, this can lead to the unresolved fundamental problem where objective agreement is not possible on when is one's life threatened. In contrast to all this, Marxist oppression allows (enforces) an individual to give up certain privileges for the welfare of the general society; encouraging the hero nature that can be found in every individual to be let free and exposed to fellow nationalists.
The problem with Marxist governments is that the notion of right and wrong (what is lawful and not) is left all up to the ruling party. Unlike in liberal states, the notion of right and wrong has been generally accepted and tested through time. Additionally, when a citizen performs an illegal act, that citizen will be imprisoned by time-tested means; whereas Marxists seem to declare their own way of containing the consequences of an individual’s choice. However, a Marxist could argue that their method of dealing with state disobedience is much more laudable: imprisonment in a confined cell is reserved for the extreme cases—rather, a citizen who “did wrong” would simply be given the chance to reform with the freedom of still being integrated in society; of course, the Party would be given the leeway of choosing the path that the individual must take in order to be reformed.
Like its other sibling in the genre of films attacking the Communist regime in China, “Blue Kite” has become successful, not in terms of advocating whether the particular type of political administration is right or wrong (better or worse); importantly, it captured the plies of the Chinese people during the period. Eyes were opened—not only of the world outside China but the Chinese themselves. It is different to live in misery compared to realizing, by seeing yourself in moving picture, that you are absolutely miserable.

- S. Tan

alejandro said...

“The Blue Kite…was a film directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang in 1993. …The story is told from the perspective of a young boy (Tietou) growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Beijing. Three episodes - Rectification Movement, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution - show the family members evolving, e.g. from the real father, the 'loving patriarch,' to the protective but unemotional stepfather” (Wikipedia, 2007).

Family is a key institution for political socialization, particularly for a child. Hague and Harrop (2004:100-101) defined political socialization as “the process through which we learn about politics. It concerns the acquisition of emotions, identities and skills as well as information. Its main dimensions are what people learn (content), when they learn it (timing and sequence) and from whom (agents). …[It] takes place through a variety of institutions – the family, peer group and workplace – and is as much influenced by the context of communication as its content.”

For the purposes of this comment, and in accordance with my thesis statement, I focus on the family as a key institution where political socialization of a child takes place. Moreover, I focus the concept of the child on Tietou. Furthermore, I relate the concept of the family to the nuclear family of Tietou, Chen Shujuan and Lin Shaolong, along with his extended family on his mother’s side, namely Chen Shusheng, Chen Shuyan, Sis, Shujuan’s mother and Granny (Wikipedia, 2007).

“Most studies of political socialization are based on primacy model. This holds that basic political loyalties are formed when young. Childhood learning is ‘deep learning’ because it provides a framework for interpreting further information acquired in adulthood. Core political identities are developed in early childhood, when the family is the critical influence on the child. In late childhood, these attachments are supplemented by a marked increase in information. The main effect of adolescence is to refine the child’s conceptual understanding, building on information already obtained” (Hague and Harrop, 2004:101). Indeed, starting from Tietou’s early childhood, his family already had a significant influence on him, particularly because of their close family ties. He was well taken care of, fed, loved, and educated by his family. His mother taught him a song which he was fond of singing. Moreover, he had to deal with family problems at a very young age. For instance, he had to endure the absence of his mother for three months, and the absence of his father who never came back because of his untimely death. Despite all those tragedies, the idea of the importance of the family was already embedded in his mind, which is why he continued to have strong family ties with his family members. In his late childhood, when Tietou heard his schoolmate give a negative remark about his mother, he had a fight with him, as his way of defending his mother, who was part of his family that was important to him. Although he had some ill feelings towards his mother at some point in his early childhood (i.e., when Chen Shujuan had to take part in labor reform, and when she married three men), he soon realized (implied from the film) that his mother was, indeed, doing only what she thought was best for him (i.e., although he wanted to go to Granny’s place as soon as possible and leave their house with his stepfather, he did otherwise, particularly because Chen Shujuan told him that “You’re all I’ve got” and because he did not want to leave her).

