A review of the film To Live

Areview of the film ToLive

Fuguiseems to portray the corruption of Chinese society before theCommunist takeover in 1949. What events change him? How has hebecome different? How has he stayed the same?

Beforethe communist takeover, Fugui was something of a rich man’s son.That means he was used to a life of luxury and comfort. He had in noway worked hard for that. Similarly, the Chinese society seemed to beleading a life full of comfort, but never worked hard for it. Thesociety was simply gambling away its wealth, and someone else(another country perhaps) would eventually come and take away theirriches (Yu &amp Berry2003).

Whenthe civil war took place, Fugui had no choice but to join the army.Similarly, as a country, the Chinese society was forced to dosomething that they had never done before take part in therevolution that they really needed to. In the film ToLive (1994),there are three events in this film that changed Fugui’s life hisjoining of the army, family loss and the death of Long’er. Fuguihad lost everything by the time he joined the army. When he comesback from the army he finds that his mother is dead, and her daughtermute. The death of Long`erin particular shows to Fugui that the days of nobleman are over.

Oneof the biggest changes is that Fugui comes to accept that he is nolonger a nobleman out of necessity, since noble folks are beingdragged out and killed (Yu &amp Berry2003). He realises that theentire concept of personal wealth has also died. This is when hedecides to work in order to earn a living. Throughout the story, heearns a living through performing arts. Before joining the war, hewould not have worked even for a single day. Now, here he is workingday and night to feed himself and his family.

Fengxiais a “daughter of new China.” What does it mean for the daughterof new China to be silent or silence? Why is she the one who cannotspeak?

Fengxiais the daughter of the main character Fugui. From the films analysis,it is conclusive that Fugui represents that previous generation whichexisted before the revolution began i.e. the nationalist China thatexisted before the revolution. Fengxia represents the new generationof Chinese women who were born or raised after the revolution. Inthis story, Fengxia is not allowed to speak. This reflects that thenew Chinese regime does not put much emphasis on female personalexpression (Eastman,1991).

Fengxiais a perfectly normal girl with her own thoughts and ideas. However,she is not allowed to express them. The implication here is the newgeneration of Chinese female population that have had their abilityto express curtail by the new government, post revolution (Zheng,1999). This issue ties to the larger problem of freedom of expressionthat probably continues to exist even today in China.

Thereare several instances in the China’s modern history where thecommunist way of doing things has always taken precedence over anyother way of getting things done (Eastman,1991).China continues to have some of the strongest censorship guidelinesin the modern economy, especially a country that happens to beamongst one of the most industrialized in the world.

Thereason why Fengxia is deaf is because she is a woman who belongs inthe new generation. She is among those who got to live in a newsociety that was formed after the revolution. In case she gives birthto female children, chances are that, they will not learn to expressthemselves properly, even if they can speak. Ever since the newrevolution took over, successive female generation’s ability toexpress themselves is always cut off by the new government.

Youngqingis the son of Fugui and Jaizhen. Sons have long been preferred inChinese society. He is pampered, yet nevertheless he dies young. Itis an old friend, who is now a communist party leader who hasaccidently killed the boy. What is the significance of his death?

Despitethe change in society dynamics and governments, Fugui and his wifeare able to raise children, a son and a daughter. Somethinginteresting happens though the daughter ends up being deaf, whichrepresents that the female population of china has limited liberties.On the other hand, men are treated as royalty in every family. Thatis what is happening with Youngqing here. He represents all the menin the new society of China, where male children are preferred overfemale children. Despite all this,Youngqingdies very young (Yu &amp Berry, 2003). The circumstances under whichhe dies are to be noted here. Fugui is performing in a city that isworking overtime to build steel for a war. It is because of being inthis city, a city preparing for war, the son dies.

Ifthe there was no war, it is quite possible that Fugui would not haveto entertain troops. He would not have had to bring his son with him.His son would probably not have been killed. The narrative isreflecting and comparing the actual war with what is taking placeduring this time, the death of the son symbolises the death ofhundreds of young men dying in the war Every war has casualties andit almost always involves young men who have been raised with utmostcare by their parents (Zhao, 2004).

Theshadow puppet show is a recurring motif in the film. Keep track ofthe times the shadow puppets appear or are referred to in the film? Is this a visual zither? What note is being struck?

Whencompared to the novel, the shadow puppet does not exist but doesexist in the movie. In the novel, the narrative is much darker. Thenovel is more specific about the depictions of changes the Chinesesociety went through. The movie had to tone things down, probablybecause it would end up being banned everywhere if they kepteverything from the book. Also, a book can run forever but a moviehas to keep things short. The entire shadow puppet motif is anindication that the main character was never doing the things hewanted. Especially after the revolution, he has become a literalpuppet.

Thisis perhaps signifying that the Chinese revolution resulted in a lotof people simply acting like puppets. This connects to the curtailingof freedom of expression. People are simply expected to do what thenew society and government suggests. “Theyhave no choice but let others control their life with invisiblestrings.” (Eastman,1991) Every time the puppet shows up, a key life event happens toFugui. Usually something bad and he has no way of changing thesequence of events his daughter’s sickness, an entire town beingturned into a steel making factory, and his son’s death. Wheneversomething goes wrong, there is the puppet show happening around thesame time.

Whatis the significance of the story that Little Bun is told at themovie’s conclusion? What does this say about Yu Hua’s attitudetowards China’s future?

Thelittle Bun incident parallels the famine situation that existed inChina due to the policies that were enacted after the revolution.China was in such a hurry to become an industrialized nation thatthey crippled the food part of the economy (Zhao, 2004).The lack ofdoctors around this time indicates that the emphasis on health carehad also come down in China during that time. There was also that onecase where this doctor ate too many buns, until he simply could notperform his duties. This indicates the post famine situation wherethere was an immediate increase in food availability which createdother economic problems (Zhao, 2004).

Whenthe narrative ends for Fugui,he has pretty much given up having any faith in communism. However,there is one thing that has changed. He no longer takes things forgranted (which he did before the revolution when he was rich man’sson) and knows that he can work hard and lead a happy life. Thisrepresents an attitude of the Chinese people that they do indeed havesomething great to look forward to.


Hua,Y. (2012). Chinain ten words.Vintage Books.

Yu,H., &amp Berry, M. (2003). Tolive:A novel. New York: Anchor Books.

Zheng,Y. (1999). DiscoveringChinese nationalism in China: Modernization, identity, andinternational relations.Cambridge University Press.

Zhao,S. (2004). Anation-state by construction: Dynamics of modern Chinese nationalism.Stanford University Press.

Eastman,L. E. (Ed.). (1991). TheNationalist Era in China, 1927-1949.Cambridge University Press.

Tolive[Motion picture on DVD]. (1994). Hallmark Home Entertainment.