Friday, February 19, 2010

To Live: Choices Within The Historical Context

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery.” -Mao Tse-Tung

Since the institutionalization of Mao Tse-Tung’s Chinese Communist Party in 1949, China has experienced lots of revolutionary changes in their social, economic, cultural and political environment.

The movie “To Live” basically is a film about a family’s experience during this hard and challenging time. Released in 1994 and was directed by Zhang Yimou and his sixth collaboration with Gong Li, “To Live” gives its viewers a journey towards this very revolutionary stage for the whole Chinese people. This movie transcends four decades of China’s history which includes the Chinese Civil War, Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

A winner of the Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, “To Live” gives another perspective about this particular stage of China’s history. Instead of looking from above, the movie emphasizes the life experiences of the ordinary people as they try to cope up with these changes brought by the Chinese government. According to its director Zhang Yimou: "I believe that for a long time now Chinese films have been too abstract, conceptual, gimmicky. They don't relate at all to the lives of ordinary Chinese people. I'm certain that most audiences will like this film. We haven't gone overboard on the tragic elements, but rather have focused on the minute, amusing details in the life of a nobody. There are tears and laughter, one following the other in a gentle rhythm like the breath of a bellows." That is why this film captured the different pains, joys, laughter and horrors of life from the perspective of ordinary people.

There are many interpretations on the meaning of the movie’s title. The most common is that, since the movie was staged during a difficult time, the movie shows us how the Chinese people cope up and be resilient on the different challenges that they face in order to live life. But there are other deeper messages that the film’s title “To Live” tries to give its viewers. Since the penetration of communism in China’s government, the phrase “to live” has changes its meaning. Living now depends on what the government say or do not say. Almost all of the people’s actions are constrained by the laws and regulations posed by the government. Due to the institutionalization of communism in China, the private sphere has become a part of the public sphere. Privacy seems to have long been disappeared in China’s society. Whether this new definition of “living” in Chinese society had become positive or negative is still debatable but watching this movie shall give its viewers a new perspective on the life of ordinary Chinese people in the light of communism.

The film focuses on the lives of Fugui and his wife Jiazhen. They started as a wealthy family, but due to Fugui’s compulsive gambling, they lost everything and Jiazhen, who is pregnant with their second child, left his husband with their daughter Fengxia. But eventually Jiazhen came back to Fugui and leaves the past behind with their daughter and their one-year old son Youqing. But Fugui was drafted for the Kuomintang and left his family for the Civil War. When the war was over, Fugui came back and started a new life again with a new kind of government. And from then on, the family experienced a mix of joyful and harsh experiences in order to survive living in such difficult times. Several tragedies have struck the family which includes the tragic death of their son Youqing and eventually the mishap of their daughter Fengxia while giving birth. In all of these tragedies that the family had encountered, they can all be rooted to the imposition of communism to China;s society. As for Youqing’s death, if not for they were not forced to produce steel during the Great Leap Forward, he must have been still alive. And for Fengxia’s demise, there were no doctors available to be able to look Fengxia’s giving birth because all doctors have been sent to do hard labor for being "reactionary academic authorities" as a consequence of the ongoing Cultural Revolution in China. Is communism really is to blame for the different mishaps that the characters experienced? Does this movie made in order to persuade people to join the anti-communist movement?

Because of the critical portrayal of the various policies and campaigns made by the communist government in this movie, Zhang Yimou was banned from China and doing films for two years. The movie shows its viewers the different failures of Chinese communism, too much worship on Mao and the negative effects that were brought by the Cultural Revolution. Now the question that arises is, does the film “To Live” was an anti-communist movie? Some would say yes, because of the explicit and implicit connection of the tragedies experienced by the characters of the film. Others argue that the film is not really propaganda against communism. The most impressive thing that I think the movie possesses is its honesty, most of which can be attributed by the brilliant acting of the movie’s characters. People can feel the different emotions that come out from its characters. In order to be truthful in conveying what does ordinary Chinese people felt during those times- the movie showed not only the disadvantages but also some advantages that communism gives Chinese people. I think that the director only wants the viewers to show the truth not to hate communism. If the director really hated communism why would reconcile with the Chinese government and continue living in China. Whether or not the movie was made to rally against communism, I can say that the movie is very effective in showing its viewers the real images and emotions with what happened during this challenging time in Chinese history.

Relative to the other films that we watched in this class, this movie is more explicit in relaying to the political message of the film. I can describe it as an “in your face” movie because the film clearly shows its viewers what it wants to relay due to the honesty and rawness of the way the story was delivered in the film. But does explicitness makes the conveyance of political socialization ineffective? I argue that the explicitness of a movie’s message in some way contributes to its effectiveness but there are some factors that can still be an agent in order for the film to be more effective tool for political socialization. Its explicitness will be a very effective tool for political socialization specifically for those viewers who watch films only for entertainment and do not analyze much about a movie because they will easily get the point of the film. However, it is sometimes better for a film to be less explicit for the viewers to have a deeper connection on the film and maybe have a better effect on the political socialization of the moviegoers. But as stated earlier, there are other factors that can attribute to the effectiveness of a film as an agent of political socialization such as the different mise en scene elements and other contextual elements that may affect a moviegoer’s perception towards a film.

To conclude, the movie “To Live” gave us a perspective that is very close to ours which is the perspective of an ordinary man. And from this perspective, we had seen the different joys and pains that an ordinary Chinese citizen experienced during a time where resiliency is very hard due to the revolutionary changes that happen in China. This film is a very brilliant reflection of what really existed during those times. But the movie does not really tell us to hate communism, it shows us the value of “living”- whether you are up or down, we must continue living life just like the characters of this film had portrayed to us



Little Bun: [playing with chickens] When will they grow up?
Xu Jiazhen: Very soon.
Little Bun: And then?
Xu Fugui: And then... the chickens will turn into geese... and the geese will turn into sheep... and the sheep will turn into oxen.
Little Bun: And after the oxen?
Xu Fugui: After oxen...
Xu Jiazhen: After oxen, Little Bun will grow up.
Little Bun: I want to ride on an ox's back.
Xu Jiazhen: You will ride on an ox's back.
Xu Fugui: Little Bun won't ride on an ox... he'll ride trains and planes... and life will get better and better.

The lines above are the last few lines uttered in the film. In this parting scene, the viewers are given a huge room for interpretation as to what the film wants to convey. It is in this realization, that it is asserted in this review that the effectiveness of a film as a tool for political socialization does not solely rely on its explicitness to show its political content to the viewers. Occasionally, it is sufficiently needed that political messages are concealed behind scenes of symbolisms in order to capture and eventually provoke the audience towards realizing the deep messages embedded within a film.