“Some authors use Asian cultures to illustrate the centrality of childhood to political socialization. The argument advanced is that strong family traditions encourage a group-centered style of adult politics in which deference to authority places a leading role” (Hague and Harrop, 2004:101). As what was highly evident in the main characters of the film, Tietou’s family – an Asian (specifically, Chinese) family – had close family ties. When he and his family were experiencing “hard times” during the changes that were happening in society from the Rectification Movement, the Great Leap Forward, until the Cultural Revolution, they resorted to the help of one another. Numerous changes happened in their society. Unfortunately, those changes did affect and pressure them, as well as the others, negatively.
“Tragedy hits the family when first [Shujuan's] elder brother [was] forced to leave the army due to problems with his eyes. His girlfriend, actress Zhu Ying, [was] then put in jail charged with counterrevolutionary activities when she [refused] to become the wife of a senior official. At the same time, [Shujuan's] little brother [was] exiled for re-education because of his radical words and deeds. Then [Shaolong was] sent to a labor camp, also accused of counterrevolutionary activities, until finally he [was] killed by a falling tree.
“After her first ill-starred marriage, [Shujuan remarried] twice[.] Both her second husband, [Li], and third husband, Luo, [died] untimely deaths” (, 2004).
Despite all those tragedies due to the changes that happened in their society, everyone in the family strived to keep their family intact as much as they possibly could.
After watching the film “The Blue Kite,” I can say that it is an effective medium for political socialization, particularly because of its focus on the family, which, as I mentioned at the start of my comment, and as mentioned by Hague and Harrop (2004: 101), is a key institution for political socialization. Being the final comment for this course, I would like to end this comment on a light note: This film has made me, as a viewer, realize how the family has played a significant role on the growing-up years of a child regarding his political beliefs. More importantly, this film has been effective in making me, as a viewer, hope, aspire and strive for “better days” regarding our country in the near future, just like the blue kite flying freely in the sky.

Reference: 2004. The Blue Kite. Date retrieved: October 3, 2007.
Hague, Rod and Martin Harrop. 2004. Comparative Government and Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wikipedia. 2007. The Blue Kite. Date retrieved: October 3, 2007.

buagñin said...

The Blue Kite, directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, is a historical film which shows the implications of the three main events in Mao’s regime namely, The Rectification Movement, The Great Lead Forward and The Cultural Revolution. The film tries to show how these three events affect the ordinary people in China, in particular their day-to-day lives. Tietou, the main protagonist of the film, was born to witness and experience the implications of these three events. Beginning with the Rectification Movement, he lost his real father who died because a branch of a tree falls on him while he was away on a labor camp. In the Great Leap Forward, he lost another father, a family friend who married his mother, who died because of malnutrition. Lastly, in the Cultural Revolution, his stepfather, a party official, divorced his mother because he had been denounced at work.

The film shows how the three father figures who came to Tietou’s life fail to give him a family he deserves. It was his mother who always protected him and took care of him. The failure, on the other hand, by these men to build a happy and peaceful family life was because of the political changes made by the Chinese government. As the head of the family, a father is expected to support his family financially and protect their family ties. However, the film shows that the three fathers who came to Tietou’s life did not suffice the young man’s right to have a normal family. The state’s interest can indeed be as repressive as in China’s spread of communism. With the aim to eradicate rightists and counterrevolutionary citizens, many people had been delivered to labor camps to be reeducated. Tietou’s biological father was one of these people who had been blamed as a rightist despite his loyalties to the state. The misfortune of Tietou’s began when his father was taken from them and was sent to a labor camp. Though, he was only a child at that time, who seemed not to comprehend what was happening around him, the implications of the Rectification Movement had affected his life greatly. Even if it’s as simple as flying kite with his father, the thought that these political changes took his father from him implied how powerful a state could be.

In the second chapter of Tietou’s life, a family friend came to his life and became his second father. Again, this man failed to suffice his needs to have a normal family. At first, Tietou seemed to enjoy the company of this man; however, malnutrition caused him death. His illness, for me, meant that the man could no longer survive in the changes happening around him. It was as if the man already surrendered from the repression exhibiting by the state. Once again, Tietou lost another father who could guide him and taught him about life.

However, Tietou and his mother continued their life struggle and found another man who could give them a normal family life. By this time, Tietou had already grasped what was happening around him. An example of this was the accusations made by the students against their principal for being a counterrevolutionary. For me, these students were mainly tired of schooling or brainwashed by the communist party to be able to take such actions.

On the other hand, the man, whom his mother was married, was minor party official who gave them a relatively wealthier life. The man, though not affectionate, had been able to provide Tietou financial assistance and fatherly love as well. However, due to rise of Cultural Revolution; the father had been denounced by the party. Thus, Tietou had again lost another important man in his life. His pursuit of having a normal family was again hindered due to political changes made by the government.

It is evident that the film wanted to impart to its audience the realities of people’s struggle in these three significant political events in China’s history. It is not so much about the villains who imposed such changes but the implications of those changes. Though the present Communist party of China is slowly adapting to the rules of capitalism, there is still no guarantee as to what it can do in the future that will affect its people’s family lives. The film serves as a wake up call for the said country to realize their goals and the effects of their policies to its people’s right to live. Though, it may be a criticism against the old and present Communist party of China; the theme, for me, is rather universal. Tietou’s character is the epitome of a man who had aspired for a peaceful family life which the state took away from him. Everyone seems to want a life with peace and prosperity; however, many external factors like state’s repression that limit the people’s capacity to realize these goals.

