井底之蛙

11/9/2005

Hero and Mao

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:21 am

I’m a little late to the Hero bashing party, but this post (Bourdieu Boy via Notes of a former native speaker) got me to thinking. I agree that Hero was a somewhat disappointing movie for me because despite being visually impressive and having some great fight scenes it was fundamentally about finding an accommodation with authoritarianism. I was very surprised how many of my American acquaintances missed this, which seemed obvious to me. I mean, it’s the story of Jing Ke. He’s supposed to try and kill Qin Shihuang and fail. Everybody knows that. When he agrees not to kill him its like the Crying Game. That’s what sort of made the growing tension work for me, even though I had heard what was going to happen in the movie before I even saw it.

I actually kind of like the movie because of this, and, as Bourdieu Boy points out, it is a much more Chinese movie than Crouching Tiger. You may not like Zhang Yimou’s answer, but the question of how one lives with authoritarianism is an interesting one for Chinese people. I always find teaching 20th century China to American students tricky because it is often hard to get them to understand the dilemmas Chinese faced. If you had to choose between national power and individual freedom what would you pick? What sacrifices would you, personally, be willing to make to bring political freedom or food to your fellow citizens? The usual answer, of course, is that as Americans we want power, political freedom, wealth, personal liberty and cheap gas and we expect to get them all for nothing. I like the American option too, of course, but it is not really a relevant choice when talking about Chinese history.

The other difference in how someone from China might view the film is that it has a whole different resonance if you know the original story. This is one of the things that usually messes up these Chinese history movies for foreigners. I remember watching, I think it was The Emperor and the Assassin and when Lao Ai Li Ao [thanks to JR for the correction] came on stage I was impressed with his general creepiness. In a Chinese movie for western consumption he would need a scene of vileness to establish his character, just like the bad guy in an action movie needs to do something violent at the beginning to establish what they are. Of course for a Chinese audience all he has to do is step on stage and say “Hi, I’m Lao Ai.” In Hero the “try to kill the Emperor” option is always there even if the movie never states it. You can sort of feel the tension of the debate between the two options throughout the movie even if it is not there for those who don’t know that history. In the same way a non-traditional performance of Shakespeare is always happening in the context of Elizabethan drama no matter what you do with it.

Self introduction

Filed under: — motoe @ 8:44 am

Dear 井底之蛙 members

My name is Motoe Sasaki-Gayle. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the history department at Johns Hopkins University. Although my major is American history since my dissertation involves China, Konrad kindly let me join the group.

Currently I am writing a dissertation on American professional women who went to China and attempted to create the so-called ‘New Woman’ in China from the 1900s to the 1930s. I am looking the initial success and the decline of their projects, including the changing gender relations and national identities in both America and China, as well as interactions betwen New Women on both sides.

During the past several years I have lived in Canberra, Australia. Now I am living in Leiden and feel very fortunate to have the chance to be a part of the intellectual exchange in this blog.

Sincerely yours,
Motoe Sasaki-Gayle

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