The film To Live, by Zhang Yimou presents a narrative of the lives of Xu Fugui and Xu Jiazhen, the changes that took place within their society and the consequent transformations that took place within their family and personal sphere. Huozhe or To Live takes it viewers on a four-decade trip in China that starts from 1940s and traverses through the 1980s. The film tells the story of the family of Xu Fugui and the various personal changes that happened in their family in the context of societal transformations that were coincidently happening in China. The film explicitly shows the various transformations that happened in China for four decades. It shows the lives of the Chinese people during the pre-civil war era, during the civil war, during the Great Leap Forward, and finally, during the Cultural Revolution. Consequently, the film overtly shows the changes that happened within the personal lives of Xu Fugui and Xu Jiazhen and how these changes were affected by the operating context in China. As in Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qui Ju director Zhang Yimou meticulously presents a clear-headed view of Chinese life where the destinies of individuals are determined by forces beyond their control. To Live honors the resiliency of Fugui and his wife in the face of political change, bureaucratic incompetence, and personal tragedy.

The movie To Live was made in 1994 where China was slowly opening up its economy and its relations to the world. Its director, Zhang Yimou, was considered one of the filmmakers who belong to the so-called Fifth generation of Chinese filmmakers. It is in this period that filmmakers reject the traditional methods of storytelling and opted for a more free and unorthodox approach of filmmaking. Zhang Yimou, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Chen Kaige, Zhang Junzhao and others were considered the first group of filmmakers to graduate since the Cultural Revolution. Subsequently, it was during the Fifth generation period that Chinese cinema began reaping the rewards of international attention [the 1992 Golden Lion for Zhang Yimou’s the Story of Qiu Ju]. Extremely diverse in style and subject, the Fifth Generation directors' films ranged from black comedy (Huang Jianxin's The Black Cannon Incident, 1985) to the esoteric (Chen Kaige's Life on a String, 1991), but they share a common rejection of the socialist-realist tradition worked by earlier Chinese filmmakers in the Communist era. Some of their bolder works with political overtones were banned by Chinese authorities.

After looking at what the film is and how it is contextualized, three themes that are apparent in the film will then be recognized. Subsequently, this critique will revolve around the themes of changes, public vs private, and the explicitness vs covertness of political messages within a film. The first theme that is evident in the film is the theme of changes and how to cope with it. In the film, changes were introduced both on the individual and the societal level. On the individual level, the change that was introduced which was also influenced by the individual’s own doing - in this case, Xu Fugui, - was the change from being a landlord to an ordinary person. Seeing the changes on the economic status of lead character and his family, it is argued that these changes are brought about and are influenced by the personal doings of Xu Fugui- of the individual himself. On a societal level, the film shows the changes that were happening on the Chinese society and the various political systems and ideologies that were imposed on the Chinese people. Consequently, these societal changes have corresponding effects to the lives of everyone in the film. With the societal changes happening, it is asserted that in this context, individuals no longer have control over the changes that were happening to them, for it was already the external factors that operate, influence and affect the lives of the individuals.

In line with the idea of the individual and the society is the discourse between the public and private domain of the individual. The film ingeniously presented the dichotomy between the public and private domain using the context of the changes that happened in China. Pre-civil war, the structure of the Chinese society is individualistic in nature. There is a divide between an individual’s personal and family matters vis-à-vis his community and external environment. This is seen in the confrontation scene between Xu Fugui and Xu Jiazhen where the surrounding people, though listening to the two characters arguing, did not care to intervene and mingle with the issues and affairs of the couple. The shift to Communism blurs the divide between the personal and the public. It is seen in the film that during the communist rule, the Chinese people have little regard to their personal lives for it is the community and the state that they prioritize on. This high regard to the state as opposed to the personal or the family is evidently seen in how the people centralize themselves just to make steel for the state. In this scene, everyone is working for the state in such a way that even the children no longer enjoy their regular number of sleep. In this context, the divide between the public and the private is blurred; moreover, the Chinese society becomes collectivistic and gives prime on the commune and the government.

The last theme that can be extracted from the film is the discourse on the effectiveness of the film based on its explicitness to present its political messages to the public. The film, through its use of the various historical events that happened in Chinese society and juxtaposing those to the conditions of the Chinese people, explicitly presented the various conditions that happened to the Chinese people during the different transformations that took place. In this context, the film explicitly showed to the viewers the effects of the various transformations; most specifically, it presented the two sides of Pre-Communist and Communist China. Accordingly, the film also implicitly presented political messages by concealing the messages behind symbolic lines and messages. An example of which is the symbolism made to the seven buns that were eaten by the doctor that was supposed to guide the childbirth of the daughter of Xu Fugui, Fengxia. The doctor ate seven buns but by drinking water at the same time, each bun expanded to the size of seven buns. The doctor hence became semiconscious and cannot help the dying Fengxia. Therefore, Fengxia’s death is a result of the overeating of the doctor, because the doctor had actually eaten 49 buns. Consequently, 1949 was the year that the Chinese Communist Party cemented its hold in China. It is in this juxtaposition that the film implicitly conveys that Communism causes the death of the Chinese people during that era.

To Live is an inspiring and moving movie that will definitely capture the appeal and attention of its viewers. I personally liked the story for it tackled personal issues on the context of the external factors that affect the lives of the characters both on the personal and social levels. The film used the personal domain of life in order to discuss salient political issues within China. The film presents the various sides of communism, its advantages and disadvantages and its apparent effect to the Chinese people. It is in this regard that I view the film as a powerful tool for political socialization for it tries to tell its viewers that communism, while entailing some strong points, also entails strong weak points and some of which are the low human and social development and continuation of poverty. The film helped me to conclude that communism is not a totally effective form of political system for the evils that is also felt in democracies are also felt in this system, case in point, poverty.



Lloyd said...

“To Live” (Huózhe in Chinese) is a 1994 Chinese film directed by Zhang Yimou (who is also the director of the film “Raise the Red Lantern”). The film was based on the 1993 novel of the same name written by Chinese novelist Yu Hua. The film won numerous prestigious awards including the Grand Jury Prize at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.

The film’s story covers the first decades of the People’s Republic of China. Events during these decades are very controversial, albeit historical. These events include the end of the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the communist government in mainland China, the Great Leap Forward period, and the period of Cultural Revolution. The film illustrates how state-related events and state-instigated programs can influence its citizens’ actions and behaviors. It also shows its audience the implications of a civil war, and the banes and boons of a communist regime in the People’s Republic of China.