Until now, I am still intrigued by the idea or meaning of ‘blue kite’. Some look at it as Tietou’s dreams, hopes and aspirations while others look at it as a pastime Tietou enjoys. For me, it is more than an aspiration and a pastime; ‘blue kite’ for me signifies the lost hope of Tietou. As far as I can remember, the ‘blue kite’ was only showed a few times in the film. First was when his biological father taught him how to fly a kite. The other appearance of the ‘blue kite’ was when Tietou himself taught another child how to fly a kite. The ‘blue kite’, for me, was what his biological father had left for him. As he grew up, Tietou have not forgotten what his father taught him. It was the last memento that his father left him - a time when he, his mother and his father were still together and were living as a normal family.

asama said...

If the film “The Blue Kite” is not a good tool for political socialization, the Chinese government should have not banned it.

The film “The Blue Kite” sure contains history in it. It covers some important periods in the history of China -- the Rectification Movement, Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. But its stars contain no Mao Zedong or any other prominent political figures in China to play main roles in the story. Rather, it focuses on a family, just like any other family in China back then. I think the family’s ordinariness just made the film just more powerful in terms of politically socializing its audience, because it is easier (for ordinary people) to identify and relate with ordinary people than with prominent people.

The film showed the effects of the three periods to an ordinary family in China. If we would read history books, what we would most probably see from these are those that has got something to do with the main political actors of that time, their decisions, their advocacies, etc. But the focus of the story is Tietou’s family. Being the son of a librarian and a teacher, some would ask ‘what is the importance of these people with that important political period in China?’ But we should consider that the film maybe was not intended to portray the history of China objectively. If we want to find that out, then we should just read books or maybe watch a reliable documentary (if such exists). We should understand that the focus of the film is the effect of that period in China to the life of an ordinary family.

It was never clear to me if the story is based on a real life story. I assume it is not. I think the family’s story is fictional. I would also not know if this fictional story happened to any other real family in that period. But to a certain extent, I think the answer is yes. The film is supported by real historical instances in China. The entire film is not fictional at all. From the Rectification Movement to the Great Leap Forward and to the Cultural Revolution, some major happenings in the story are actually supported by historical facts – just like the use of red guards (or Mao's principal lieutenants youth militia) overthrowing Mao’s perceived enemies and seizing control of the state and party apparatus. If the story is not real at all, would it still strike us? I believe the answer is “yes”, because even the extreme form of sci-fi movies, fictional love stories and flicks could even strike us, why not this film which is even in a context of a real historical period? For this reason, the film could be an effective tool for political socialization especially because of its political content.

The political content is more or less explicit. It explicitly shows that “this is in the Rectification Movement period etc etc.”, “this is what happens in the Rectification Movement etc etc.”, “this is what happens to Tietou’s family (a representation of any ordinary family) in the Rectification Movement, etc. etc.” It reminds me of the local film “Dekada 70” where an ordinary family was also used as the subject of the story, and it showed how the Martial Law Regime actually affected this family in the 1970’s. Both films are explicit in their messages. This leads me to comparing it again to another local film, which is Mike de Leon’s “Kisapmata”. The ordinary family in this film was used as a picture of the whole country, with the father as the dictator and his family as the society. The message was implicit. It was not made clear if the story was actually in the Martial Law context, it never contained any Marcos in it. Yet, the film also played the same role – criticism to a political system. In the case of “The Blue Kite”, the characters, I think, were not intended to represent any important characters in the history of China, unlike “Kisapmata”. As I have said earlier, its message is explicit.

The film “The Blue Kite” is definitely a good tool for political socialization. For one, I am not familiar with China’s history. And with the political content of the film which is just easily absorbable, it is not impossible that my impression of China during the Rectification Movement, Great Leap Forward, and Cultural Revolution would only be negative in accordance to the film’s message. Consider me as a tabula rasa (about the period) which is slowly being filled by information from the film, and perception that I process in accordance to these information. However, I am not saying that viewers are not critical and are only receptive to the film’s message. For one, it might even be hard for them to grasp the message due to lack of knowledge regarding China’s history. So this could lead the viewer to research on what really happened objectively in that period by reading other sources. With an optimistic message of the film, with the blue kite symbolizing hope, it surely would leave viewers sympathizing with Tietou with his family’s misfortunes (deaths of his fathers) and giving him a pat on the back or a hug signifying that his family has undergone a lot, and we just believe in his capacity.

Even with people who are already aware of the history of China, the film could still be an effective tool for political socialization. With the negative portrayal of the government, the people could hate the government or ‘hate the government more.’ And of course, no government would want to be portrayed negatively by any medium. For this reason, they banned showing the film in China.

Ron S.R. said...

