Proposal of Work

For my project, I’d like to propose an idea of a story. The theme will be about the fear of reproduction from a young female point of view. The story will be set in modern times, within a cultural background that’s heavily influenced by Confucianism. Derived from mostly my personal experience and my observation, in this story pregnancy will be seen as a disease, an unwanted invasion, a pathological condition by the main character. She will experience immense fear and anxiety regarding this topic, and will unintentionally become both the victim and the perpetrator of a somehow socially accepted violence and sexual abuse. 

Instead of proceeding with traditional storytelling methods, this story will consist of random one-page moments and each page with no more than six panels. These moments are going to be discontinuous in the sense of time. Each of them will be separated from the others, as in the events happening in each page will be isolated, with no consequence, no responsibility. In a way, these moments will be static, with no foreseeable progression or reference from the past. The only movement that’s going to tie them together, will be the readers’ unconscious action of turning each page. Readers’ are going to experience the moments in a timely fashion only because of socially constructed reading habits or norms. The order of each moment will be arranged by me. So as the author, I will be manipulating the readers into being complicit in violence and abuse. It is the readers’ underthought action that forced the main character into a horrendous conclusion. She will be impregnated by socially constructed notions in both the reality and the story. 

But ultimately, the fear of propagation and impregnation becomes the metaphor for the fear of expressing and creating. It becomes the fear of conceiving, of thinking. Illness in this project as a metaphor for pregnancy emphasizes the betrayal of the body, the unwanted but uncontrollable pathological pain, and the isolation or exclusion of the patient from society (patriarchy). But pregnancy as a metaphor of creating emphasize the betrayal of mind, the unwanted but spontaneous contemplation, and the isolation of the simplified Chinese language from the world.

Siyi An

Something I wrote before about Ju Dou

As one of the most renowned film directors in China, Zhang Yimou’s award-winning film Ju Dou was prohibited from China for almost 20 years. Although it was wildly applauded by western audiences, this film was not that popular back to its homeland. Except for the fact that this film is a presentation of Chinese tradition’s dark side, it also scared Chinese audiences away by showing sexual scenes that were never been shown in Chinese theatres before. However, during the end of the 20th century, the theme which criticises the feudal system and the communist government back in the 60s was quite common among Chinese literature, including the novella, FuxiFuxi, which the film was adapted from. And one of the themes that dominants both the novella and the film, is women’s tragic fate under the feudal system. In this essay, I will discuss the only female character Ju Dou from a feminist perspective, the reason and effect of the director’s change to the original novella especially on the matter of time period, as well as the relationship between tradition, politics, and patriarchal hierarchy presented in the film.

Ju Dou from a feminist perspective

The image of Ju Dou when she first appeared on screen left an impression of an obedient young girl who is too shy to look Tianqing directly in the eye. As a weak girl who was born in rural China in the 1920s, where the traditional value performs its utmost control over the society, Ju Dou seems to be a character that represents a typical Chinese girl who was born to be in the lowest social rank, which in Chinese society was mostly formed by farmers. Uneducated and unappreciated by her parents, marriage seems to be the only path for Ju Dou to choose. But it cannot be her choice after all. She was sold to Yang Jinshan as an object. Even the film doesn’t mention anything about the seller, but it can be easily guessed by audiences with a Chinese background that she is sold by her own parents. To western eyes, this may be seen as a monstrous behaviour of selling one’s own daughter to a violent old man. It is, however, an old tradition that is deeply rooted in China and has been going on for thousands of years. Women are always possessions of a family that can be used, traded, and abused. As soon as they were born, girls are not seen as a part of the family, but something that will eventually be married away and become a resource for another family. In their world, a girl’s parents are just raising her for another family, so it is only natural for them to ask something in return when the daughter finally gets married. Therefore, the notion of see arranged marriage as trade is a way of understanding traditional Chinese marriage system. Today in some Chinese rural areas, even though people do not actually use the term “sell” when they arranged their daughters’ marriage, the groom’s family still have to offer a large amount of money or kettles in order to buy the bride’s family’s permission. Fundamentally it is still a trade, only that in Zhang’s film he tore away the euphemisms that were used to hide the nasty nature and directly tells the audience that women are sold as commodities in the traditional marriage system.