In the film, the passivity of people to government authorities is highlighted. During the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution periods (as seen in the film), the townsfolk are portrayed as people who adhere to Mao Tse Tung and the government policies without question. The film exposes its viewers the downside of being under communist authoritarian rule. The film also shows how a state can sow chaos and anarchy through purges of people branded as ‘counterrevolutionaries’ (e.g. the Cultural Revolution). Benefits of being under communist rule are also shown. These benefits include the establishment of communal kitchens (to promote equality symbolically and practically) and job generation (e.g. the production of steel, giving the townsfolk some sense of purpose during the time). Overall, the film has been fair in portraying what it is like during the two aforementioned periods.

While a lot of cons of having a communist regime in a country are shown in the film, still, it can be said that the film is neither pro-communist nor anti-communist. The film is neutral in its political content. There are several scenes wherein the Chinese townsfolk give too much praise to the regime in place and in Chairman Mao Tse Tung in particular. On the other hand, there are also instances wherein the major characters’ unfortunate experiences were attributed to the programs initiated by the Chinese government. In my point of view, I see the film only as a medium showing an honest portrayal of how life is during the early decades of communist rule in mainland China. Anyway, I still see the film as an effective tool for political socialization. The inexplicitness of the film’s message makes its audience think deeper about the implications of having a communist regime in place in one state. By not advocating a specific stand on the issue of communism, its viewers can interpret the film’s message based only on how they understood it. This, in turn, encourages healthy discussion (or debate) on what lessons can be drawn from the film. The film is very much subject to varying interpretations.

Zhang Yimou’s “To Live” is a great film. The film exposed me to the pros and cons of being under communist rule. By watching the film, it also made me evaluate the legacy of Mao Tse Tung. Chairman Mao is a very controversial figure. While he is instrumental to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and its early development, he is also the chief architect of the notorious Great Leap Forward which resulted to widespread famine in his country, and the notorious Cultural Revolution which spawned a lot of unnecessary deaths.


BoyBaket said...

Among all the movies viewed for this semester so far, I see this movie, “To Live” (1994), as the most challenging to comment on. We have had finished several challenging movies like “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1954) and “Poison” (1991) but I was able to make decent comments on them because I already know that the message they are trying to communicate are to be dug deep to be understood. This movie is so different from past movies because this movie bombards the audience with messages both explicitly and implicitly. Therefore the question, are political messages better conveyed explicitly or implicitly?

According to the class discussion, this movie was banned from being shown in China because it is a propaganda movie against the Communist Party. Is this observation true? If you are going to watch the movie, you will be confused why they said that this is a movie against communism. I believe that it is not because as I saw it, the movie actually presented another view of communism. For some moments in the movie I even wanted to try being under a communist rule. A communal society is a relatively stable community because no one gets left behind. Of course no actually society has achieved this level of being communal; but the movie gave me the image that a society following that kind of order is not at all bad. I was actually astonished by the idea of a communal kitchen, jobs for everyone, training for children so that they would have something to do when they grow-up and a healthy relationship among the whole community. I also admire the idea that during that time, people follow their leaders because they respect them so much, they have faith on their leaders and they work for the whole country. These are only some of the positive things the movie illustrated about communism. I am able to see communism from a different eye because of the movie and seeing it in this point of view for me gave a plus point on communism.

Viewing the movie at the surface presented some positive light on communism, but the audience should not be contented with what the eyes can see. Examining the movie deeper, we will be able to see that the movie also presented negative points of communism. The most problematic side of communism as depicted in the movie for me is that communism breeds paranoia to people eventually. As we have seen in the movie, so many problems have sprung out because of the people’s fear of each other. Examples would be the removal of the cadre leader from his position because they see him as anti-socialism; this also happened to the district leader, people accused him of being a capitalist. The biggest problem brought about by paranoia in the movie was the removal of all the doctors in the hospital where Fengxia was brought because people feared that they are counter-revolutionists. The paranoia ended up in a bigger problem and controversy against the regime. Even if the movie shows good points about communism, there are still things problematic about it. This is the message hidden between the tragedies suffered by the family of Jiazhen in the movie.

At the end of it all, we will be going back to the question posted above. Are political messages better conveyed explicitly or implicitly? My stand on this debate would be that I do not have a stand. I think that there are no specific better methods to convey political messages. It depends on the specific audience viewing the movie; it depends on his sensibility, his interests, his previous knowledge about the topics and many other factors. As discussed in class, viewing a film is a continuous act of giving meaning to each scene being shown between the audience and the director and staff who made the movie. No one answer is correct on this debate. Besides, I do not think that it actually matter which one is better, as long as the message is being passed on and the experience viewing the film will be worth the time, money and effort sacrificed then all is well.

Mendoza, Aldrick Daven M.

tinborja said...

When an experience is downplayed to reach the personal and private level, it becomes more understandable and relatable to the wider audience. This is exactly the magic of the film To Live. Incisive and heartfelt, the film effectively placed the viewers with the family and the experiences that they were going through. For two and a half hours or so, one feels that one is traveling with them rather than viewing them through a camera.
Indeed, it’s a shame that not more people have seen this movie. One of the greatest Chinese film of all time, splendidly photographed and composed, consummately acted and faithfully scored, To Live is one of the most unique political films that I have seen. Going through the cultural and political change of Mao’s Revolution, this film brought the whole experience down to the town person level. It was an everyday-story that reaches the most ordinary of viewer.
Then again, we see political event-turned into films that focused the story on the intricate inner happenings with the actors who are directly involved with the said political event- for instance, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Other political films would overly highlight the out-of-the ordinary experiences of unknown characters during political turmoil in a country- for instance Dekada 70. To Live however differs. The magic of this film is that it was able to subtly show the revolution that happened during Mao’s time, its positive and negative effects, in the life of the ordinary town person and one ordinary family. It was not a story of a hero who joined the revolution but of a family who experienced the revolution, and in the simplest way got directly affected by it.
Interestingly so, the film showcased the ethics and moral principles that have prevailed in Chinese culture for 2500 years- humility, grit, and social duty-these principles which allowed an ordinary couple to accept the unbearable tragedy that happened and keep living. Further realizations would make one see that yes, this is the story of one family, what makes that period more frightening is that the film only showcased the story of one family, just one family among millions. Indeed, the subtlety of showing how Mao’s Communist Revolution affected millions is seen in this movie, such that, indeed, no family was left unaffected.
Full of wisdom and moral, its gentle depiction of a family’s life in an environment of violence warms one heart to lack for words. The reach of the film is non-verbal, the approach silent and encroaching, the direction personal and private yet the reach of its effect is encompassing to that of a wider public.

Unknown said...

It’s all about choice. It’s about what we choose to do. If there is a fork in a road, we choose whether we go right, go left, go back or not move at all. And that’s what Zhang Yimou in his 1994 film, “To Live” showed. This film illustrates a family’s forty decades of existence under Chinese Rule—from the Chinese Revolution in the late ‘40s up to the Cultural Revolution in the 80’s. In its simplicity, Zhang Yimou sought to show a family life—and how the choices of each member in the family will lead to a change in the way they live. These choices may lead to something dreadful at first but then we see the good things that resulted from these choices.

