Week 6 Reading Discussion

Our readings for this week are: Wendy Larson, “The Concubine and the Figure of History: Chen Kaige’s Farewell my Concubine” (Lu, 331-346); and, a second one, namely Jenny Kwok Wah Lau, “‘Farewell my Concubine’: History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema” Film Quarterly 49.1 (Autumn 1995): 16-27.

For your R-Log this week, please select one of those readings to comment on, sharing a quote that you found particularly interesting, as well as your own engaged comments on it, and, also helpful, a question that you have to accompany the text, issues it poses, and/or their relation to themes we’ve been exploring.

Posts are due by 11:59 pm on Sunday (2/19).

P.S. Remember that our film is going to run about 5-7 minutes over on Monday night and that we’ll be posting discussion comments online instead of holding an in-class discussion afterwards. Please be on time, as we’ll hop straight into the film and its epic drama at 6 sharp!

Image: A scene from the Chinese opera “Farewell My Concubine,” performed at Lincoln Center, NYC, in 2007. Via the New York Times (12 July 2007). See the link above for more on this opera and its plot, as well as the recent performance.

10 thoughts on “Week 6 Reading Discussion

  1. “[I]n the three earlier films, this alternative consciousness is also contained within the central male character after his ability to act on the narrative is impaired. In these films, however, this alternative consciousness does not cast itself into a discrete role with a positive goal. It remains a negative and enfeebling knowledge within the same character who once was engaged fully within the historical project (Larson 341).”

    In this section from Wendy Larson’s research on the film Farewell My Concubine, she explores how gender roles have played a role in the film and how it is demonstrative of Chinese History in the last 50 years. Specifically, she explores gender roles. She compares the gender roles that were present in the years following the Cultural Revolution in China and how they are portrayed in films general and then specifically in Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine. Larson argues that the female presence in Farewell, notes the rise of feminism in the fifty years past the Cultural Revolution. However, she notes that men still dominate the cultural construction. This is because they were the ones who constructed it.

    On a political landscape post Mao, it was mainly dominated by men. Women were still seen as an important contribution to the political attitudes and actions.

    However, films have rarely represented their contributions leading up to 1993.
    This research raises many questions regarding gender roles post Mao in China. For instance, what kind of female cultural construction has been made since 1993 (the release of Farewell)? How is that presented in films released since then? Do nonmainstream films have a similar comparison of the male cultural construction that is created?

  2. “Political changes in the 1980s in Taiwan did not always help that country’s film industry either. In 1986 Taiwan lifted its quota for the import of foreign films. Hong Kong films were then able to compete directly for the Taiwan market. By December, 1987 six out of the seven major theater chains in Taiwan were showing Hong Kong films. Just as in the Mainland, political interference, inexperience in contemporary marketing techniques, and inadequate high-tech support all contributed to the failure of Taiwan films in her own market. Consequently, co-production with Hong Kong became a way out for such major studios as the Central Motion Picture Corporation. Even Edward Young, a leading figure in the Taiwan New Wave, tried at one point to work with Hong Kong.

    Another significant political change in Taiwan occurred in 1987, when the government finally lifted 50 years of rule by martial law. This meant that basic citizens’ rights such as freedom of political association, freedom of publication, and the freedom to travel (e.g., visits to the Mainland) were re-instated. Together with these new liberties came a freeing-up of the foreign-exchange market. All of these elements were essential for facilitating the investment of Taiwan money in “foreign” (first Hong Kong and later Mainland China) film productions. By the same year two of the major investors, Tomson (the company that produced Concubine) and Hung Tai, expanded their investments in Hong Kong, forming a powerful, Taiwan financed, Hong Kong-based business alliance. At the same time that the Mainland was making Hong Kong/Hollywood style entertainment films for profit, Taiwan began to see the market potential of the Chinese art films.”
    “Farewell My Concubine”: History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema.” Film Quarterly 49, no. 1 (1995): 16-27. Accessed February 19, 2017. doi:10.2307/1213489.

  3. I found this comment to be the most intriguing, because I compared it to just how absurd it would be today in our American society as if our country was divided provincially by our political affiliations and what movies and other forms of entertainment we were and weren’t allowed to see. Hong Kong not only stifled Taiwan’s creativity and finances, but also interestingly forced the cultural clash of entertainment over art thus leading to the intertwining of entertainment as an art form.

    I liken this to John Stuart Mill’s “Free marketplace of ideas”. Entertainment and media becoming stale, indoctrinating your people into believing there is only one or a few ways of “right”. The same ideology of limiting resources and creativity permeates society over generations: poverty stricken areas and institutional racism disenfranchises the minority, giving them a societal glass ceiling. Strife is created; caste and class systems are created, leading to stereotypes and bigotry as well. Society when not separated by country, they continue to separate them by language, culture, color, dialect and even as minute as accents. What seemed ridiculous, actually is very calculated and purposeful, and continues to happen across cultures and over history. In trying to be different and separate ourselves, we end up proving we are exactly the same, even today in society halfway around the world.

