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VIOLENCE AND GENDER IDENTITIES IN MO YAN'S RED SORGHUM AND ZHANG YIMOU'S FILM ADAPTATION BY CLARE BROWN A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Ba chelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Aijun Zhu Sarasota, Florida May, 2011
ii For my parents, who have always supported me and have taught me more than any institution.
iii Acknowledgments I would like to thank Zhang laoshi, Z hu laoshi, and Dr. Van Tuyl for encouraging my studies and supporting my efforts during my time at New College. You have all given me the tools to travel the globe and explore my dreams. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me through the good, the bad, and the ugly: my family, my friends, and my cats. Also, to Red Bull, without you this thesis would not have been possible.
iv Table of Contents Acknowledgments..iii Table of Contents.............................. ..................................................................................iv Abstract................................................................................................................................v Introduction................... .......................................................................................................1 Chapter One: The Role and Depiction of Violence in Red Sorghum 's Roots Seeking Narrative .............6 Chapter Two: The Destruction of Traditional G ender Expectations and the Reconstruction of Femininity and Masculinity...............................................................................................35 Conclusion............................................................................ .............................................62 Bibliography......................................................................................................................60 Filmography.............................................................. .........................................................65
v VIOLENCE AND GENDER IDENTITIES IN MO YAN'S RED SORGHUM AND ZHANG YIMOU'S FILM ADAPTATION Clare Brown New College of Florida, 2011 This thesis examines the depictions of violence and gend er in Mo Yan's novel, Red Sorghum and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation, also called Red Sorghum Both works are representative of roots seeking movements in Chinese literature and film during the 1980s, which sought to find a non politicized cultural identit y. Through a close analysis of Mo Yan's novel and Zhang Yimou's film, the first chapter discusses the role and portrayal of violence in Red Sorghum 's roots seeking narrative. This is followed by the examination of the influence of violence on character mo rality and the depiction of amoral heroes. The second chapter of this thesis analyzes Red Sorghum 's constructions of gender and sexuality. Mo's and Zhang's narratives condemn the Confucian based patriarchy and reject traditional expectations of gender. Th e chapter concludes with an examination of the new standards of masculinity and femininity established by Red Sorghum 's protagonists. ________________________ Dr. Aijun Zhu Division of Humanities
1 Introduction Thesis Origins: An Anecdote During the s econd semester of my first year at New College, I took the class Cinema and Cultural Memory: New Cinema in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China taught by Professor Jing Zhang. Before the course, I had never watched a single Chinese film, but given that I was study ing Chinese language, I was intrigued by Chinese cinema. In the course, I was exposed to many different directors and styles of film, including Fifth Generation, Sixth generation, and Hong Kong cinema. During the semester, I watched and discussed a wide ra nge of films, from the Chen Kaige's dramatic Farewell My Concubine (1993) to Lou Ye's gritty Suzhou River (2000) and Stephen Chow's comedic From Beijing with Love (1994). I quickly learned which filmmaking movements I enjoyed Fifth Generation cinema an d which ones plagued me with ennui Sixth generation cinema. The first film we watched was Chen Kaige's Yellow Earth (1984), a seminal work in Fifth Generation cinema the name given to the filmmaking movement that emerged in the early 1980s, chiefly amo ng the 1982 graduates of the Beijing Film Academy, and challenged the conventions of Chinese film. I was amazed not only by the film's remarkable cinematography, but also by the uncomplicated examination of cultural identity and peasant struggle. Over the following weeks I watched several more Fifth Generation films and was impressed by the style of storytelling and cinematography. Out of all of the films I watched, including non Fifth Generation, I found myself favoring the works of Zhang Yimou, a Fifth G eneration cinematographer and director who shot Chen Kaige's Yellow Earth In class, we watched two of Zhang's films, Ju Dou
