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Farewell My Concubine

The movie Begins in Beijing during China’s Communist era. The focus on the lives of the opera singers displayed the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, the strict traditions and the new beliefs and ways of the most recent government revolution. The picture first shows the opera singers in modern time, reuniting in 1977. The film follows the two stars over a period of fifty years. Their names are Chang Dieyl, and Duan Xiaolou. They are in full costume of their characters in the play and they are discussing their past. The history of the drama is presented by flashback of the singers when they are being trained harshly to become actors. Their childhood reveled the brutal treatment of woman and children and how tough life was for one to become successful.

Many things that were learned in class were prevalent in the movie. The play within the movie was even focused on Filial Piety, or the wishes of the families interest before the interest of the children. The play also displayed the dedication and loyalty to the emperor by the suicide of the concubine for him. There was a great respect for elders in which all the children excepted beatings if they made a mistake. The teachers of the acting school punished the children and made them disciplined by torture. The kids were taught to be independent and talented in their art. Even when the opera singers grew up they excepted lashes from their elderly teacher, Master Guan. The role of woman as we learned in class was that they were inferior to men. Females were valued for their work and the children that they would bare. The movie demonstrated this role precisely because most of the women were whores. Juxalin, a former prostitute, got married to Ziaolou and she was valued when she became pregnant. The respect for ancestors was in the movies plot because tradition in old ways were valued. The correct amount of steps that an actor took on stage was even important to maintain tradition. It was more important to Dieyl because he was an example of the goal of communism in China’s old ways. He believed in tradition and conservatism. On the other hand, Xiaolou represented the new China. His life was about the new era or change, by him going in the opposite direction of Dieyl. When Xiaolou got married, he became involved in new ideas and supported the several ways of the Chinese government. Pictures of Mao Zedong were present in every Chinese house in the movie, as we had learned in class.

The birth of a daughter was not celebrated in China. In the story, as we had pervasively learned when studying china, women were demeaning to men with eminence for their work and reproduction. In the film, all the women focused on were whores. Dieyl’s mother, the one who had brought him to acting school, was also a whore. Xiaolou married a whore. The whorehouse was where all the male actors went for pleasure. Juxian, a fellow whore, promised to serve Xi and even commit suicide if he whishes. She was a slave to him, but unlike most, Xi treated her respectfully because he was an example of the new and changing systematic ways of China. Juxian was the only female focused on in the film; the rest of the women were whores or did not have a major role in the film.

As the focus of the film was on the lives of the opera singers, communism, revolutions, and invasions were occurring. When the Cultural Revolution visits its purge on the opera, Xiolou denounces Dieyl as a homosexual, who then denounces Juxian as a prostitute. Dieyl was not very involved with politics of any sort because he believed in tradition, acting and would later become a conservationist. Xi supported certain governments.

As an American, a few things in the movie despite the time seemed foreign to me. The Peking Opera was a very big deal to the people in China. The play was an important part of China’s history and it seemed, as everyone was interested. Even the Japanese enjoyed the arts of China. It was unusual to me that the actors had to maintain their roles even when not on stage. Another aspect seeming foreign was the children being beaten and brutally treated. The women were all whores and treated as second class. The changing government was also very different to me. The celebrations and wedding traditions added authenticy to the film.

As an American many traditions and celebrations are shared but in very different ways. The Wedding proposal of Xi and Juxian was the drinking of wine from a shared bowl. The Markets of China in the 1920’s are similar to the one of today.

The Scene most remarkable to me is the one where the children escape from the acting school to go see the Peking Opera. The kids are amazed by the costumes and performance given that Dieyl actually urinates on the other kids’ shoulders because he didn’t want to miss any part of the play. That showed the passion he had for acting.

I think this movie opened my eyes to many aspects of China. From my personal experience, I can say that not much has changed in China. I have seen the play in Beijing, and visited places with similar architecture, foods, and marketplace. The film did a great job of presenting life in China as well as keeping the dialogues, costumes and acting authentic. I learned a lot about the history of China but someone else may feel threatened by how the people were treated, the disorganized government, the corruption of officials or the use of Opium. The military is still present in many parts of China today.

At the end of the movie, I felt depressed about the way children were treated and sick because one of them was driven to suicide at such a young age. I thought Dieyl went too far when he kept playing his role even when he was not on stage. The very end was discouraging because the concubine (Dieyl) actually followed through with the play role by committing suicide.

I was sincerely impressed by the movie; it was a very moving historical and educational soap opera. The raw truth of China during that era made the movie excellent. I would let the director know that although the film gave me nightmares, the violence and actions were necessary to show Communist China the evolution of its history, the importance of the arts and the conservation of traditions.


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