  4. In the article “‘Farewell my Concubine’: History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema,” the author Jenny Kwok Wah Lau makes a valid point when she wrote, “The only change between the heroines of the two cinemas is a change of their masters, from the state back to the old patriarchal man.”
    The “Gong-Li image” is rather interesting. Since it recycles an old trope by making the female characters work towards a patriarchal goal. It seems that the female characters, though they fulfill their goal of breaking out of her situation, can never be fully become free from dependency on a male figure.
    Does the portrayal of female characters reflect the culture in China during this time?

  5. “The cultural boundary established between China and the rest of the world through the barriers of language as well as technology is still significantly strong. Thus, instead of erasing the notion of national boundaries I believe that the cultural/ national is a persistent presence not only for political reasons but also for the inevitable existence of the frames of reference, which even if mixed and difficult to discern at times, nevertheless distinguish one culture from another. ”

    This quote comes from page 22 of the Jenny Kwok Wah Lau reading concerning the intersections of traditional Chinese culture with the needs of the socialist Chinese government and the increasing global influences largely funneled through Hong Kong. The quote takes a swing at globalist arguments made concerning the erasure of traditional culture and the traditional definition of culture based upon national boundaries. Kwok Wah Lau maintains that the art and culture still produced by Chinese artists in cinema, while being assailed by influences from Chinese culture, American and western European media, and the demands of a growing middle class have reached almost a stasis where no one source has an over-whelming influence. Despite contemporary influences from Hollywood and a desire by some to receive Western accolades, that Chinese film can change and grow while still being uniquely Chinese. Although Kwok Wah Lau is ultimately picking at “Concubine” as the defining film of Chen Kaige’s career, she argues that its merits rest on the cultural context of the work and the influences that created it rather than simply Chen’s skill as a director and artist.

    While only tangentially related to my commentary, I wanted my question to focus on another quote by Kwok Wah Lau, her breakdown of the evolution of female roles within Chinese cinema. She demonstrates that the socialist image of the “strong” female lead being devoted to the state ( Xijuan Zhu’s portrayal of Wu Qionghua in Red Detachment of Women) and the pre-socialist image of a strong female being hopelessly devoted to her male lead/husband. Kwok Wah Lau argues that these roles are structurally similar and simply switch the object of devotion from the patriarchy to the state. My question is this, how can modern cinema respond to all of the aforementioned cultural influence and change the way in which female roles are written to reflect a self-motivated character that has greater aspirations than securing the state or a man? (I’m not sure any portrayal of Hua Mulan counts despite my enjoyment of the 1998 Disney incarnation).

  6. “In refusing to acknowledge the kind of nationalism that Beijing Opera represents, and hence the implication of sanctifying a hero who performed for the invading Japanese, the film trivializes one of the most horrific wars of resistance that the Chinese have fought against invaders. This total dissociation of politics from daily life is further problematized by the fact that Dieyi clearly parallels the historical actor Mei
    Lanfang, who in reality did keep his dignity and that of Beijing Opera by refusing to perform for the invading Japanese. In fact, he grew a mustache to let his intentions be known.” -Jenny Kwok Wah Lau (26)

    Chen’s adaptation of “Farewell My Concubine” was famous and widely beloved but in seeking international appeal, it lost key parts of it’s Chinese identity. Dieyi, in performing for the Japanese, puts the Chinese Opera and the duties of a performer, above the pride and dignity of the whole nation. This changes the story drastically; in truth, Mei Lanfang refused to perform for the invaders.This action makes the character easier to relate to for foreigners but disconnects him from what should be his primary audience, the Chinese. Other countries don’t understand the feelings that China has about Japan or the history those nations share.

    Since a lot of the changes made to the original story were made to make the film more appealing to the whole world, instead of just China, was the story changed to be friendlier to the Japanese? The film was released in the early 1990s which means that China had only been “open” to the world for little over a decade. Meanwhile, Japan had been brought into the western fold at the end of the second world war. In America, we’re taught in schools about how the U.S. used nuclear weapons on the Japanese civilians to end the war. Many Americans feel sadness at the very least if not downright shame at the means to which the war was won. The Japanese, despite being responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, are largely seen as victims of the war too. Interestingly, China’s part in helping the U.S. win the war in the pacific is largely erased from American memory. If China hadn’t hung on and suffered for as long as it did against the Japanese then the Allies may not have won. But because China turned “Red” after the war, it became a far and mysterious enemy with no ties to the free and democratic America. “Farewell My Concubine” had to twist the truth a little bit to relate to the most people possible but in doing so it not only alienated some Chinese viewers but missed out on an opportunity to remind the world about how China was impacted but the events of the 1940s.
    -Zainab

