To better understand the movie, To Live, one must have a background of the respected director, Zhang Yimou better known as China s Fifth Generation filmmaker. He was born in 1951 in the city of Xi an and Shaanixe Providence. During this period, China was undergoing a Cultural Revolution: The new communist government suppressed the KMT Nationalists during the civil war in the 1940 s and China was shifting toward communist government. Zhang s father, an advocate of KMT Nationalist was most influential in bringing his family to destruction. By 1950 s suspicion was taking a toll on Zhang s family. His brothers fled to other countries.
Zhang, who was left in China, was forced to surrender his right to education and condemned to a long period of hard labor at a textile factory. The demise of the reign of Mao Zedong in 1976 reopened many universities that were once closed. Under the reign of the new successor, Deng Xiapeng, new educational opportunity arose for many Chinese students. For Zhang Yimou, it was his passion for film to further his education. Zhang s interest in film was always evident: he has been known for giving his blood to raise the money to buy a camera. Furthermore, in pursuit for his dream, Zhang Yimou passed the entrance exam in Beijing Film Academy.
However, he had to struggle with his opponents that tried to deny his admittance to the university because of his age: They claimed that he was too old to attend the university. With a reasoning that his delay of pursuing an academia in film was the fault of the untimely Cultural Revolution, an appeal from the Minister of Culture was given and Zhang was given an opportunity to pursue his dream. Soon after graduation in Beijing Film Academy, the graduates composed of Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Zhang Junzhao, and Zhang Yimou were known as the Fifth Generation.
Zhang Yimou is well recognized from his various successful movies such as Ju Dou, The story of Qui Ju, Raise the Lantern, To live, etc. In his 1994 premiered movie To Live, the story portrays the pre and post Communist China. The depiction is made through the Xu family which consist of Fugui, Jiazhen, Youquing and Fengxia. The main character, Fugui, plays an important role because he surmounts three main calamities in his life. At the beginning of his misfortune, he loses his family mansion, after awhile, he loses his son and near the end of the movie he loses his daughter.
We should note the significance of Fugui s losses: every time he encounters a loss, China itself undergoes a transformation. These losses are inevitable tragedies that Fugui has to face, and furthermore, the transformation of China to communism, which parallel Fugui s losses were unavoidable as well. We should also note the importance of the plot: the way Fugui and in the latter, Jiazhen, endures through these ascetic circumstances because they have the ability to acknowledge the tragedies as a part of living a life.
Zhang Yimou illustrates different messages within each time period, but one main point of this movie is obvious: all the tragedies that the Xu family faces are just a part of living. Set in China during the 1940 s, we find Fugui as a gambler: An upper class master who loses his family mansion due to his uncontrollable gambling habits. Jiahen, Fugui s wife, leaves him, making him homeless and leaving him to take care of his mother. He is forced into a different lifestyle: Fugui s life changes dramatically – from a wealthy upper class master to a poor working class.
However, his wife returns with a newly born child, Youquing. Her return provides new hope and courage for Fugui, who sets out to make a living with Taupe: a special entertainment in China using paper puppets with people playing and singing music in the background. Fugui s job as a Taupe singer required heavy traveling. While playing for an audience, his friend Cheungshe and Fungui are captured by Chinese Soldiers to fight against the communists in the battle against POWS and the Reds.
Many times, Fungui s life was threaten when he was capture by the POWS but Fugui returns home safely after serving in the Liberation Army. Upon his return, he finds Long er, whom he lost his mansion to from gambling, being executed for his refusal to give a portion of his wealth to the Chinese Government. A life lesson is learned for Fugui, who recognizes that he could have been the one executed if he had not lost the mansion to Long er from gambling. Additionally, this is the beginning of China s conversion toward communism.
Second inevitable tragedy is the death of his son, Youquing. He is killed by his friend, Chunseng in a car accident. The death of his son is marked by an immense transition of the Chinese government. In 1950 s, the communists have taken over China and started to influence the Chinese ideological view. By this period, it is clear that the townspeople had the belief that communism was prosperous for China and life would improve under the power of Mao Zedong. For example, even the Xu family donated their metal pans to the government without coercion from the government.
