To Live

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Books and movies are essential forms of mass-educational media in the entertainment sector. For instance, the movies carry certain specific themes that the directors wish to deliver to the people, in addition to entertaining and educating the intended audience. In this sense, this essay serves as a critical examination of Zhang Yimou's "To Live" in reference to the lens text "A Brief Background to the Chinese Way of Life" by Hu, Wenzhong, Grove, and Zhuang. In particular, the paper seeks to establish the stance of the film on the reform movements highlighted in the narrative, distinguish two political upheavals, and present how they affected the destinies of main characters. Finally, the paper highlights the characters attitudes and reactions with respect to the political upheavals.

Main Characters and Political Upheavals

In the movie, “To Live” released in the year 1994, the main characters whose lives hence destinies are shaped by the political upheavals are Fugui (Ge You) and his wife Jiazhen (Gong Li) whose experience through the scenes exemplifies the hard conditions and challenges. Notable according to Hu, Wenzhong, Grove, and Zhuang (44), it is cultural that the wives do not take the names of their husbands. Hence, in expectations that in the film Jiazhen would be referred to as Mrs. Fugui, she kept on using her name. The movie themes reveal that political regimes came into existence from the time that the Chinese instituted the Chinese Communist Party at around 1949. Ever since, China and her population have had massive experiences originating from revolutionary challenges that have impacted the lives of the populace in terms of social relations, economic challenges, cultural as well as the political scene.

Major Political Upheavals

Subsequently, Fugui and Jiazhen roles are to show and bring to the audiences’ attention the tribulations and challenges that they faced then and hard to device survival methods. Therefore, the major political upheavals that can be identified from the movie are the Chinese Civil War, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolutions. The movie through its various scenes depicts scenarios that tend to emphasize the manners and mechanisms that the Chinese people had to employ in order to survive and cope with the changes, challenges, and effects of the government. In so doing, the movie settles on ordinary people exemplified by the aforementioned characters. For instance, due to hardships and unemployment opportunities, Fugui representing the ordinary men of the Chinese Society being jobless in the then political paradigm resorted to gambling in hopes to make a living.

Post Civil War and Gambling

In a post civil war in which the Chinese citizens are coping up with the war aftermaths, joblessness is real and corruption made accessing the few available job opportunities inaccessible. Fugui, therefore, in order to try to forget the problems and challenges in the then political rules, he spent most of his time and nights in the gambling house. On the other hand, his wife did try to talk him out of the gambling problem for the sake of their family, in particular, their daughter and the child she was carrying. Unfortunately, Fugui did not quit gambling and the consequence was that he lost his family home to Long Er who portrayed as a bounder. Much to the advantage of Fugui is that when the revolution came into play, the house was burned to ashes with the communists and that the Long Er faced execution. It is ironical that one of the communists appreciated the quality of the wood that was used to build the house. For example, he said, “Your family’s timber was first rate” (35-37). The communist went on to describe how fast the house burnt down an act which elaborated how pragmatic and ruthless the communists were. However, Fugui expressed his concern by saying that the house was more than timbers but counterrevolutionary timber. According to Hu, Wenzhong, Grove, and Zhuang (78), collectivism, as opposed to individualism, ensured that the ordinary people lived in harmony and shared the fewer available resources.

The Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward, which happened in 1950,’s ensured that the communities donated all kinds of metal objects with the aim of supporting the steel production. The upheaval was both positive and negative ion that it created job opportunities for the community members whereas it also deprived people of the right to choose and voluntarily provide what they felt to give to the steel production. For instance, it was unfair that even the family pans were contributed to the steel production project forcing every member to eat in the kitchen. It is at this point that Youquing displayed unacceptable behavior. According to the expected Chinese behaviors illustrated by Hu, Wenzhong, Grove, and Zhuang (120), the boy was not expected to pour excess chili source on the entire food and much worse having had the nerve to dump the entire bowl full of food on the boy who had kept on disturbing his sister.

Impact on Ordinary People

Nonetheless, the communists’ revolution was responsible for derailing the expected development, which the ruling powers ought to have delivered. Instead, due to corruption, poor management and greed led to various tragic lives that the main characters and the other people lived. For instance, in situations where someone died, the mismanagement and poor communication were depicted where the ruling political regimes took away reactionary doctors from the hospitals and only left the inept student’s behind. In such circumstance, it is no doubt that, such political upheavals affected the lives of the ordinary people who could not get access to the private hospitals.


Concisely, the movie is very significant in highlighting the challenges that the common people are facing in every political regime that comes into power. Besides having to deal with the challenges that come because of different political seasons that demand or require different submissions by the citizens, the movie is also able to show that reality of life aspects. For example, the movie is exemplary in informing the audience that life has two categories which and individual might have to face. For instance, as human beings and citizens of different countries, each individual should be prepared for both painful moments and the good aspects of life. Nevertheless, the movie is encouraging that no matter what the circumstances, people should always never give up but device survival methods to overcome the oppressing political seasons and conditions. Therefore, it is a call and a piece of advisory note of a message from the main characters that man , ordinary or those with high social status should always find value in living and always find opportunities in life challenging circumstances.

Work cited

Hu, Wenzhong, Cornelius L. Grove, and Enping Zhuang. Encountering the Chinese: A Modern Country, an Ancient Culture. Boston: Intercultural Press, 2010. Internet resource.

Zhang Yimou.To Live.Retreived on 3/14/2017 from,d.d24

April 06, 2023

Movies Communication

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