We first see this when Fugui decided to continue on gambling which led to his family’s destituteness. This may seem a bad choice at first but later on, we see that it is actually a boon—the person who got their land was executed because he was a landowner. He became a puppeteer to support his family and was drafted into the Koumintang by an unfortunate event. Instead of dying like most of his comrades, he was saved because of his profession—he entertained the members of the Communist party during the war. We see then that his choices are influenced by the events that have happened around him. Not only that, what he is doing is still shaped by the society where he lives. He and his family became steel makers during the Great Leap Forward because that is what society dictated. They ate in a communal kitchen because that is what society dictated. We see then that whatever they do is dictated by society—their choice is not actually theirs but rather society’s choice. This family is actually constrained by society and whatever it is that society dictates.

In their society where the private sphere is part of the public, they know that their choices depend on what the government want—because that is what society and government dictate. But we must also ask ourselves a question. Do those who live in a “free” (where supposedly the private sphere doesn’t intersect with the public sphere, unlike that of communist state that we see in China) society really free to choose what to do? Or are they like those who live in China of that time who is dictated by society on what to do and how to act?

Because of this film, Zhang Yimou was banned from making a film for two years—the Chinese government deemed this film as anti-Communist. This assertion must be contested—To Live is not actually an anti-communist film. It actually doesn’t advocate anything that is in favor or against any ideology. What Yimou actually does is to show what’s really happening to the families living under Chinese Communist rule. There are always pros and cons to living in any regime and in this case, it was under a communist regime. Zhang Yimou should be commended for this film—it’s honest and portrays reality as it is. There are no frills that could interfere in the way the story is told. And that is the beauty of this film.


kristia said...

Up to what extent should the public govern the private?

Directed by Zhang Yimou, “To Live” is the story of an ordinary Chinese family and how their lives were affected by the changes in the political situation during the 1940s until the 1970s. The film covers both the comforts and the hardships that the family faced during the different political changes in Communist China. The film was eventually banned because of its supposedly anti-communist nature – an idea which is still debatable.

On the one hand, it can be said that the film is really anti-communist. There were a lot of scenes which showed how the family suffered because of the Communist Party. For example, the son (Youqing) was accidentally killed by the district head. This happened when the people were enlisted to donate all their scrap iron to produce steel to make some weapons. Meanwhile, the daughter (Fengxia) was killed after giving birth to her son. At that time, the doctors were imprisoned because of some revolutionary accusations taken against them. Only the young nurses were left to take their place and because of lack of experience, they didn’t know what they should do when Fengxia started to lose a lot of blood while giving labor, which eventually caused her death. The two events can be interpreted as the director’s way of showing how sometimes communism has a negative effect on the people.

Also, it should be noted that Fengxia was not born mute, she only became mute because of a fever. Her muteness can be considered as a symbol of how under the communist rule, the people do not really have a say on anything, they merely follow what is being asked of them. They follow the orders even though it may be against their will (e.g. being asked to distance themselves from a friend because their friend was considered a reactionary). This can also be considered as a negative effect of communism.

However, the idea that the film is anti-communist can still be contested. For one, the film also showed a different side of communism – what can be considered as its good side. When Fugui’s mother died, Fugi was not with the family and it was the new government who paid for her funeral. Also, the new government was the one who gave Jiazhen the job of delivering water so that Jiazhen can provide for the needs of their family while Fugui was gone. There was also the idea of a communal dinner wherein the government provided the public with food that they can eat. Another advantage of the communist rule was that the public became very obedient. Everyone did their best to follow what the government wants them to do and by doing so, there was peace and order in the society.

It can be said then, that the film was able to portray both the good and the bad sides of communism (with examples which can somehow be considered as exaggerated). This then leads to the main question that was raised earlier, up to what extent should the public govern the private? Should the government only interfere when it is needed by the society and in providing the basic needs of the public? Or should the government be included in all private activities, may it be in the way the public chooses their friends or even in the wedding of the citizens (it should be noted that in the wedding, the picture of Mao served as a backdrop in the wedding pictures and was even given as a wedding present)?

By presenting both the good and bad sides of communism, the film does not really offer a stand on whether it is for or anti-communism. What is definite about the film is that it tried to present how an ordinary family was affected by the changes in the political situation of the country. Usually, in films like this, what are presented are the lives of the more public figures and the upper class. This film however, tries to show that even the ordinary citizens who are not politically inclined are also affected. Furthermore, it was shown how the lines between the public and the private became blurred, proving that it is really inevitable that an event in one sphere affects the other sphere.

katwinny said...

Zhang Yimou’s To Live (Huozhe) is a film that shows how politics affect, not the usual macro level, but the everyday lives of Chinese during the reign of Chairman Mao. Like the Red Lantern, this is another collaboration of Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, which takes on the social issues within the personal experiences. I can say that it is a simple film in which the lives of the characters were the center, and not the bigger political issues. It follows the lives of Fugui and Jiazhen through the important period in China’s transformation from pre-communism to communism.

The idea of ‘change’ is very much seen in the film. At the beginning of the film when Mao Tse Tung was not yet the leader of the Communist Party, we could see the differences in the socioeconomic background of the citizens. Fugui is carried whenever he goes home after a gambling game. But the lost of Fugui’s fortune was coincided by the abolition of the social class. Along side the changes in Fugui’s socioeconomic status was the change in China’s society. The change within the character of Fugui, from an addicted gambler to a hard-working man is a representation of the citizens of China. Gambling, which resulted in debts and decided by chance, can be seen as symbol for capitalism; on the other hand, when Fugui started to work and made a contribution to society by giving entertainment to soldiers, made me think of the ideal perspective of communism. This can be summed up with the idea of how capitalism gives importance to the private sphere while communism is all about the public.

Yes, I think the film takes a stand against communism. There were scenes which show how the Cultural Revolution destroyed the beautiful artifacts, how the politics within the hospital contributed to the death of Fengxia and the deaths of citizens who were against the party. On the other hand, the film presented the god-like treatment of the citizens to Chairman Mao, the constant presence of the party’s symbols, the idea of the communal kitchen, and the adherence of the citizens to the party’s beliefs. The film somehow presents a correlation between the negative events that happened in the lives of the characters with the presence of the Communist Party everywhere. The lack of choice of the citizens is brought about by the perceived consequences if they do not follow what the party says.

Through the different decades that were shown, we see how Fugui and Jiazhen were able to adapt to the changes in their society. With its ending, there is hope within the two main characters to have a better life for their grandson. There is hope that the maturity of the communism will bring a better future. All in all, the simplicity of the film is its greatest strength because you can easily understand the emotions portrayed by the characters. The way the film explicitly conveys its political content fits right with the film’s focus on the personal experiences of Fugui and Jiazhen.