The Blue Kite is a film by Chinese director Tian Zhuangzhuang which was internationally released in 1993. Domestic release was banned by the Chinese government as its contents were not to the favor of those in power. This film has garnered many awards and has received nominations for best-film in various film festivals outside China.

The film touches on the impacts that the communist government of China’s three major political revisions in the late 50’s had with the ordinary citizens of China, in particular, the basic component of social structures—the family. It follows the life of a young boy as told by the boy himself—Tietou. There are three episodes/chapters in this movie which are made accordingly in such a way that it coordinates with the changes that happen in the political environment of China. This is basically the aspect of the movie which we shall follow for this particular paper; relating the changes in the family as shown in the film directly with the phases of the Chinese communist overhaul and dissects the interrelated messages being portrayed by the filmmakers as these changes occur.

We shall be focusing primarily on the level of cohesiveness of the family and how this constantly changes together with the changes of their country. At the start of the film, we see the marriage of Tietou’s parents. In the beautiful atmosphere of their newly rented house together with family and friends, this scene is shown with much lighting—signifying the warmth and happiness of these times. As the film progresses, we see Tietou come into the scene. We also see his real father making him the blue kite. As we shall see later, this blue kite symbolizes, basically the changes that happened and how it affected the people of China. In the “father” episode, as mentioned, we see the happiness and the tight bond within the family. Closeness of the family members is the important point at this episode. In its latter parts we see the first change—the rectification movement; affecting Tietou’s family in terms of their father being branded as a rightist just so his workmates would reach Mao’s set quota of submitting rightist; effectively breaking the cohesiveness of the family. The father is in a work camp simply because he was chosen to fill the quota as required by the rectification movement. This turns into the family’s tragedy when the father dies in the work camps.

The basic unit of social structure, in the case of this family, is utterly destroyed—the father is gone and they are left in the care of the family’s close friend—Uncle Li which Tietou’s mother remarries. In this scene, the attending guests and celebrators wear work clothes of blue. And as we can notice, there is a slight reduction in light as compared to the first celebration. Signifying the change in sentiment of the people (the family in particular) — from happy to being slightly gloomy. At this point, it also coincides with the Great Leap Forward; what Mao sees as a measure of moving away from soviet socialist style to one that he sees as appropriate for China while also regaining his leadership. This movement called for the people to work for the country, maximizing labor to produce necessary material tools for China. Tietou’s father being within this labor, he works feverishly even to the point of disregarding his deteriorating health conditions. The GLF further brings the father figure away from the family. Uncle Li, finds himself more in the workplace than with his family. And as he continues to pour out his efforts for the country, this leads him to his death as a result of his ignored illness. In retrospect, this was even worse than the loss of Tietou’s real father as the first was forcibly taken away, while this loss was basically a result of the governments’ efforts at pushing their people to the limit as well as brainwashing them that they eventually end up dying deliberately for their country while forgetting the family. In essence, while the rectification movement forcibly took fathers away from their families, the GLF made zombies out of the father’s by requiring insane work hours from them.

With the death of Uncle Li, we then reach the third episode which is entitled “stepfather”. This is when the fatherless family of Tietou moves to the huge house of Lao Wu. His mother marries the man only because he can support her and Tietou and offer protection. This also coincides with the Cultural Revolution which is basically aimed at destroying the old culture, customs, habits and ideas of the Chinese. In essence, transforming the Chinese into more efficient socialists—and Lao Wu is one of them, a party member, worried more about the party than his family. At this point, basically the family is no longer a social nucleus that has cohesiveness and bond, the people are already transformed into those concerned about the collective nation of Chinese, breaking the family structure and nearing socialist goals. Though, in the end, Lao Wu was still seen as a threat to the party, that being the case he is taken away by the Red Guards; if we dissect that closely, we see that the government feels little fear from simply taking away an integral part of a family simply because they have effectively transformed the people. As the stepfather is taken away, we see Tietou in misery as he watches a broken kite effectively portraying the message that such idealist transformations were paid with a price—the breakdown of the family and a desensitized population.

In summary, we can effectively see, by way of the film’s various elements, the transformations that occurred in the Chinese family as a result of the political changes that the government imposed. Making a people with once strong family structures into a disintegrated and insensitive population only loyal to the country ergo the government, breaking the family and in the end, destroying lives.


dominic_barnachea said...

Again, The Blue Kite makes us aware of all the atrocities that have occured during Mao's China. All the corruption and betrayal, and all of the lives severely affected by a system that lives on devouring its citizens. And again, as with Fifth Generation Chinese film makers, we can observe the uniqueness in the style of the film- from the rather complex, yet under its historical context, is very much possible, to the lightinh and color presentations I can only see in old Chinese films.

