Social and Political Issues of China in Raise the Red Lantern

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China, officially the People’s Republic of China is the largest country in the world today with the most population in the Southeast Asia country, which is a total of 1.435 billion people, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data. China is also a country which is well-known for its civilization, the history of China, founded in 1766 BCE by the Shang Dynasty according to TimeMaps. With its great number of population and history, China has become the most developed country today.

According to the research that I have found on ForeignerCN, motion pictures were introduced in China in 1896, occurred in Shanghai as an ‘act’ on a variety bill. In the 1930s, Kuomintang struggled for power and control over the major studios. Their influences can be seen in the ensuing films produced, such as Spring Silkworms (1933) from Cheng Bugao, The Big Road (1935) from Sun Yu and The Goddess (1934) from Wu Yonggang. Besides, do you know that China is also one of the world cinema countries? In other words, what is world cinema? World cinema has a different perspective on Hollywood cinema.

What are the differences between World cinema and Hollywood cinema?

In Hollywood cinema, Hollywood films always follow the three-act-structure, unlike world cinema, sequencing the structures in different orders. For example, in world cinema, films can reveal the ending of the story at the beginning of it, then it can be continued with the beginning of the story, which is not in order. Besides, the camera angle and sizes of the frame that is used in world cinema films can be free unlike Hollywood films, where you are hard to play with different types of angle and sizes of the frame.

World cinema films are mostly independent film, which is experimental. Indie films filmmakers are free to portray mise-en-scene in different forms. For example, Raise the Red Lantern (1991) by Zhang Yimou, the opening scene where it shows Gong Li’s face fully fitted in the camera frame. Zhang Yimou intends to show how restricted is the main character, Songlian’s life, which is played by Gong Li, on making decisions for herself, even for her marriage. Do you know that back then in the 1920s in China, women’s marriages are arranged by their parents and they have to obey it?

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The film that I have studied and would love to use it as a discussion of the social, political and cultural issues is Raise the Red Lantern (1991) by the well-known Chinese filmmaker, Zhang Yimou. Zhang Yimou is a Chinese filmmaker and also a cinematographer. His first directorial debut was the film called Red Sorghum which is released in 1987. He has made a lot of films starring the actress Gong Li, such as his first film Red Sorghum (1987), Ju Dou (1990), Raise the Red Lantern (1991), The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), To Live (1994) and last but not least, Shanghai Triad (1995).

According to Foreigner CN, Gong has stopped collaborating with Zhang anymore after Shanghai Triad because of their romantic relationship ended during the production of Shanghai Triad. But, both of them cooperated again in the films called Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) and Coming Home (2014), which are directed by Zhang Yimou. In Raise the Red Lantern, social conditions that have brought up by Zhang are the patriarchal society and the women position in China.

In the Chinese tradition, men have the most power and they get to control everything. For example, decisions are always made by the men and the women have to obey whatever it was made. Women have no rights to speak up for themselves. These are defined as traditional China gender relationships. During traditional China, Chinese follows Confucianism ideas and thinking. The hierarchical structure was introduced by Confucius himself because he stressed that one’s worth is determined by the public actions.

According to Groh (2006), traditional China lies in the hierarchical structure on the social system where people must always be loyal and respect to superior people. Brugger (1977) pointed out that hierarchical structure implies the idea of inferior must always be loyal to the superior which then gave women inferior status in China. Under the concept of Li, there are five forms in Confucianism which are, 1) subject to ruler, 2) son to father, 3) younger brother to elder brother, 4) wife to husband (women to men) and 5) younger person to elder person, where the dominate person receives the most respect and obedience and has the highest authorities by the subordinate person.

This is shown in the scene where Master Chen found out the disloyalty in Meishan, which is the third mistress has an affair with Doctor Gao while he was away. Master Chen then mandate his housekeeper to lock Meishan in the room to death, which is located at the top of the roof because she betrays Master Chen and disloyal to him. Same goes to the government of the People’s Republic of China. Do you know that some people are missing in China because they were brought away by the higher authorities because they are disloyal to the Communist Party?

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