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

How one interprets and appreciates a film goes way beyond what we actually see on screen. This film, "To Live" is a perfect example.

Banned in mainland China, the film gives us a dramatization of China during the the Civil War, the early years of the People's Republic, and the subsequent social and political upheavals that occurred thereafter.

Contrary to what the others are saying, I find the film's rendition of how life was during that time as a bit jovial and light-hearted, and not as dark or sinister as I was expecting it to be. Notice how the controversial aspects, such as the poverty, starvation and repression indicative of that time period is surprisingly subdued and not at all highlighted in the film. Rather, the film portrays positive imagery, such as an abundance of food, the festivity and camaraderie of the townspeople, and an overall feeling that life was good in Mao's China, albeit in a satirical manner.

Generally speaking, the visual style of the film is cheerful and colorful. Perhaps without the dramatic content, the film looks, sounds and feels like a classic 1960's style propaganda poster (for reference, see here:

Notice as well the fact that the misfortunes experienced by the main characters were result of accidents, and not because of the direct involvement by the government in their lives- as far as we can see, they weren't really "victims" of Mao's regime.

Officially, the film is banned due to its critical portrayal of the various policies and campaigns of the Communist government during that time. But as I've mentioned, without our prior knowledge of the background and history, it would really be difficult for us to discern that this film was made as an anti-government piece. Which brings me back to my first point- How one interprets and appreciates a film goes way beyond what we actually see on screen.

Perhaps the Chinese government saw it fit to censor this film because it reminded them of Mao and the past. I think their reasoning is quite similar to the way Khrushchev rationalized the de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death. The Chinese government wanted to silence any form of remembrance of the so-called "dark ages" of China. The new China, the China that is already becoming the next global superpower, should do away with its past and move forward.

Ultimately, I think the film is neither an anti-government nor an anti-communist film. It was made solely for the Chinese people, both the old and the new generations, in order for them to remember their history and their past. And I feel that this is the thing the Chinese government truly feared the most and the reason why they had to ban this film. Memories evoke very strong feelings emanating from past experiences. Therefore, bad memories that evoke the feelings of disgust and shame should be suppressed altogether.


Unknown said...

The movie “To Live” by Zhang Yimuo tells about the story of one Chinese family subsisting through the communist transition and institutionalization in China. I agree with the authors of the main entries that the movie showed how the changes in the government inevitably affected each household in that country. The movie showed positive and negative effects of the transition to the societies inside China. Regarding the thesis discussing the explicitness of the message of a movie and its relationship to its effectiveness for political socialization, I believe that this does not have any strong positive or negative relationship. This is such because a movie’s effectiveness can be assessed by examining the totality of the movie and not relying just on one dimension of it. In addition its explicitness cannot be examined ceteris paribus, for example changing one film from explicit to covert without changes in other elements of the film is unachievable. Thus if we would treat a film explicitness as an indicator for effectiveness we would suffer to reductionism since a film should be assessed in totality and not by its parts.

Going back to the film, the message I get from the film was rather neutral and non-prescriptive. Neutral in the sense that film provided both good and bad effects of the communist rule. The movie tries to present that changes in the top of the society perpetuates changes down to the bottom of the society. The movie further suggested to me the loss of the freedom of action of the people. Freedom is thus questioned because the actions of the people were all dependent to the changes from the top and even though these changes do not embody the ideals of the people in the grassroots. The message was explicitly conveyed because the characters that were used to convey it were common people that are easily related to by the viewers.

Considering the accusations to this film as being intended to be an anti-communist propaganda, I think that it is not and if it was it would not be effective. One of the stark contrasts presented to the film was that of the deaths of their children. On one side Fugui was shown to blame himself for the death of their children and on the other side was the death itself that it was caused by the communist activities. In this regard, the film does not truly prescribe which is wrong but creates an avenue where the viewer is to judge which is which. Whose fault is it? Who should be blamed? What else could have been done? And countless what if questions. In the end it compels the viewer to choose who to blame for the tragic deaths. And the viewer’s answer would then be based not on the prescription of the movie but on the pre-existing notions and beliefs of the viewer. Thus this would change the perception of that person thus people who would be for would still be for and those against will still be against.

The movie does not prescribe an attitude toward communism but it makes us realize our stand towards it. In the end the movie makes the viewers recognize that changes at the top inevitably trickle down to each and every house hold and shape their daily lives. But even though such things happen there are still things that the individual can do. There are still things in his control. And these moments are the truly important ones.

denisefrancisco said...


The only thing permanent in life is change.

The film To Live can attest to this. Set in China, the film revolves around the lives of Xu Fugui and Xu Jiazhen during the time when communism was beginning to become a permanent part in the lives of the Chinese citizens. Throughout the story, change was very evident. From the way they lived their personal lives to the decisions they made in accordance to their society, the concept of change was there.

The life lived by Xu Fugui during this time was no joke. It was a life full of obstacles and challenges that I myself found very devastating. He and his family had to make adjustments in order to survive. Their change in lifestyle was one example. If before, being a landlord allowed him to gamble all their money, he now had to transfer to a smaller home and earn a living by becoming a puppeteer, to the point of being in the brink of death just to make his family survive each day and make ends meet. He and his family also had to offer their services to the community that they belong to. And in their conscientious will to do so, a lot of things were sacrificed, especially the lives of their two children. This is an example as to how communism has changed their lives. Willing or unwilling, there seemed to be a burst in their personal bubble which caused them to reach out to the rest of the members in the society. They had to open themselves up to the public. Here, I see each person in their community as an important factor in achieving success. It’s as if each individual plays a vital role, and in the end is given recognition for the efforts that he or she has offered in the course of rendering his or her services. The success of one is the success of all the others. Unity is definitely no question in the community. However, I think that communism in this movie is seen as a double edged sword. It can either be good or bad to the individual or the society. In a positive sense, it was seen as a boosting factor when it comes to the steel making industry of the people in the community where Xu Fugui and his family belong. Everyone was recognized for every achievement in the community as it was believed that each and every one of them is important. It was also seen as a unifying factor among the people where equality, responsibility and cooperation were seen to be developing among the individuals. However, on the other side, it was implicitly blamed for the decision made by the actors in the movie, which caused them the loss of their two children. If not for giving due importance to the request for the appearance of their son during the arrival of the chief, their child could still be alive. Their decision to let their daughter get married, in my opinion, was also caused by what was happening around them. They wanted their daughter to have a good life, thus seeing marriage as the key solution.

denisefrancisco said...


