The Chinese film, To Live, gives a glimpse of a culture somewhat similar to ours while at the same time being incomparable. From the political system to the way of rearing children can be seen in effect throughout the film. Some parts just had me shaking my head in shock and disbelief
The culture I saw displayed was one based entirely on communism. Everyone's life revolved around it, dominating them. The film does not start out as such, it begins with Fugui gambling away his family's possessions and before long the screen is overrun with 'reds' e.g. communist soldiers. And a new government is being instituted, those who choose not to cooperate are killed as is the man Fugui lost his house to gambling, " They shot him 5 times for not sharing the house!" At one point Fugui tells his second child, Fengxia, that "the chick will grow into a goose, the goose into a sheep, the sheep will turn into a ox, and the ox the ox will turn into communism. And everyday we'll have dumplings and chicken " Explaining to his son the belief that communism is their salvation so to speak, that only good things can come from it.
Fugui's first born is married in a scene that screams communist propaganda. The entire wedding revolves around Chairman Mao and the communist party, a song depicting how great Mao is, is sung. The gifts are red books, and framed pictures of Mao. In the wedding photo the is one of Mao and a quote, "the working class is the way;" the family must hold their red books with pride while standing behind a red cutout of a ship that, "is leading the way for communism." I just could not believe that a song was song in praise of Chairman Mao, and the communist party. The wedding just revolved entirely around Mao and communism.
Followers of the communist way are soon found under fire, accused of being capitalists. It came to my attention that no one under 45-50 was pointed at. When Fugui's first child gives birth there is an absence of doctors in the hospital, it seems they were all deemed "revolutionaries." The exclusion of doctors cost the life of Fugui's first born because the students don't know how to stop a hemmorage. Apparently during this time China was undergoing it's "Cultural Revolution" which lasted from 1966-1976. A decade in which people of high education including engineers, doctors, laywers, mathmeticians, anyone with an education were sent to labor camps, many died there. Even those with glasses were forced into labor, because if you wore glasses, it must mean that you could read. Books were burned that weren't pro-communist, people were beat, families torn apart all for one man's need to stay in power. Perhaps another reason is also behind this, perhaps the communists saw Older people as weak and the youth strong (or more easily influenced). Whatever the reason, it's inexcusable to me, at first Mao embraces these people, then he ostracizes them.
The movie ends with Fugui telling his grandson the same phrase he once told his own son with one exception, " the sheep turns into an ox, the ox...the ox turns into you growing up riding trains flying planes." Fugui neglects to use communism, he may have learned that not all is as it first appeared, that there is no miracle cure for China.
After the twenty minutes, the culture in the film is based entirely on Mao and the communist party. All of it is controlled by the communists, the communal kitchen, the workplace, the wedding, and the hospital. Living in a democracy all my life, it's shocking to see some of the things that happen throughout the movie using communism as jusitification. Another difference is the lack of religion in the movie. There is no open belief in any religion, instead the people place their faith in communism and Mao ZeDong.
The manner in which Fugui and his wife rear their children is very comforting and familiar to me. It is very similar to the way most Americans raise their young, with love and affection, always putting the child before yourself.
To Live reached out to me in a way that very few movies have. It had the ability to make the characters more real to me so that I could feel their pain, their happiness and personal triumphs! I found the story itself to be very intriguing, this rollercoaster of ups and downs. After two tragic losses (both of their children) Fugui and his wife never give up, they keep pushing on to live and love. They even try to save their friend Chunsheng from suicide, the same man who inadvertenly killed Fengxia, by telling him this, "Remember you still owe us a life . You must value yours." They see life so precious that they do not wish it upon the man who robbed them of their son. I was amazed and deeply touched when she said that to Chunsheng.
I enjoyed watching the movie, though I didn't agree with many views portrayed in it. It was interesting to see such a different society and culture than our own, the daily hardships that were faced, and the manner in which they dealt with those hardships. Although I just keep shaking my head at the power Mao holds, and am blind to see how they can place that much faith in him.