To Live Review
To Live was a wonderful movie which exemplified many aspects of Chinese culture. It also portrayed many themes about life and perseverance that we can all learn from as well. Many of the examples of Chinese culture appeared in the film, such as burial ritual, the wife's loyalty to the husband, Guanxi, Ganqing, patriarchal order, and the social hierarchy of China. Also, the themes of redemption, as well as repentance, family ties, and perseverance were prevalent throughout the film. In this paper, I will discuss these themes and concepts from the film and how they help us to better understand the Chinese culture and mindset.
In the film, we saw a few examples of Chinese burial ritual. When the grandfather died, they erected the carved stone with his name, representing his spirit. Also when the son died they had a funeral which included the ritual of burning money, food, and paper objects, so that the son could adjust better in the afterlife. They also set out dumplings, his favorite food, so that he could eat them in the afterlife. His death was especially sad because he was their only son; he was meant to carry on his patriarchal family line that would otherwise stop with his father. Also the mom played her role well during the funeral ritual by being the principle mourner and crying more than anyone. This film showed us a unique and personal perspective on Chinese funeral rites that can sometimes seem strange to foreigners.
Another concept thatthat showed up in the film was the loyalty of Chinese wives to their husband’s family, as well as Chinese marriage ritual. Even though the wife hated what her husband was doing by gambling, she stuck with him. Then, even after leaving him for a short time, she came back to her husband and his mother because of the loyalty she had for the traditional Chinese family system. Also in the restaurant, she had to endure her husbands’ scolding and direct commands and not speak back, even though her husband was being foolish and was going to ruin the family; it exemplified the male dominant role that existed in traditional China. Then, when the daughter was married, there was a traditional matchmaker that set up the couple for the parents. Although the wedding lacked many traditional elements because of the great leap forward, the couple still wore the color red and there was a big procession for them. Also, the daughter cried and was sad because she was leaving her family to stay with her husband. Throughout the film, we could see the loyalty of wives to their husbands under the traditional Chinese social system.
Some other concepts that appeared in the film was the concepts of guanxi and ganqing. An example, of this was when the husband went back to the man to whom he had lost the house; the man, because of their past relationship and for feeling bad for gaining the house, gave him back a box of puppets. With this box of puppets the husband was then able to earn money. Also we saw guanxi take effect during the war when the three men stayed together and helped each other because of the prior relationship they had by being from the same village. Yet another example of this was when the district leader killed the son; because of his prior guanxi with the parents, the district leader felt bad and vowed to repay them, all the way to the end of his life. From watching the movie, it is easy to understand that guanxi and ganqing are integral parts of Chinese society.
The film also showed us examples of the patriarchal order of Chinese society. The husband lived with his father in the same house at the beginning in of the film; his wife had moved away from her husband's family. Although she kind of went against this system when she left her husband, she did come back after her son was born, because her son belonged to his father. Also when the daughter was married, she left her parents to be with her husband, because she became a part of his parent’s lineage. We can see from this movie that the patriarchal family system was a prevalent part of Chinese society.
We also saw the many different social rankings and roles in Chinese society represented in the film. The men seemed to be above women in all cases. Because if his wealth, at first the husband was looked well upon. But later he was looked down upon because his social status had changed. The man who had won the bets was not friends with him like before; they couldn't even joke with each other. Also the husband was very humble and used formal words with him because he was of a higher social class. The elderly were treated with respect as well throughout the film. The traditional Chinese social system seems to convey that age and wealth heighten one’s social ranking.
In the film we could see a constant theme of redemption throughout. At the beginning, the husband had a terrible gambling problem and lost everything, including his wife for a while. But he spent the rest of the film trying to redeem himself; he quit gambling and tried to live an honest life. Because of this, his wife came back to him and he was able to get his family back. He also tried to redeem himself by working as a puppeteer and making some money back and also when he joined the army which helped his status and position in society. Also the wife had some redemption when she came back to her husband, because she wanted to have a happy quiet peaceful life. She also tried to work for the family to bring them out of poverty. Another example of redemption was when the man who killed their son tried desperately to make up for what he had done by offering the family gifts and money, until finally they forgave him. This film gives us hope that no matter what happens in life, we can, with time, make things better.
In To Live, the theme of family togetherness was also a major theme in the movie. The film went beyond simply stating the man and his wife should be together because that of the way the society was set up, but we could see that the husband and wife truly love each other, are happy together, and want to stay together. We first saw this when the wife left the husband and how sad he was; he didn't want to be with any other woman. Also, the son still took care of his mother in their poverty. The wife also came back because she knew they had to be a family, and she wanted a happy family life. Also when the husband went out to war, all he could think of was his family, if they were oaky, and how happy he was with them. Then, when the daughter was married, she still came back and visited them often, even though she was part of her husband’s family. This film helped us see that despite the government and social issues that people faced, families were still the most important part of society in China.
Overall, this film exemplified and showed many themes of its own. We were able to see into the Chinese human heart through the themes of family ties, redemption, repentance, and perseverance in the film. Also we were able to apply the concepts we learned in class by identifying them in the film, with concepts of Chinese burial ritual, the subservient wife, patriarchal order, guanxi, and social hierarchy. To Live truly taught us about life and what living in Chinese society was like during the early twentieth century.
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