Betrayal.It is very much depressing that a country that promises equal treatment of all its citizens ends up killing its people. These murders happen just because of plain paranoia of the cabal of powerful people who claims they know what's best for the society, but seemingly all they know was what's best for them. But then again, maybe there was some equality back then, because they really did not choose who to kill. That's equal treatment for them. So, once more, we are jaded by the promise of a utopia for everyone, that always turns out to be a utopian bloodbath for the survival of just a few. And the family- the family. It is very much more depressing to witness the effects of such atrocities to the mother, whose only reason for existence is the welfare of her child, and to the child, who with his innonence at that time doesn't even question his existence.

Throughout the duration of the course, majority of the films we have watched were all old films- old meaning films set at the time way before I was born. Add to that the fact that they were foreign films. And what do I get? Forced familiarity. It is true that during and after watching, I still feel for the film. Very much. But, the unfamiliarity to the social and historical context of the film stops me from feeling strongly. I really don't know why. I just can't connect to them the way I do with dekada '70 or even it Coup B'etat (GO TADO!). I believe at the end of the day, some ethnic or historical connection is significant if more entrenched socialization is expected.

alberto said...

The Blue Kite is probably one of the most explicit portrayals of the cons of living in Communist China.

It combines an definite account of the past and how it affected real lives (or in this case, cinematic ones).

It shows Tietou and his family and how their lives are affected by how their country is ruled under Chairman Mao. It shows they lived their lives through the Rectification Movement, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution.

The film is cut into three parts, with each part signifying the “era” and the life of one of the three father figures in Tietou’s life and in each era, it shows the role of Tietou’s father figure, his dad, his uncle, or his stepfather.

With each passing “era”, the family gets farther and farther away from the positive, carefree family they once were at the beginning of the film.

in the first part, it showed Tietou's original family, where he was still with his father, and where his father always makes him a blue kite. the kite, apparently, was a symbol of happier times. His father and their friends were forced to give their opinions about the government, and it also showed his father being sent to labor camp, because a scapegoat was needed and his father chose the wrong time to go to the bathroom. Tietou becomes bitter towards his father, even as his father leaves for labor camp. They soon learn that his father is killed by a falling tree.

Once again, they try to rebuild their broken family, his mother remarries. His "Uncle" Li tries to give everything the family needs, and dies trying.

Another marriage, this time to his stepfather, Lao Wu. This marriage is a marriage of convenience, done for the sake of protecting Tietou and his mother. But again, his new "dad" is taken away by the government.

For me this film shows just to what extent the role of the government plays in the lives of its citizens. It is not just a tool that affects the state as a whole, it affects each and every individual.

It is also a criticism of the Chinese government. It almost screams out to the government officials: " Look! This is what you're doing! And this is how you affect us. Watch how much you make us suffer!" What the government probably chooses to ignore, the film so blatantly rubs in their faces and exposes for the rest of the world to see.

The blue kite, although it may be a symbol of happier times and is repeatedly destroyed in the film, tells us something else: that there is still hope. For me it says that the happier times it represents can still be brought back, that the suffering may be only temporary. It tells the Chinese people: "This is what's wrong with your country. This is what it's doing to you." And yet it still tells them that they can change their fate, "there is hope for the flowers.." Just as the blue kite can be rebuilt, so can they change their society.

But just like any other government-criticizing film, it offers no viable solution. Just that message, that there is hope. But maybe it can rally a change in the people. Just as what Jose Rizal's novels did for us, maybe this movie can do for them.


Agpalo said...

Always, one views a film as part of an audience with already defined values that have been shaped and molded by the different social and political actors in the society in which that person belongs to.

Always, one views a film that espouses its own set of values, supporting a definite configuration of ideologies.

Always, in the process of consuming a film, the values of the film could either challenge the contrasting values of the audience or strengthen their values.

However theres always some film that leaves a person torn between the two set of values and I believe it is at this point that the film strikes a particular issue so controversially strong.
The Blue Kite is a political film in the sense that it dwelt mainly on questioning the effectiveness and more importantly the 'rightness' of a given political regime, of a given order of a society.

It's a microscopic view of a big period of the human history. Cultural revolution, the Great Leap Forward and Rectification Movement is part of the history of one country. Amidst national events of this history are underlying history of personal events. Blue Kite tells a personal history against, interacting or even molded by a national history.

It is at this point that we see the difference between this film and Farewell my Concubine on how the cultural revolution for instance was filmed. Farewell my Concubine dwells on the nostalgic feeling of the Peking Opera, and how Cultural Revolution 'destroyed' (as the film argued) the very essence of Chinese culture and traditions. Blue Kite on the other hand dwelt on personal events, on how personal lives of specific people were greatly affected by the Cultural Revolution. How their stories were then filmed created a blanket effect on the whole history of that period. Generalizing the whole event, painting the whole picture of the periods history with the history of these particular individuals.