Change is an unending process. This is caused by the decisions that we make. Some of these may be due to our own will, while others are dictated to us by the society to which we belong. However, change on the other hand can affect the way we make decisions. Just like in the case of Xu Fugui and his family, both the changes in his private and public life have influenced his decisions, resulting to either good or bad. Nevertheless, despite the unfortunate events that happened in the lives of the characters in the movie, there was still a positive outward looking in the end, which I think is an important attitude in life, no matter how bad things seem to be.

The movie is inspirational and educational at the same time. It became an effective tool in conveying its political message to the viewers. What made it all the more convincing and attractive was the fact that it made use of a more personal appeal through the story of the main characters. Communism was not presented as a concept through spoon feeding. Rather, its idea and main points were embedded in the story of Xu Fugui and his family, which I believe is very personal and heartwarming.


Anonymous said...

Zhang Yimou is one of the most famous Fifth Generation Chinese Cinema filmmakers, a celebrated name brand in world cinema since Red Sorghum (1997). His works, as a successful filmmaker, has been treated as a “singular world bearing the signature of its auteur.” As such, his films are to be read within the parameters of his own creation, without deconstructing “the visual and the aesthetic into the immediate socio-political.” Despite such insistence, however, it remains true that films as texts are “necessarily aestheticized representation[s]” of a “necessarily politicized” reality. It therefore remains important to look at the social and political context and how it is mediated in the film.

The Fifth Generation Chinese Cinema, and in general the films after the Cultural Revolution, allowed the release of “scar dramas,” which depicted the emotional ordeal left by the period. At the same time, it was an attempt to get rid of the traditional methods of storytelling (the “walking stick of drama”) and the adoption of “more free and unorthodox approach” (modernization of film language). Further, especially in the case of Yimou, their works have subverted the ideologically-driven representation of China.

That being said, To Live (1994) can be seen as a parody of the socialist propaganda. The film presents the “essential opposition between the lived time of the imperilled self and a false sense of the absolute” that has been fostered by Maoist certainties. This is seen in the ascendancy of chance and risk as a textual device. The use of gambling at the beginning of the film, for instance, marks the beginning of the sense of uncertainty maintained throughout the film. In contrast with conventional propaganda films which present “static qualities...promoted by inflexible political agendas,” Yimou portrayed the uncertainty that permeate individual life, as seen in the journey of the male protagonist (from being rich, to a poor puppeteer, a conscript, and so on).

Further, the film, exploited for political ends during the previous period, serves as a critique of metanarratives that promises absolute progress in history. The presentation of the disparity between political promises and everyday realities is evident, constantly discrediting the custodians of power. The idea of community (as in communism), for instance, contrasts with the disputes happening in the communal kitchen. Likewise, the tragedy brought about by the inefficiency in the hospital proves this point.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the use of the personal circumstance to present the social experience. Yimou distinguished To Live in its “emphasis on the characters and their relationships. It is much more well-delineated; it’s much more central focus of the film as opposed to the events happening to them.” In the same manner as Hiroshima mon Amour, the film makes use tragic personal experience, of poverty and death, to represent a social reality. Additionally, the focus on the food/eating is indicative of this attempt to “looking hard” at the personal lives of the people.

In the end, if the film is observed, the object that remained throughout the film is the puppets (or its box). This gives meaning to the title of the film: life is a series of compromise and surrender.


lenggaleng said...


To live is to what?

This was the first question that came into my mind while watching Yimou Zhang’s To Live. Watching this film made me reflect on what is really the purpose of living. I honestly like this film as it tackles the meaning of life, and I know that all of us can relate to it as we all have our own personal views on which things we should prioritize in life. Does living one’s life mean having money or, having people who love you? Does the meaning of life depend on material things, or on important values such as love?

To Live (Huozhe) is a 1994 film directed by Yimou Zhang that tells the story of a couple namely, Fugui and Jiazhen, as they struggle to live in the midst of turmoil and chaos that is happening in their country. They faced a lot of problems and challenges in different periods of China’s history such as the Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, this film depicts what life was like in China during its transition into a Communist country.

This film reminded me of Titanic where in, though the sinking of the Titanic ship happened in real life, Jack and Rose’s love story in the film was a fictional one. Just like in Titanic, the story of Fugui and Jiazhen may not be exactly a real and true-to-life story, but it reflects how life was like in general for the Chinese people during the different periods of China’s history. For me, the film had a good portrayal of what China was like before since it gave me an idea or a picture of how life was like for the Chinese people back then.

Furthermore, I love how the film showed two different meanings of living one’s life. The first part of the film showed Fugui’s family being rich and having a beautiful house and yet, they always have a problem within their family, such as Fugui’s addiction to gambling. On the other hand, the second part of the film showed Fugui’s family being poor and having to work hard so that they will have something to eat, but they are happy being together as a family. I feel that the film wants me to decide on which things I should prioritize in my life. In addition, the film was all about change. As the setting (time and place) in the film changes, the characters in the film change as well. In short, the film was all about dynamics.

Now going to its themes, family, loyalty and materialism are some of the central themes I think that can be found in this film. One can see how Fugui really value his family that he even willingly stopped gambling just so his wife, Jiazhen, and his two kids would once again return to him. One can see the theme of loyalty in the film as most of the characters were very loyal and adherent to the ideologies of Communism, such as the young nurses in the hospital. One can also consider Fugui being not loyal at all as he just adapts to whatever that is happening in his society, as long as his family would benefit from it. Materialism is also a dominant theme in this film as one can see how important for Fugui it is for his family to have a comfortable life since they suddenly became peasants from being the elite ones. One can also see how this concept of materialism was perceived to be as something evil in the film as Communism is all about being communal and not desiring certain things for personal satisfaction.

lenggaleng said...


What is political in the film is very evident as it showed the political chaos that changed the entire country in history. It showed the radical shift of the regime to Communism and its effects on the Chinese people. Moreover, I find it very ridiculous that these people even include their Communist leader, Mao, as part of their private events such as the wedding of Fugui and Jiazhen’s daughter. Here, one can see that there is no distinction between what is public and what is private since Communism is all about everyone being equal and sharing in everything that they have. In Communism, there is no concept of ‘private’ since this concept is highly associated with Capitalism, which Communism is strongly against for.

In general, I really like the film since it made me realize that family is more important than money. However, I must say that I am not really in favor of Communism because I believe that we all have the right to own something, or in other words, the right to property. Not only that, but I also believe that we all have the right to privacy as well.



Czarina XD said...

When it comes to the effectiveness of a film in conveying its meaning, subtlety and explicitness play a huge role in not just capturing its viewers’ attention, but also in plunging them into different worlds of particular and redeployed realities—sometimes even in a simultaneous manner. But when does a film become ‘subtle’ in the messages it is trying to pursue? Is it when the viewer is very much enthralled to it and is given much more time and space to interpret its symbolisms? On the other hand, when does a film become so ‘explicit’, and as even mentioned by one of the main entries for this film, very much ‘in your face’? Is it when every issue, every development, is presented in an unambiguous and predictable manner?