Carrying such value, Ju Dou as a repressed female character, her only function is supposed to be the object of men’s sexual desire and the object of giving birth to an heir in this marriage with Jinshan. Failed to finish her duties, she is constantly beaten and abused. At the same time, she also becomes the sexual object of another man, Tianqing, who is peeping her naked body through a hole in the wall. When Ju Dou first realizes what Tianqing is doing, she is still a representation of an oppressed Chinese woman, and her first reaction is to cover her breast with a protective gesture mixed with shame, fear and modesty. She then covers the hole with straws, trying futilely to solve this matter discreetly by herself. However, during another night of sexual abuse by Jinshan, Tianqing furiously picked up a knife. Filled with sympathy and anger, he then chopped it on a wooden pillar. Ju Dou realized that Tianqing is her way out of this miserable life. From the point when Ju Dou discovers Tianqing’s emotion for her, she then transforms from this abused figure to a rebellious and courageous character who’s not afraid of taking the initiative. Or, rather than a transformation of her personality, it is her awakening desire and also humanity that has combatted with the oppressing traditional values for so long, which now yearns for liberation. The rebellion starts from the body. According to Eero Tarasti, “…… on the level individual, feminist semiotics has arrived at a theory of corporeality. According to Kristeva and other psychoanalytically oriented semioticians, corporeality is the main site of human semiosis. [1]” Then the female body becomes the motivation for her to fight the feudal rules. Ju Dou unblocks the peephole and takes off her clothes, knowing that Tianqing is watching. She presents her body to him, and at this point, the body that is shown goes beyond sexuality. She shows her wounded, tormented body as a powerful statement of defiance, and the tear streaming from her eyes can be read as both her fear and determination.

As the time of this film is set in the 1920s, Ju Dou’s action and her ambivalent emotion correspond with the historical background. Not long after the Republic of China formed, the ideas of democracy and science had just begun to prevail among Chinese society. Three thousand years governed by the feudal system, Chinese people were not yet ready for the western notions of liberation. During this time period when traditions and modern values drastically clash, the long oppressed humanity is unstoppably awakening, including women’s self-awareness and sexual liberation. As Bo Wang points out in her journal article Engaging Nüquanzhuyi: The Making of a Chinese Feminist Rhetoric, “Reformers and intellectuals began to debate the woman question in the late Qing period. The debate intensified during the May Fourth Movement (1919-1925)…… Although many held significantly different views about women’s issues, the connection between women’s liberation and national modernization became a major theme in the new public discourse, with complex implications for both the dissemination of feminist ideas and the development of the women’s movement. [2]

“Am I a wolf?” Ju Dou asks Tianqing when she seduces him, and the power structure between them has reversed. Ju Dou’s courage grows further and stronger as the film continues. However, an environment that conservative can never allow a woman like Ju Dou to exist. Tradition still infiltrates from every aspect of her life trying to tame her. Jinshan, the neighbourhood, her son Tianbai confine her into that little mill, with thick stone walls like a prison. Even Tianqing refuses to set her and himself free, burdening them as a couple with the so-called filial piety and their reputation. Tianqing can only enjoy the physical pleasure with Ju Dou within the traditional rules, but he can never be her complicit as the fighter against the feudal orders because Jinshan’s position is what he genuinely desires in his subconscious. Ju Dou is only an object to these three men, while these three men are the subject which can only preserve their power by defending the patriarchal system. Ju Dou as the only female character in this film represents a feminist of the new era of China, but she as an individual is too powerless to fight the whole patriarchal hierarchy. When realising that her own son Tianbai becomes the new generation as the defender of conservative values who eliminates the old power Jinshan and another possible competitor Tianqing, Ju Dou is aware of the fact that she’s unable to be the subject which has the power to defy the whole society. Her fate is always controlled by men, no matter these men hate her, love her, or glorify her. She hopelessly set fire to the mill that has chained her for her entire life and forces the feudal system to face its destruction. The denouement may be devastating and pitiful, it is, however, inevitable. Like many feminist forces appeared in the early 20th century, they were destroyed, muted, and buried by the society that was not advanced enough for them to achieve their goals. Nevertheless, their struggle and sacrifice indeed had a beneficial influence on Chinese citizens and generations after. Ju Dou as a character is a condensed image of both these brave feminists who fights the old order with blood and tears and women who are awakening in the new China.