2 (1990) and To Live (1994), which chronicle the lives of women suffering at the hands of a cruel patriarchal system. With incredible color, novel shot composition, and compelling narratives, I was captivated. When my class with Professor Zhang ended, I continued to view Zhang Yimou's films, including 1991's Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Not One Less (1999), and Hero (2002). While Zhan g's more recent action films entertained me, his older films, with enchanting images and often tragic tales of female oppression truly held my attention. In my second year at New College, I had the opportunity to explore modern Chinese literature in two co urses taught by Professor Aijun Zhu. Over the course of a year, I became acquainted with the novel, avant garde, and often unusual works of authors like Lu Xun, Ah Cheng, Mao Dun, and Alai. In the same way that I was interested in Fifth Generation filmmaki ng, I became fascinated with the violent, grotesquely beautiful prose of roots seeking literature. The Intersection of Fifth Generation Cinema and Roots seeking Literature When it came time for me to approach my thesis, I decided to focus on what I found most interesting during my Chinese education at New College. Consequently, my thesis focuses on the intersection of Fifth Generation cinema and roots seeking literature, as embodied by Mo Yan's 1987 novel, Red Sorghum and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation fro m the same year, Red Sorghum Both works depict a fictional narrative of a small wine distilling community and the life of its peasants in the early Twentieth century before, during, and after the Second Sino Japanese War. The story is one of
3 violence and passion, where the traditional feudal patriarchy is destroyed, altering expectations of morality and gender. There are difficulties in performing a comparative analysis between Mo Yan's original work of literature and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation. From me dium based limitations to discrepancies between character names and the omission of certain events, there is an abundance of disparity both major and minor. In my analysis, I have put focus on the differences relevant to my discussion, but have avoided sup erfluous or minor divergences. However, there are several core points of dissimilarity worth noting. Perhaps the most challenging inconsistency between Mo's and Zhang's depictions is the needless change in certain character names. I have tried to note the difference in names when referring to either the book or film on its own, and have attempted to maintain consistency in the labeling of characters. Unfortunately, between proper names, nicknames, and general pronouns, differentiating certain characters can be problematic. The hardest character to keep track of is Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa, who is referred to by both monikers in Mo's book, but only as Grandpa in Zhang's film. To clarify my discussion, I refer to him as "Yu Zhan'ao" when discussing Mo's character an d "Grandpa" when discussing Zhang's character. When addressing his general characterization, I have opted to refer to the character as "Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa." Medium related restrictions mean that Zhang Yimou's interpretation of Mo Yan's Red Sorghum is relat ively narrow in scope. Zhang only has around 90 minutes to relate the story that Mo tells over 165 pages, which results in the director's condensation of the epic tale. Since Zhang's adaptation follows only the first two chapters of Mo Yan's Red
4 Sorghum "Red Sorghum" and "Sorghum Wine," my analysis of Mo's literature focuses solely on these first two sections. While Zhang Yimou retains the core events of Mo Yan's literary work, his alteration and omission of other content has different levels of impact. P arts of my analysis focus on Zhang's adjustment to the content of Red Sorghum and the result it has on both the narrative and characterization. In several instances, minor changes in the depiction of events generate major transformations to the story. Furt her, these key alterations speak to Mo's and Zhang's different motivations in storytelling. In a 1988 interview, Zhang Yimou discussed his adaptation of Mo Yan's work, noting the author's endorsement of his film project and acceptance of inevitable modifi cations: He [Mo Yan] said he didn't care how the director shot the film at all. Some writers are no good; they'll hold up their books and question how you could have neglected to film this sentence this sentence is so profound, so important! He reall y understands that film is film. (Gateward 4) Zhang's decision to take artistic license with the story rather that producing a faithful film version of Mo's novel makes it possible to critique his adjustments and his motivations. Though both men have simil ar styles, the dissimilarities between book and film point to their different outlooks and objectives, making for a complex analysis. In Chapter One of this thesis I discuss Mo Yan's and Zhang Yimou's roots seeking processes and the role of violence in the creation of an imagined history. Through a close analysis of both works, I examine how Mo and Zhang disagree in their
5 depictions of violence and its importance within the narrative. Finally, I deliberate the influence of violence on the development of cha racter morality. In Chapter Two I discuss the Confucian standards of femininity and its subsequent rejection by Mo's and Zhang's heroine, Jiu'er. Eventually liberated from the constraints of an oppressive patriarchal system, Jiu'er asserts her sexuality, t he consequences of which I explore. This analysis is followed by an examination of the traditional male hierarchy and its destruction by strong, young masculinity. Lastly, I discuss the rejection of sick masculinity and the establishment of new expectation s of masculinity.