The film To Live (1994), directed by one of the fifth generation of film-makers, Zhang Yimou, seemed to completely transcend from the mere question of whether or not it is being subtle or explicit in its content. Spanning four decades of Chinese history, it presented both the cultural and revolutionary changes in China to the Chinese people themselves and to the whole world. By bringing down those important changes from the public to private by depicting the adapting choices made by two unassuming characters, Fugui and his wife, Jiazhen, during extremely different and difficult times, the film successfully integrated both implicit and explicit techniques in conveying its messages. Before this film, I thought that it should always be either of the two—the film is either subtle in pursuing the perspective it had chosen or not. It can never be both, for it will never make sense, nor is possible, for a film to be both implicit and explicit. But impossible as this might sound, To Live made such impression on me: that it is the best of both worlds.

The film is implicit in a sense that it just followed the lives of Fugui and Jiazhen: their changes in their personality through time, their diverse beliefs, the honest choices they made. It showed how simple folks during diverging times adapted to the revolutions and their losses. Does that constitute implicitness? It could be, for subtlety is relative. It is for me. It is the same for the other films I dubbed implicit: Hiroshima Mon Amour, the 400 Blows, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. It is the space from which the film gives to its viewers to make sense of other meanings, and not imposing a certain choice. On the contrary, To Live is also very much explicit. With the color red being very much dominant in the film, coupled by Communism spills and graphics, I can say that those things are no subtle techniques. Along with the overt chiding of who’s at fault that certain things had happened, the film deliberately places its viewers into a side up against the sinners. But that does that make any sense, that this film is both implicit and explicit? It might not be, but it does to me, for the bigger question is whether such fusion of techniques is effective. And when I look at it, To Live goes beyond the conventional when it comes to portraying significant stages in one's life that is in turn, shaped by the society and other forces. But as I had already learned in this class, a film's effectiveness does not lie its conventionality. It lies in the intricacies and at the same time, the simpleness of a film that makes us see the larger picture of a struggle for betterment, of a lot of decision-making, and most importantly, to live and endure amidst life's atrocities—and that's just what To Live is all about.


migscardenas said...

With a storyline which spanned for four decades, To Live is a story of a Chinese family and their struggles upon China’s communist transition. The movie realistically depicted how the private lives of the citizens were affected when china shifted its form of government. The old feudal China was highly patriarchal that is why the transition required so much force and violence. The wealth and properties of those who were considered landlords were confiscated and worse many of them were executed. The movie was quite successful in capturing this side of Chinese history.

To Live or Lifetimes is a 1994 film directed by Zhang Yimou and produced by the Shanghai Film Studio and ERA International. This is one of the many collaborations between Zhang Yimou and Gong Li. This film has stirred much controversy which resulted in the banning of the film in China by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film Television. Also, Yimou was banned from doing films for two years because of allegations that the movie was critical of the policies and programs of the Chinese Communist Party.

It may be argued that the film presented both sides of communism. On one hand, the film depicted how the government assisted in the funeral of Fugui’s mother. The government also helped Jiazhen with her water delivery job. However, much emphasis was given on the negative side. For one, both Fugui’s children were killed during the communist transition. The little boy died when the wall collapse because of an accident involving the district chief which was incidentally one of Fugui’s comrades during the civil war. Their eldest daughter died while giving birth since there were no experienced doctors and nurses to assist her in her delivery. These events definitely changed how the family perceived communist rule in China. Given all of these, it can be said that somehow the film if shown in China may influence the people to rethink about allowing communism to still perpetuate in their country. The metaphor of the seven loaves of bread which expands seven times is a symbolism of how the ideology can be very detrimental to the society. It was in 1949 (seven times seven is forty-nine), when Mao Zedong institutionalized the People’s Republic of China and proclaimed himself as the Chairman. Throughout the film, many other events implicitly served as critiques to the communist regime.

It is also interesting how the distinction between what is personal and what is public has been blurred because of the transition. Before the change, the society was dominated by landlords who were trying to pursue their personal interests at the expense of other people. The titles of Fugui’s properties, especially his house, were taken by Long’er upon his successive loss in gambling. These were considered private transactions before. However when the new government took over, Long’er was subjected to a trial leading to his execution. Even private matters had already become part of the affairs of the state. Another was during the wedding ceremony of Fugui’s daughter. It may be unconventional for many but for them it was normal to revere Chairman Mao even in these occasions. They even took their picture with a portrait of Mao as background. What is important for them was the idea that the Chairman was part of the ceremony.

The move from different stages of transition was successfully portrayed in the film. From the feudal China, to the civil war, Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution, To Live was able to show how the Chinese people managed to survive given all of these changes. Understanding China may be far from the perspective of those outside this continental state. It is easy for us to make judgments simply because we are not in the scene when everything was happening. Change is inevitable and China is a testament to the ever-changing society that we live in.

Ina_Partosa said...

"Little Bun won't ride on an ox... he'll ride trains and planes... and life will get better and better. "- Xu Fugui, HuoZhe (1994)*

Simple and yet powefully moving... this is how I would describe the film. It is nothing like the common mainstream drama that one usually sees in mainstream media. It is an intense film that tackles about the essence of living and the inevitable changes that shape us and make us a the person we are right now.

It spun for four decades, covering the life of the couple Fugui and Jiahzen and how they tried to survive despite the horrific tragedies that life had to offer them. Even more, it shows the development of Chinese politics from Civil War China to Communist China up to the status that it has right now. It depicted the gradual interweaving of the private and the public sphere in the lives of individuals and the presentation of the concept of communal or shared. In essence, it gives you the private experience (Fugui's gambling problem and loss of property to Long'er) as well as the public experience (communal kitchen, melting of metals for the community, division of labor) and challenges you to see whether there is a blurring of the distinction between the two.

It gives you second thoughts about the relevance of communism (their misfortunes indirectly caused by communism), the delineation of the public and private ( as shown in the couple arguing whether to send their son to school or let him sleep) and the concept of free will vs. obligation. It is not as explicit in its critiques and political messages as one expects it to be but it deeply etches in the viewer's brain the heartbreaking images of life and death along with the emotions that come with it. It uses black humor to present an otherwise serious social issue and make it light and acceptable for the audience minus the risk of sounding boring and cliche.

This is more than just a movie that tells us about how we should not give up despite the challenges that we face in life. This is a film that pays tribute to how flexible the Chinese people are when it comes to changes that come their way and how strong their culture is across time periods. It is blunt and simple and yet, there is something in the bluntness of the story that pierces your heart and makes you flinch as you follow Fuigui's and Jiazhen's lives and their fortunes and misfortuner -- the death of their children, the desire for survival and the struggle to live and support themselves and their family.