Ju Dou and Fuxi Fuxi: time and history that has been blurred away

Liu Heng, the author of Fuxi Fuxi, showed the readers a very unequivocal timeline involving many important historical events in China. Terms like “33rd year of the Republic (1944),” “Land Reform(early 1950s),” “1968” are some clues in the book that the author intentionally left for the readers to have a better grasp on the background of the story. The story started around the Republic of China period and ends after the cultural revolution. Liu Heng focuses on the time and historical background, and he is making the specific environment with specific social conflicts affect the character’s fate. He intensified such effect on characters in order to emphasise the helplessness when an individual’s facing the power of society. But in Zhang Yimou’s film, there’s only that simple caption at the beginning of the film, “A small village somewhere in China in the 1920s”, which offers an ambiguous sense of time and space. “It was Zhang Yimou’s first reaction to blur the historical background when considering adapting. [3]

Some Chinese scholars believe the reason for this change is Zhang Yimou’s intention to allegorize the story and to present Ju Dou as an allegorical representation of modern China, which is to “change the story that originally happened in a timely fashion into a synchronic deformation, and to forcefully squeeze different time and space into a place that is almost static, so that the story itself transcends beyond the specific time and space, after which possesses a certain permanent and mysterious significance. [4]” Once the background is abstracted, the audiences can focus on the meaning and representations itself without the preconception’s influence on certain historical events. The film then can be seen as an allegory that parallels with reality and can be applied to any time and space in China, evoking contemplation of Chinese traditions and culture as a whole instead of restraining it in a certain era. Such vague treatment of time does not simply appear in Ju Dou, but also in many Zhang Yimou’s films. Time and space are both dissolved likewise in Raise the Red Lantern in which “they are all labelled with a certain time period, but this label doesn’t have a strong relationship with the story itself. The important thing is to abstract the story from some specific time of Chinese history. [5]

Although rarely any Chinese film critics ever mention, many western film scholars appear to raise another possible reason for this variation of time. “Zhang Yimou in order to have the movie viewed had to change the date from the 1940s…… to the pre-communist 1920s. [6]” Communist China’s censorship becomes the main focus of the Western world. “……this censorship drew even more attention to the film and placed this ‘small village somewhere in China in the 1920s’ into an international context. [7]” It is a fact that politics is a huge restriction in terms of art and literature in China, and it is very reasonable to believe that Zhang Yimou compromised with the government in order to get the film shown. Another Zhang Yimou’s film To Live did get banned from screening in mainland China. Though the official reason for its forbiddance is nowhere to be found, but many Chinese citizens who loved the film unanimously believed it is because the government are not satisfied with the fact that the protagonist lived a relatively peaceful life in the “old society (before the communist China)”, but started to suffer after the new Chinese era. Therefore, removing Ju Dou’s tragic fate in the new China and set it in the old era can be seen as a gesture of avoiding conflict with the government.

With both opinions from China and the western society, one can say that Zhang Yimou took both reasons into contemplation when making this film. He did not just simply push the time back to the pre-communist era, but also reduced and blurred the specific social conflict in reality and history. Historical events seem to have no effect on these characters who were isolated in this generic and anonymous village. As Callahan argued, “Ju Dou’s filmic images are even more powerful in the call to the ‘image-NATION’ of a community beyond the walls of the small village: the nameless village points to a named nation. [8]” By giving up naming a specific geographical area where the story takes place, Zhang Yimou chooses to make it more allegorical. In Ju Dou, Zhang Yimou is telling the story by trying to grasp some significant fragment of life which goes beyond the causality of history. Then it transcends to an allegory that’s more independent from time and space. Comparing to Fuxi Fuxi in which the characters’ decisions are deeply affected by the time period they live in, history in the film becomes a subtext that the concept of specific events is condensed on the characters and can also be considered as a subconscious guide to the characters’ behaviours. As Ju Dou’s awakening self-consciousness corresponds with Chinese feminism movements, three men are also shadows of many male Chinese citizens who refuse to follow the tide of time. By simply blaming the communist government for the change of time one ignores many other elements which Zhang Yimou worked hard on creating, but overlooking the censorship’s influence is also an irresponsible act to the development of the Chinese film industry.