6 Chapter One: The Role and Depiction of Violence in Red Sorghum 's Roots Seeking Narrative In the early 1980s, many writers and filmmakers who grew up during the Cultural Revolution began to produce creative works concerned with finding a solution to modern Chinese apathy in China's "roots." In literature, a movement called roots seeking developed, while in film, a movement classed as Fifth Generation Cinema began. Both movements focus on the passionate spirit they feel no longer exists in modern China. Through roots seeking, artists searched for a national identity in alternative histories filled with violent heroic ancestors. By contrast, modern descendants have lost their passion, replaced by indifference. The narrative of Mo Yan's novel Red Sorghum and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation Red Sorghum is an imagined account of unconventional heroes who live during the early Twentieth Century. The discovered "history" features passionate characters, willing to take physical action if necessary. M o and Zhang diverge in their depictions of the violence associated with their primitive heroes. Mo takes a direct approach, carefully describing the details of every fight, death, and murder. In contrast, Zhang minimizes the depiction of violence, reducing its prevalence to romanticize the characters and story. The prevalence of violence influences the development of morality, meaning that violence does not preclude virtue and vice versa. While the morality of most of Mo Yan's and Zhang Yimou's characters can easily be divided into good' or bad' categories, the male protagonist eludes black and white judgment.
7 Mo Yan and Zhang Yimou: a Primer Both Mo Yan's and Zhang Yimou's personal histories had a distinct impact on their creative pursuits. As a result of growing up during the Cultural Revolution, the two men share certain similar experiences of political oppression, significantly influencing their roots seeking styles and narrative depictions. The Author: Mo Yan Guan Moye, pen name Mo Yan, was born in Gaomi County, Shandong in 1956 to an upper middle class family. As a young child, Mo experienced the Great Leap Forward and the great famine, both of which were times of hardship. Shortly afterwards, the ideology of the Cultural Revolution condemned Mo's family background. The author recalls, "Because of my class origin, I was not allowed to continue my education after grade five" (Leung 146). No longer eligible for education, Mo Yan was forced to return to his family home in the countryside. Academics wer e replaced by physical work, Mo assisting his parents in tending their land and animals. By his mid teens Mo was working in a commune and continued to work as a peasant until 1973. Frustrated by the ineffective bureaucracy of his work unit, Mo managed to g et an accounting job, bringing him closer to his goal of escaping the countryside. However, ways to get out of the village were extremely limited. In an interview later in life, Mo recounts, "For young people in rural China, there were only two ways out: o ne was to join the army and the other was to become a worker peasant soldier student.' The only way to change my fate was to leave the village" (Leung 147).
8 Mo Yan faced heavy competition to be a soldier, but lucky circumstances gave him an advanta ge. While working as an accountant at a factory in 1976, Mo happened to be one of the only men around when army recruiters visited his area. Fatefully, the other men were away working on a construction project, providing no opposition for Mo. If Mo's branc h secretary or team leader had been around, he surely would have been denied admission into the People's Liberation Army (PLA). After finding out that he had been accepted into the military, the author recalls, the village authorities "wrote the army sayin g that I should return to the village because I was from a rich peasant background" (Leung 148). Mo narrowly escaped being discharged from the PLA by convincing his supervisor of his merit. When university admissions recommenced after the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Mo Yan began to study in the hopes of going back to school. However, by the time he was ready to take the exam, the quota for soldiers had already been filled, meaning that once again he was