The film in this sense has perfectly transformed sentiments against the social order in an effective format mesmerizing and at the same time forcing its audience take in the whole film and its content.
Still, the political socialization of its viewers still depends on the interaction,a compromise or a rejection of their values against the values that the film espouses.

mAc said...

From the Rectification Movement to the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution, Tietou and his mother are caught in an ideological struggle that undermined their status as free individuals and stripped their immunity from the whims and scorn of the ‘evil’ society. From then on, existential philosophies are proscribed in exchange for the bigger political philosophy of the majority: communism. Such historical determination occurs coincidentally with the three shifting ‘fathers’ of the Chen-Li household who are explicitly showcased in the film as the most afflicted parties in the repackaging of the Chinese society because of their ‘anti’ position over the prevailing status quo: with his father killed in an accident, his uncle who died of malnutrition and poor health, and his stepfather arrested by the Red Army. On the other hand, the three father figures also represent the ascendancy of the patriarchal and hierarchical character of the society. Symbolizing the fortitude of family, the implicit incarceration by the majority party of the father figures of Chen-Li family indicates the tight control of the authoritarian government with a supposed-to-be autonomous societal unit. Accordingly, the government shadows the private life of individuals such that the concept of separation between private life and the larger public is negated.
One underlying question imbued by the film, for which this essay focuses on, is that in times of societal distress and discomfort whereby the social and economic needs of the majority are not well addressed by a democratic government, does such occasion provide rationale for authoritarian forces to usurp power from the elected leadership? What really is the best form of government? One that is based on the ethos of democracy or one that is based on the ethos of authoritarianism?
On the first hand, many are arguing that the level of development is faster in authoritarian systems where political rights are limited, government-control of the population is strong, and opposition is at minimum. Why? Implementing market-oriented reforms, especially in new democracies, is often a contentious affair unlike in an authoritarian regime wherein economic and social reform policies can be implemented swiftly and decisively. The presence of opposition groups through institutions of freedom of expression, right to organization and participation in the affairs of the government, and right to information in a democratic polity can derail the implementation of social and economic policies of the government. Moreover, many claim that there is a tradeoff between democracy and development because democracies generate slower growth compared to authoritarian regimes. Exemplary of this instance is the level of development in China, Singapore, Vietnam, etc. Likewise, many argue that in an authoritarian government, the working of a population control policy is efficient.
On the second hand, democratic scholars and experts argue that the best form of government is one that is based on the principles of liberal and democratic values where the rule by the people of representative institutions through the process of a competitive and popular elections is instituted and respected. According to them, such setup offers the best prospect for accountable, responsive, peaceful, predictable good governance (Diamond, 1999). The principles of horizontal and vertical accountability are highly likely to be observed in democratic systems. The protection of human rights is also imminent because liberalism ‘insists upon sovereignty of the people to decide their best form of government’ (Diamond, 1999). In addition, democracy promotes world peace through the concept of democratic peace where conflicts are addressed through peaceful negotiations rather than wars. In reference to economic development, Diamond argues that while democracies may generate fewer economic miracles, it seems better suited to achieve steady progress in human well-being (1999).
Finally, juxtaposing the facts that the film puts forward plus the pros and cons of both houses (democracy versus authoritarianism), in my opinion, democracy is far better than authoritarianism. For in a polity where accountability, transparency, responsiveness, and a general respect for civil and political rights are observed, opportunities for self determination and human development are maximized. As Jean Jacques Rousseau once said, ‘human being by nature is born free’. And it is with this freedom that one can enjoy flying a blue kite (or the opportunity for realizing his/her hopes and aspirations).

Diamond, Larry. 1999. Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press.


mimah said...

Here is another film showing the lives of the people during Mao’s time. It is a film covering the period from the Rectification Movement to Great Leap Forward until the Cultural Revolution, the very presence of the state affects every individual whether they like it or not. This makes me think how far a state should penetrate the lives of the people? Does the state need to be in charge of all activities humans ever heard of? Or would it be better to apply Margaret Thatcher’s “rolling back of the state”?

Based on the films Farewell My Concubine and Blue Kite, I have witnessed the effects of the state impinging the very existence of the individuals. As opposed to the former film, Blue Kite made use of washed-out colors, almost fading ones, or earthly colors that for me, symbolizes a monotonous, boring and gloomy life. There were moments of happiness among the people but the prevailing atmosphere is just miserable. The only color that stands out would be the blue kite. It somehow tells that amidst the loneliness there is still a room for hope and aspiration to have a better life. Using Tietou as the narrator strengthens the idea of hope. The children, who have not seen much about life, are the ones who are usually dreaming of something bigger, brighter and better future. But in the film, Tietou has witnessed the struggles of his family and of his neighbors during this period of hardships. It is moving to see at the end of the film that after the Red Guards beat him up, there he was looking at the blue kite, still hoping. Maybe that is one thing that the state cannot take away from its people, to hope.