Regardless of your culture, you will find that this film is very easy to relate to . The dialogues are palatable enough to make you believe that this happens in real life. The main protagonists' characters were well established ; so effective it makes you believe that they are not just mere figments of the writer's imagination but real people who are going through the challenges brought about by changes in government and personal experiences.

It is a good film worth watching., convincing and very moving. The cast were superb, especially Gong Li( Jiazhen) and Ge You ( Fugui). They were able to portray a normal family complete with emotional attachments and sentimental facial expressions that can surely shatter your heart to pieces.

The main focus of this film is basically is the theme of change and it's inevitability. It shows the resiliency of an individual and the influence of familial ties in terms of survival and obligations. What comes first? The family, the individual or the society? It makes you think deeply about to what extent a person is willing to follow rules over his own flesh and blood. It is an inspiring movie that can surely make you stop and look back in life to scrutinize each and every action you have done in your life.


Kristine Camia said...

‘To Live’ or Huozhe (1994) is one of the many notable works of award-winning Fifth Generation director Zhang Yimou. The film focuses on the story of Fugui and Jiazhen’s family and their struggle for a simple quiet life. Highlighting human emotions and relationships, Director Yimou was able to communicate the pain, happiness and sorrow of people during the times when the country was socially and politically unstable. It also shows the viewers the experiences of a typical Chinese family and the difficulty of ensuring a good life for their family when making a choice is very crucial.
Furthermore the movie shows the continuous effort of the family heads, Fugui and Jiazhen to secure the happiness of their family especially their children. But in this search, can we say that this desired outcome solely depends on the decisions of the family members? Can the family really determine the things that will ensure them this happiness or is the community the better decision-maker? Can the community (public) provide a kind of happiness and contentment for the family (private) that no other group (even their own family) can provide?
In the film, it is very apparent how certain political and societal events shape the life of Fugui’s family. He was separated from his family for a very long time because of the war, their son died because of some community rules that everyone has to follow and lastly their daughter died because of a political ideology that kept the country far from the professionals. Amidst all these, their family was able to survive. They chose to continue and face all the problems. With every change in their country and their community, they did all the things necessary to adapt to these changes even sacrificing things that are important to them.
They live in a real community where concern and compassion for fellow citizens is very apparent. Everyone is playing their part in the community with no complaints. Everyone shares the pain and glory of one another. Everyone in the community, in some way or another, is happy and contented.
But looking at it closely, we can see that although their community epitomizes a good community, they always find their true happiness in their family, in their children. No matter how close they are to their community and to their friends, they cannot find the same amount or kind of happiness that they find inside their home.
By this, I don’t intend to downgrade the importance of the community. It is important but there are just some things the public cannot provide no matter how long or extensive they dwell into people’s personal lives. The community or the government (public) may do all they can to control or to direct people’s lives, but in the end, the personal choices of private individuals will prevail. They may choose to go against the rules or like in the movie, follow these rules and adapt.
And I think this is the part in the story I did not like. It makes me wonder whether in some point in their life, Fugui and Jiazhen thought that the system there in is not good for them in the long run. It seems that they are just following the rules without asking questions. They sacrifice some part of their lives (example: the puppets) so they can conform to the current rules. They do all these without being critical.
Yes it can be argued that it is very easy to say these things right now because we are not in the situation they were in and that we did not experience a life where being critical means death. But would asking questions or discussing issues with your partner or family cost you your life?
Indeed, overall the movie is good but it is unforgettable. It is good in a sense that it is really family-oriented and very touching (it can make you cry) but it is not very original for me. It is touching and moving in the same way that Anak (movie by Vilma Santos and Claudine Baretto) is for me. Nonetheless, the movie is a good film with its beautiful setting and commendable performance of the lead actors and actresses.


MercurialMe said...


In the traditional discourse, politics is associated more broadly with the “public” as opposed to the “private” life. However, this conception has been challenged by the recent developments in political science, especially with the acknowledgement of the diffusion of power in different spheres of society. It is only now that we can see the power structures beyond that of the state—as apparent in gender relations or that of socioeconomic status, to name a few.

The delineation and eventual blurring of the public and private domain is one of the themes that Zhang Yinou’s “To Live” (1994) accentuates. This beautifully crafted Chinese film is about the ups and downs of Xu Fugui (played with much aplomb by Ge You), his wife Jiazhen (starring the silent yet strong Li Gong), and their two children as keep up with the ever-changing social changes within and beyond their lives. Not only were the ideology espoused by the ruling party purveyed to every household (the scene were Jiazhen and Fugui argued about letting their son sleep or waking him up to serve his dues to the country is recalled), but it perpetuated their everyday rituals that it became part of their identities (such as the major role of Chairman Mao in the wedding photos).

Beginning in the late 1940s, the movie spans four decades and with each decade intricately weaving a tale of life, love and loss that surpasses the different pivotal moments in Chinese history: from the Chinese Civil War, to the Great Leap Forward, all the way to the Cultural Revolution. What’s interesting is that we see how these factors play a major role at the “micro” level: the movie implies that it is the social factors that shape individuals through the smallest unit in society. Thus we see how the unprecedented turn of events socialize the individuals that make up the social sphere. For instance, it was through the mobilization of the government that pushed Jiazhen to sell water at the dawn of each day in order to make both ends meet, sacrificing her time for her family.

MercurialMe said...


Living under communism dictates that each person actually finds meaning in the public domain. The movie, however, shows that it is not the case: it is in the most delicate and solitary private moments that the individual still yearns to live by. There is a quiet desperation to depart from this particular ideological form of government, as seen in the struggles of the protagonists. To underscore this fact, in the part where Fugui and Jiazhen’s daughter was giving birth, their attempt to revive the bleeding mother ended in vain because of the lack of foresight by the inexperienced doctors from the regime. It was a heartbreaking scene that could be helped if only they took the assistance of the more experienced doctor, who happened to be a political prisoner. This, apart from the other more explicit anti-communist scenes, would probably account for the reason why Zhang Yinou’s award-winning film was banned in China.

At a personal level, I particularly enjoyed the film because it was very humanistic and sincere in its portrayal of a typical Chinese family struggling to survive amidst social change. It was candid in displaying the ills of war, as well as the flaws of the government. I think overall, it was an effective channel for political socialization, for it gave the viewers a clear picture of what was indeed happening in China at that particular point in time without overpreaching, and only subtly but effectively conveying its message.


stenote said...

To Live is a great movie by Zhang Yi Mo.... watch also his shows on the river Yangshuo, very impressive.... May I share an article about the Liu Sanjie show in
Watch the video in youtube