denied the opportunity to pursue an education. L ater, Mo Yan was able to study language and culture in the army, eventually becoming a teacher. In 1982, Mo Yan was accepted to the Cultural Department of the PLA, but became disenchanted with the "dogma of the Cultural Revolution," realizing "all of it wa s fake" (Leung 149). After making this realization, Mo Yan decided to "explore new modes of expression" and began developing a new style. By 1985, Mo Yan found success with the novella Crystal Carrots and later that year he wrote critically acclaimed Red Sorghum Zhang Yimou's 1987 adaptation of Red Sorghum brought international attention to the author, earning him worldwide recognition as an important figure in modern Chinese literature. Although Mo's novel and Zhang's
9 film have both been highly successfu l, "roots seeking authors have not attained the quick international success of their cinematic counterparts, the Fifth Generation" (Lovell 136). The Director: Zhang Yimou Zhang Yimou was born in 1951 in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province. Like Mo Yan, Zhang was forced to deal with the label of a bad family background. Zhang's father was labeled as a counterrevolutionary, which targeted the whole family for political persecution. The director remarks, "That era is filled with tragic memories of having o ur house ransacked and being sent to the countryside for reeducation. For me, that was an era without hope I lived in a world of desperation" (Berry, M. 112). Zhang Yimou spent three years in the countryside and seven years in a factory" (Berry, C. 15). W hile working at a factory towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, Zhang began to pursue photography as a hobby. Since schools were closed, he chose to further himself creatively rather than academically. The Beijing Film Academy (BFA) reopened in 1978, but at 27, Zhang exceeded the age limit of 22. Despite the official limitation, Zhang wrote to the Ministry of Culture asking to be considered for entry. Impressed by Zhang's talent, the ministry admitted him into the first new class of the Beijing Film A cademy where he studied cinematography. At the BFA Zhang Yimou counted among his peers future filmmaking stars Chen Kaige, Tian Zuangzhuang, and Zhang Junzhao (Berry, C. 15). After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy in 1982, Zhang was assigned to th e Guangxi Film Studios in the southern region of China. While Zhang was initially annoyed by his posting to a small studio in a remote area, the size and location gave
10 Zhang and his fellow filmmakers freedom to express themselves. During his time at the Gu angxi Film Studio, Zhang worked on different productions, including the critically acclaimed films, One and Eight (Dir. Zhang Junzhao, 1983) Yellow Earth (Dir. Chen Kaige, 1984), and The Big Parade (Dir. Chen Kaige, 1986). After earning a positive reputa tion for his cinematography, Zhang Yimou moved on to the role of director in 1987, adapting Mo Yan's Red Sorghum for the big screen. His directorial debut garnered accolades from film circles worldwide, earning him the prestigious Golden Bear Award at the 1988 Berlin Film Festival (Gateward xiiv). Following his success with Red Sorghum, Zhang has continued directing films, though his style has evolved over time. While Zhang started out telling stories that expressed his "outrage and disdain towards the cul ture of feudal patriarchy," he has gradually evolved into a more mainstream filmmaker, recently finding success with action blockbusters, Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004) (Chen 134). Roots Seeking Literature, Fifth Generation Cinema, and the Search for a New Cultural Identity Mo Yan and Zhang Yimou both experienced the Cultural Revolution during their youths, which forced them to leave school and work in the countryside. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution meant experiencing an extended period of hardship and bearing witness to the devastation of cultural identity. During this era, violence spread across China, turning man against man and bringing out the worst in the Chinese. Both author and director were exposed to the realities of vio lence and the degradation of the Chinese spirit, events that subsequently influenced their artistic pursuits.