Tradition, politics, and patriarchal hierarchy in China

Being a director who masters the technique of creating traditions and using them, Zhang Yimou created this world where the Confucian system and value are still highly esteemed by the majority of the population. One crucial rule of Confucianism is the Patriarchal clan system in which the elders and the male are the most valued groups in a society. In Ju Dou, the highest power is possessed by Jinshan, the oldest male character in the story. As well as symbolizing the highest oppressive authority, Jinshan can be taken into account as an image of an old Chinese society which is controlled by Confucianism for three thousand years. Jinshan’s desperate desire for an heir is an authentic need that is extremely important under the Patriarchal clan system in feudal China. Although acting as a figure who must be protested and defeated, Jinshan is still chosen by Tianbai to be his father rather than Tianqing. In order to interpret Tianbai’s choice politically, it must be understood that “patriarchy is a system of domination that animates both the Communist Party and Confucian society. [9]” What the Chinese Communist party’s trying to achieve is no longer an exact implement Marxism but a so-called “Chinese special socialism” or “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Under this exceptional framework of Communism, Tianbai can be seen as a conscious inheritor to Jinshan’s elder male authority. Tianqing on the other hand only has power over Ju Dou because of his defence of the patriarchal system through his persistence on filial piety. What Tianqing represents is not power, but as Zhang Yimou comments, “…… a typical Chinese citizen. He is timid, and…… always hiding…… He is under a lot of pressure which twists and represses his mind. But at the same time, he’s unable to resist his natural urges and desire…… Yang Tianqing is the most realistic representation of Chinese people’s state of mind. [10]” In other words, Tianqing is a cross-section of the majority of Chinese who are also suffering under the feudal system but at the same time defending it. Between power and people, Tianbai as the new generation of Chinese government calls Jinshan “father”, reinforcing the old power structure which ensures that he will become the new “father”. He then sits on Jinshan’s coffin condescendingly after unconsciously killing him, looking down on Ju Dou and Tianqing who’s still suffering because of a tradition that is forced upon them under his indifferent gaze, as the old order reinstalled.


[1] Tarasti, Eero. Existential Semiotics, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2000.

[2] Wang, Bo.  “Engaging Nüquanzhuyi: The Making of a Chinese Feminist Rhetoric,” College English, Vol.72, No.4, Special Topic: Studying Chinese Rhetoric in the Twenty-First Century (March 2010), 385-405.

[3] Zhao, Qingchao. 文学书写的影像转身:中国新时期电影改编研究, 齐鲁书社, 2012.

[4] [5] Yang, Shaowei. “The Fable Features in Zhang Yimou’ s Films.” Journal of Henan Institute of Education (Philosophy and Social Sciences), No.2, 2004, Vol.23, 42-44.


[7] [8] [9] Callahan, W.A. “Gender, Ideology, Nation: Ju Dou in the Cultural Politics of China.” East-West Film Journal, Vol.7, No.1, Special Issue On Cinema and Nationhood, Jan. 1993, 53-80.

[10] Zhang, Ming. 与张艺谋对话, 中国电影出版社, 2004.

Something about Yukio Mishima

Mishima’s literary style, as he used simple words and relatively short sentences, is blatantly honest. In the first few chapters of Confessions of a mask, he exposed his sexual desires towards men, his fascination about death since childhood, and his own shame to the readers in a calm but painfully honest way, although here painful refers to the feeling of the readers rather than the narrator in the book. He wrote about himself in a calm but aloof way as if he’s observing himself, but this honesty forced the readers to examine themselves, which created a certain intimacy. However, as readers, this intimacy that was easily gained or offered could feel like an intrusion of Mishima as a person. This aloofness can be exemplified by this passage in the book in which he describes his own body. “It was another case of the ugly duckling who believed he would become a swan, except that this time that heroic fairy tale was to have an exactly reverse outcome. (p.83)” Then, later on, he describes his feeling of uneasiness, “It was more than uneasiness: it was a sort of masochistic conviction, a conviction as firm as though founded on divine revelation, a conviction that made me tell myself: ‘Never in this world can you resemble Omi. (p.83)” That was a moment of self-loathing. The way he described his own body was sarcastic, cruel, and he was being somehow analytical about his personal feelings. Even when he was emotional, he was calm and with logic.

Mishima’s style is also a combination of beauty and ugliness or violence. He utilized elegant and poetic words to celebrate romance, but the romance that was celebrated is involved with death and destruction. In chapter two he wrote about the picture of St. Sebastian: “The arrows have eaten into the tense, fragrant, youthful flesh and are about to consume his body from within with flames of supreme agony and ecstasy. But there is no flowing blood, nor yet the host of arrows seen in other pictures of St. Sebastian’s martyrdom. Instead, two lone arrows cast their tranquil and graceful shadows upon the smoothness of his skin, like the shadows of a bough falling upon a marble airway.” The weird combination of elegance and violence are deeply rooted in Japanese culture, and also in Mishima’s literature. Although the confessions Mishima (wearing his mask) made are untraditional and unaccepted by mainstream Japanese society, which suggests an unconventional mind, Mishima is still influenced by society and developed a deep shame toward himself. His style is a combination of contradictory, even with the honest words mentioned above and the fictional nature of the “mask”.  And reading that can become a unique experience for the reader.