Fugui and Jiazhen have arranged a marriage with the towns chief finding a husband for Fengxiu. Therefore, Fengxiu weds one of the Red Army solider, Erxi. However, she dies during the delivery of her son. This is the mark of the last tragedy that Fugui and Jiazhen had to overcome. In 1960 s the Red Guards were under a dictatorship. We see the execution of the so called reactionaries. Those who questioned the new government were assumed to be rebels and were tortured. Even the towns chief, Mr. Niu, was thrown out of the town because he was assumed to be a reactionary by the Chinese Government.
Also, we see the doctors removed from their profession because they were considered to be too smart for the government to handle. If communists were to lead the new China under the reign of Mao Zedong, the government needed oblivious individuals to believe and follow the Communistic ideology. After the death of Fengxiu, we are presented with the last scenery of the movie. It shows that Fengxui s son, Little Bun is about 3-4 years old. This last scene can be presumed by an audience that it portrays China during the 1970 s through 1980 s. For example, people do not have the red badges on their arm anymore.
It was especially apparent because Erxi, who was always wearing a red badge on his arm during the setting of 1950 s through 1960 s, did not wear anything on his left arm. In the end, the story ends on a happy note. The new family consisting of Fungui, Jiazhen, Erxi, and Little Bun are surrounded in a small spaced room enjoying food around the table. The transition of the setting between the periods of 1950 s through 1960 s shows the transformation of China and the slow adaptation and acceptance of communism by the Chinese. Portraits of Mao Zedong are adored and hanged on people s walls.
It is even hanged outside their homes. The portraits of Mao Zedong plays an important part for the movie because we, as audiences, see the communist propaganda. A portrait of Mao Zedong are given from neighbors as special gifts. For example, Erxi paints Mao s figure on the walls of Fugui s house in exchange for the marriage hand of Fengxiu. Chensung gives a portrait of Mao Zedong as a gift to the Xu family to congratulate Fengxui s marriage. Also, we see men and women with red badge on their arm which represent the communist party, which is also a reflection of the Chinese propaganda.
On the other side, we see torturing of the presumed capitalist roaders. A good example is Dr. Wang, who is brought out from torture by Erxi. He was not fed for three days. The Chinese government under Mao Zedong wanted to give the professional jobs to the civil workers, picked by the government. For example, during the birth of Fengxiu s baby, all the doctors were replaced by young nurses who work under Mao s government. However, the new nurses who replaced the existing professionals in the hospitals did not have proficient knowledge of prenatal care, i. . assisting in the delivery of Fengxiu s baby, and led to the tragedy the death of Fenxui.
In addition, we see the corruption side of communism which is unjustified: Erxi was able to sneak out Dr. Wang so that he can assist in his wife s delivery of a baby. Also, an influence of the Chinese propaganda was also noticeable when Erxi, Fengxiu, Jiazhen and Fungui were taking a picture after her wedding. They rejoiced while taking a picture holding a little red book. The red book is a symbolism of communism.
We, as audience do not need a specialization is Chinese history to guess what the little red book represents it contains the ideal way to live in China, it s philosophy, etc, which are all embedded by Mao Zedong. Furthermore, at the peak reign of communism, the Chinese were prepared to give anything that they had as wealth and were prepared to even maybe to give their life. For example, as demanded by Mao Zedong, Fungui was willing to burn the paper puppets that once saved his life during the catastrophic battle of the Reds against the POW. The layout of the scenery of China during 1940 s through 1960 s were vibrant.
Zhang uses many different colors but the color red was shown frequently to symbolize communism. The building were rigid and old. Images of the town were gloomy – from the old cracked walls on the houses to the streets of China. A very good depiction of China during the period because it was probably the most turmoil time for the Chinese. A historical epic of modern China, To Live is a movie about a family s attempt for survival: At times, living is humiliating and shameful: when Fungui becomes poor, the towns people point fingers and laughs at him when he is dressed in filthy clothes carrying a moving wheel to his house.
Sometimes life is painful: when he is encounters the death of his son, Youquing and the death of his daughter, Fengxiu during her labor. But the family overcomes every trauma and circumstances because it is all part of a life. Due to all the inevitable tragedies, Fugui and Jiazhen may have to live a simplistic life but in actuality, their lives were full of contentment. For example, the most basic daily ritual brought a family to gather together and brought joy to them: there were many scenes where happiness of the family was solely brought by having food together.