  7. “In refusing to acknowledge the kind of nationalism that Beijing Opera represents, and hence the implication of sanctifying a hero who performed for the invading Japanese, the film trivializes one of the most horrific wars of resistance that the Chinese have fought against invaders. This total dissociation of politics from daily life is further problematized by the fact that Dieyi clearly parallels the historical actor Mei
    Lanfang, who in reality did keep his dignity and that of Beijing Opera by refusing to perform for the invading Japanese. In fact, he grew a mustache to let his intentions be known.” -Jenny Kwok Wah Lau (26)

    Chen’s adaptation of “Farewell My Concubine” was famous and widely beloved but in seeking international appeal, it lost key parts of it’s Chinese identity. Dieyi, in performing for the Japanese, puts the Chinese Opera and the duties of a performer, above the pride and dignity of the whole nation. This changes the story drastically; in truth, Mei Lanfang refused to perform for the invaders.This action makes the character easier to relate to for foreigners but disconnects him from what should be his primary audience, the Chinese. Other countries don’t understand the feelings that China has about Japan or the history those nations share.

    Since a lot of the changes made to the original story were made to make the film more appealing to the whole world, instead of just China, was the story changed to be friendlier to the Japanese? The film was released in the early 1990s which means that China had only been “open” to the world for little over a decade. Meanwhile, Japan had been brought into the western fold at the end of the second world war. In America, we’re taught in schools about how the U.S. used nuclear weapons on the Japanese civilians to end the war. Many Americans feel sadness at the very least if not downright shame at the means to which the war was won. The Japanese, despite being responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, are largely seen as victims of the war too. Interestingly, China’s part in helping the U.S. win the war in the pacific is largely erased from American memory. If China hadn’t hung on and suffered for as long as it did against the Japanese then the Allies may not have won. But because China turned “Red” after the war, it became a far and mysterious enemy with no ties to the free and democratic America. “Farewell My Concubine” had to twist the truth a little bit to relate to the most people possible but in doing so it not only alienated some Chinese viewers but missed out on an opportunity to remind the world about how China was impacted but the events of the 1940s. -Zainab

  8. The article that I read was “‘Farewell my Concubine’: History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema.” in this article it touched on a lot of things from the different styles of film making to the economic processes behind film making. What surprised me the most was how Taiwan’s film industry had been so affected the film industry in Hong Kong,”While the Hong Kong entertainment films captivated the audience of socialist China they also took control of the Taiwan market.” I was just really shocked how willingly the Taiwanese worked/ actually went out to look for partnership with Hong Kong because of there not so long ago disagreements. However, as talked about in the article, I think thing that might explain this is people were so driven by the economic turnouts that they were able to look past their history.

    So when reading this article the author talked a lot about Chinese style of making film verses Hollywood style. Though I tried to look it up I could not really figure out what he meant by that. However, I wonder if it was controversial to use “Hollywood Style” in China just because they wanted to keep out westernization?

  9. The article that I read was “‘Farewell my Concubine’: History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema.” in this article it touched on a lot of things from the different styles of film making to the economic processes behind film making. What surprised me the most was how Taiwan’s film industry had been so affected the film industry in Hong Kong,”While the Hong Kong entertainment films captivated the audience of socialist China they also took control of the Taiwan market.” I was just really shocked how willingly the Taiwanese worked/ actually went out to look for partnership with Hong Kong because of there not so long ago disagreements. However, as talked about in the article, I think thing that might explain this is people were so driven by the economic turnouts that they were able to look past their history.

    So when reading this article the author talked a lot about Chinese style of making film verses Hollywood style. Though I tried to look it up I could not really figure out what he meant by that. However, I wonder if it was controversial to use “Hollywood Style” in China because they wanted to keep out westernization?

  10. In the article “The Concubine and the Figure of History: Chen Kaige’s Farewell my Concubine,” Wendy Larson states that “The authority of the king of Chu can only be maintained by the concubine prostituting her art—the essentially Chinese art—before the art-loving audience, whose imperializing position corresponds to that of the international (Western) film spectator and critic” (Lu 340).
    In this sentence, Larson relates the performance of the concubine for an imperialist Japanese audience with the way Chinese cinema presents to foreign audiences. This likening of the Japanese who practiced direct imperialism, with Western film audiences illustrates how imperialistic relationships can form even without one party’s direct control over the other. In the case of Chinese cinema, the Chinese nature of the art becomes the defining feature of any work, thus obfuscating the other elements within the film. While it is more clear how to combat direct imperialism, how can the outlined problem be solved?

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