If the lives of the people are really depressing and gloomy, why does Communism still persist? How come the people are not antagonized enough to overthrow the government? Perhaps it is because of the political socialization these people have gone through. They are made to believe that in order to prosper, all should be equal, everything must be owned by the state and the ruling party knows best for the people. This kind of ideology has been effectively absorbed. Also, it can be said that Communist states are strong because they make the people comply and they are easily mobilized to work for the state and to further strengthen their position. On the other hand, the society is weak since they cannot mobilized among themselves to let their cries and woes be heard.

After all that happens in one’s life, one finds oneself going back to one’s family. Up to this very moment, I believe family is the only entity that an individual could always seek refuge, feel the love and care without conditions. In the film, despite the many struggles and deaths occurring, they still tried to live normally. Even if one of Tietou’s uncle was blinded, after his father died, after another uncle was condemned for being a Rightist, after witnessing the sad fate of his stepfather, they still stood together and fight until the end. It is interesting to note the sacrifices made by Shujuan for her son. Even after three failed marriages, there she was strong enough to support her third husband. We could also see that not even a man in the house could save a family from misery caused by the state. Ironically, the film seems to portray women empowerment because none of Shujuan’s husbands were alive until the end.

To end, it can be said that the state can really affect an individual’s life if it wants and people seem to be powerless from its sovereignty. Also, I can say that even if democracy were not a perfect way of ruling the people, I would gladly choose it than feel like a prisoner under an authoritarian state.

Felicia said...

The 1993 Chinese film “The Blue Kite” was a controversial film by Fifth-Generation movie director, Tian Zhuangzhuang, whose career was put to a standstill due to a six-year ban from moviemaking after the release of “The Blue Kite”. This essay mainly asserts that the actors in “The Blue Kite”, due to the simple purpose of self-preservation and security at its most basic form, all adhere to the Rational Choice Theory, as the actors are and should be rational, amidst the three turbulent events of all Chinese modern history, namely the Rectification, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. The discussion of the thesis shall include the Rational Choice Theory encapsulating selected scenes from “The Blue Kite.”

The Rational Choice (RCT) has several basic principles, namely utility maximization, consistency of values, the expected value of these desired outcomes, imperfect information, thin rationality, and the individual being the maximizing agents. “The Blue Kite” has exhibited the principles of utility maximization and consistency of interests, as in many scenes in the film. An example of this is the scene where the right-leaning group, the Hundred Flowers Movement, to which Shaolong, Tietou’s (the narrator) real father, was affiliated, but by which he was later betrayed, because after he just came out from the toilet during one of their meetings, he was suddenly made a scapegoat by the entire group, when people from the Chinese Communist Party investigated about their group. The group members could not be blamed for choosing to be rational, especially since their life is at stake here. However, the utility being maximized here is their desire to express themselves in terms of political ideology by means of these meetings, despite the practically contrary political atmosphere imposed by the authorities. Since the general environment does not allow for this free expression, the next best thing rationally is to do it in a covert manner, which they did. Hence, the members of the Hundred Flowers Movement not only aimed at maximizing their interest, but this interest was undertaken by steps which were consistent, more specifically connected and transitive. These were shown by undertaking similar but slightly modified steps in case the first one does not work, such as meeting in secret, and when they were tailed by the Anti-Rightist Movement, having to use Shaolong as a scapegoat for the sake of the self-preservation of the members of the group, so they still could continue meeting by keeping the Anti-Rightist Movement at bay.

“The Blue Kite” also had depicted the RCT principle of expected value of utility, as in the scene of the wedding of Tietou’s parents, and where Tietou’s mother married off to a Party member, without any emotional connection whatsoever (which is the usual condition before deciding to marry for most people), but only for the sake of protection and of having food and shelter. At Tietou’s parents’ wedding, the couple toasted to Mao’s picture and sang songs about daily quotas and work at the fields, as though they were celebrating and were exuberant about these changes. Although it cannot be absolutely ascertained whether or not they actively promote or oppose these new policies by the government, it can be deduced that they were outwardly conforming to the principles imposed upon by the Chinese Communist Party. This act by Tietou’s parents is rational, as they had expected that by openly conforming, they would lead a life unharmed by the Red Guards, for instance, especially since they were starting a family and would want to live peacefully for their child’s sake, as any parent would hope. As for Tietou’s mother marrying “the Stepfather,” who was a party member for economic purposes as well as protection, this move is already obviously rational. However, in these cases, the RCT principle of imperfect information was also lurking upon them: with the former not foreseeing the Hundred Flowers’ Movement betrayal to Tietou’s father, and with the latter the declining influence of “the Stepfather” in the Party, leading to his divorcing Tietou’s mother, which was also for their safety.