Something about Confessions of a Mask

The Theme of Confessions of a Mask

“But this does not mean that my emotional life was set to rights by my intellectual understanding of these scientific theories. It was difficult for inversion to become an actuality in my case simply because in me the impulse went no further than sexuality, went no further than being a dark impulse crying out in vain, struggling helplessly, blindly. Even the excitement aroused in me by an attractive ephebe stopped short at mere sexual desire. To give a superficial explanation, my soul still belonged to Sonoko. Although it does not mean that I accept the concept outright, I can conveniently use the medieval diagram of the struggle between soul and body to make my meaning clear: in me there was a cleavage, pure and simple, between spirit and flesh. To me Sonoko appeared the incarnation of my love of normality itself, my love of things of the spirit, my love of everlasting things. (Confessions of a Mask, Chapter 4)”

I believe one of the main themes of this book is the detachment of flesh/body and soul. Mishima was deeply ashamed by his own body. He’s ashamed of his lack of masculinity and his sexual desire towards men. The first half of this book mainly is about his flesh, and the other half, with Sonoko’s appearance, mainly talks about his soul. It was clearly stated on the book that Mishima struggle between these two things, which cause him unable to marry Sonoko, a girl he clearly loved.

However, the detachment also appears in the title of this book. After reading this book, the honest words made me assume that everything he wrote was genuine to himself. But the title of this book is called Confessions of a mask, which suggests inauthenticity about the narrator. With the help of some research, I found that Mishima once stated that “the whole thing is a perfect fiction. [1]” He used his actual life experience to create stories in the book, but what he wanted to create was a perfect fictional confession. But what needs to be perfected? I mentioned that Mishima is not satisfied with his own flesh. He’s unable to have sex with other people for a very long period of time. The mask, in my opinion, is him trying to pursue a perfect flesh. Buried behind layers of shame and masks, Mishima is detached from his own body. In that sense, the whole book is about his soul trying to understand his flesh which was lost to him.

Something about The Picture of Dorian Gray

Something I wrote about The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

“It is said that passion makes one think in a circle. Certainly with hideous iteration the bitten lips of Dorian Gray shaped and reshaped those subtle words that dealt with soul and sense, till he had found in them the full expression, as it were, of his mood, and justified, by intellectual approval, passions that without such justification would still have dominated his temper. From cell to cell of his brain crept the one thought; and the wild desire to live, most terrible of all man’s appetites, quickened into force each trembling nerve and fibre. Ugliness that had once been hateful to him because it made things real, became dear to him now for that very reason. Ugliness was the one reality. The coarse brawl, the loathsome den, the crude violence of disordered life, the very vileness of thief and outcast, were more vivid, in their intense actuality of impression, than all the gracious shapes of art, the dreamy shadows of song. They were what he needed for forgetfulness. In three days he would be free.” (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chapter 16)

Created as a character of aesthetic beauty, Dorian Gray manifests Oscar Wilde’s conflicted views of moral beauty and artistic beauty. In this paragraph, Dorian is on his way to the opium den where he indulged himself with vice and evil. Under the influence of Lord Henry, a firm pursuer of physical pleasure, and the judgement of Basil Hallward who was the ideal figure of morality and a performer of classical art, Dorian Gray struggled between the two and finally leaned toward Lord Henry’s side. Walking astray from the traditional view of beauty, Dorian discovered the hypocrisy in classic art forms and realised that the authenticity of life is actually more beautiful than the unrealistic or ideal image of a fake representation. If the readers were to consider this passage as a unification of ugliness (or reality) and beauty, it then became the perfect elucidation of this novel in general, in that Oscar Wilde’s elegant and stylishly luxurious writing style was essentially celebrating the flowers of evil as its content. The beauty within the ugliness that Dorian learned to appreciate was in a broader sense an attribute of this novel as an art piece. This whole book was crafted in a particular way to become this giant sarcasm of its own form in the 19th century. It became a huge metaphor of itself.