The principle of thin-rationality was shown in “The Blue Kite” in the scene where Tietou’s mother’s second husband, “the Uncle”, died of malnourishment while striving to provide for them, especially for Tietou. Anyone would think this was irrational, as rational actors must put their self-preservation first above anything else. However, this actually shows thin rationality, which exhibits rationality that is contextualized. In this case, Tietou’s “Uncle” had prioritized his wife and Tietou’s needs, and rationally maximized this number one interest by working, although he had done so a little too hard. Therefore, it is no being established here that this act by the “Uncle” is rational by virtue of thin-rationality.

And finally, the RCT principle also being depicted in “The Blue Kite” is that the individual is the relevant maximizing agents. Roger Ebert proposed that “"The Blue Kite" gains much of its power by being about everyday, unexceptional lives.” Also, Xudong Zhang asserted that “The Blue Kite”, or the brain-child movies of the Fifth Generation directors in general, “seek to deconstruct the ‘grand-narrative’ of social revolution and idealism by constructing a counter-narrative of national trauma and traumatized individual life. By analyzing the filmic text of The Blue Kite, the author argues that, instead of exploring the complexity of social change and everyday life of the Chinese twentieth century, the former Fifth Generation auteurs resorted to a visual ontology or mythology of the present, which in turn invents its past as a melodrama of ‘human nature’ or ‘art as such’.” “The Blue Kite” centers on the lives of individuals and the choices they had made which all had to do with the turbulent ideological transitions in China.

In conclusion, “The Blue Kite” is indeed an effective medium of political socialization because it is an artful, not to mention excellent, expression of the point of view of one who had grown up in the Rectification, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, as Tian Zhuangzhuang had admitted to have included real and even personal experiences in the film. Although the movie had focused on individual lives, it was still a strongly political film, and as Ebert had mentioned, it was made more effective because of its subtlety in conveying its political message. And finally, “The Blue Kite” presents us the evolving times in China, from the eyes of a child in the beginning and eventually in the acts of a man in the end, effectively making it emotionally compelling and ultimately humanized.


Ebert, Roger. (2003 January). The Blue Kite (1993). Date retrieved: 03 October 2007. From:

Zhang, Xudong. The Blue Kite (Tian Zhuang-zhuang, 1992). National Trauma, Global Allegory: reconstruction of collective memory in Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Blue Kite. Date retrieved: 03 October 2007. From:

kat suyat said...

In a society constrained by political turmoil and dictated by cultural traditions and practices, in order for a family to stick together, hope and aspiration has to be on their side.

The film Blue Kite follows the life of a fictional family, particularly the life of a mother, Lu Liping, as they go through different periods of political upheaval in China. Specifically, the film shows how family life is affected and constrained by the rules and laws of three periods: the Rectification Movement, Great Leap forward and the infamous Cultural Revolution. As I watch the film, I could not help but remember and eventually compare another film that have also been presented in class, that is, Farewell, My Concubine. The directors of both films are considered to be the Fifth Generation Filmmakers of China, whose films serve as critiques to the Maoist Communist System, particularly the Cultural Revolution.

In this short entry, I would like to discuss how the present political conditions of that period as well as the cultural norms and traditions of China in one way or another affects and controls the family life. Using Blue Kite as an example, I would like to cite how the Cultural Revolution as well as the existing patriarchy in China dictates how life should be lived by the people under this certain rule.

Patriarchy, as pointed out in the main entry, exists in almost all society, China not excluding. Power relations exist between and across gender, the women as the oppressed and the men as the ones who are oppressing. The film shows patriarchy even in its simplest sense, the titles of the different episodes. Also, the mere fact that the film exemplifies motherhood and shows how hard it is for a mother to keep her family together implicitly says that indeed patriarchy exists in society. Why would it be hard for a woman to keep her family intact? Probably because of the existing culture that women are disempowered as power is given to men than to their opposite.

The film, on the other hand, also explores in detail the effects of the Cultural Revolution in China. This political change was done in a abrupt and sudden manner. The citizens had to shift from their old way of living to a new system wherein socialism and communism is the name of the game. They had to give up their lives and adapt to a new environment, something that is not easy to be done. Using the film as an example, Chen (the narrator of the film) finds it hard to adjust to the changing political climate as she balances this with the family life that she also had to handle.

Indeed, in an environment such as this, one has to have hope and aspiration to live by. The Blue Kite symbolizes the hope of a young child as he experiences new things in his life. Particularly, this blue kite that Teitou’s father has created, shows that even at the end of the day, there is still something to look forward to in life.