11 The young men and women returning to their homes after the Cultural Revolution faced an irreparably altered cultural landscape, where art had be en politicized and sanitized. Subsequently, in the early 1980s, a roots seeking movement protesting Chinese apathy emerged in literary and cinematic works produced by members of the "sent down youth" generation, who worked in the countryside during the Cul tural Revolution. The roots seeking movement can be seen as a natural progression of modern Chinese literature, with its motivation mirroring that of Lu Xun, the man considered the father of modern Chinese literature, who was so horrified by his compatriot s' apathy that he turned to writing in an attempt to cure his culture's sickness. Distressed by the dispassionate attitudes of contemporary Chinese, these artists looked towards a mythical past to find the cure for modern indifference: Root writers and th eorists saw the remote rural and minority areas as preserves of cultures somehow untouched by the homogenizing influence of modernization, westernization, and even Chinese revolution on one hand and the Confucian or dominant Han Chinese culture on the othe r. (Leenhouts 534). Artists turned to cultural introspection, creating alternative accounts of rural Chinese heroism, rife with violence and moral ambiguity. Within the roots seeking movement, several medium specific groups developed, including, in litera ture, the aptly named roots seeking literature,' and in film, the Fifth Generation cinema.' Roots seeking literature centers upon "seeking oneself in the deep spirit of one's people and cultural essence" and "refamiliarization with one's own humanity" (Q i 110 111). The writers of the movement argue that examination of the
12 human condition, however imperfect, is essential for the health and progression of society. Roots seeking literature involves the search for the cure to modern apathy, frequently looking towards rural settings to find a cultural identity independent of Communist ideology. Roots seeking writers, including Mo Yan, stress the artistic value of culture in response to the Communist exploitation of culture to serve a political agenda. Like the writers of roots seeking literature, "the Fifth Generation discursively situated themselves outside of official representation and thus felt free to construct their own myths to remythify Chinese culture and history" (Zhang, Y. 237). While artistic expre ssion had long been restricted by moral guidelines and political agendas, Fifth Generation filmmakers rebelled against neutered art. Ni Zhen, a professor who taught Zhang Yimou at the Beijing Film academy recalls, "the filmmakers of the Fifth Generation h ad emerged from the dark tunnel of the decade of chaos and returned from the countryside, in the north and the south, eager to release their pent up and overpowering feelings of oppression" (196). Roots seeking literature and Fifth Generation cinema combi ned forces in 1987, when Zhang Yimou adapted the first two novels of Mo Yan's Red Sorghum in his film Red Sorghum. In Mo Yan's Red Sorghum and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation of the same name, this search for roots uncovers a passionate and violent past, whi ch both artists champion as preferable to "the tastelessness and boredom of contemporary life" (Zhang, X. 322). Mark Leenhouts situates both works in the roots seeking movement: Mo Yan's (b.1956) internationally acclaimed Red Sorghum (Hong gaoliang jiazu, 1987), has since been labeled [a] standard work of the
13 roots seeking current. The well known film by Zhang Yimou based on Mo Yan's novel ( Red Sorghum 1988) represent[s] a roots seeking current in cinema around the same period. (535) Red Sorghum : A Synopsis Red Sorghum is set in Northeast Gaomi County of Shandong Province, in the North East area of China (Mo Yan's home area), around the time of the Second Sino Japanese War. It tells the story of a young woman, named Jiu'er, who is traded by her fathe r to be the bride of the leprous owner of a wine distillery. During her wedding parade, a masked bandit holds up the procession, robbing the wedding sedan bearers and musicians. He attempts to take Jiu'er into the sorghum fields to rape her, but she is sav ed by the chief sedan bearer (known as Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa), who leads an attack on the bandit that results in the death of the would be thief and rapist. After the bandit's death, the wedding parade carries on, eventually delivering Jiu'er to the compound Jiu'er manages to avoid the leper's advances that night by brandishing a pair of scissors she brought from home. Luckily for Jiu'er, local tradition specifies that she return home for three days before finally moving into the leper's compound, giving her a brief reprieve from her new, sickly husband. On her way home, she once again finds herself the victim of a bandit attack, when a masked man grabs her from mule back and carries her into the sorghum fields. However, once deep into the field, the bandit r emoves his mask, revealing himself as the chief sedan bearer from Jiu'er's wedding procession. Jiu'er is ecstatic to see that her attacker is
14 actually her former savior, a strong young man, whose body she gazes upon with desire. The two youths have sex in the midst of the sorghum field, shirking traditional expectations of conduct in favor of the realization of their passion. When Jiu'er returns to the distillery after three days, she discovers that her leper husband has been murdered, but the killer rema ins unknown to the local community. While Mo Yan details how Yu Zhan'ao murders the leper, Zhang Yimou assigns him no true culpability, only suggesting that he did it. Liberated from the constraints of traditional Confucian hierarchy, Jiu'er takes over the role of owner, asserting herself and defying conventions of femininity. Although she expressed her sexual desires for Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa earlier and now finds herself pregnant with his child, Jiu'er does not initially accept Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa as her new partner only when he proves his masculinity in a demonstration of strength and skill does she accept him. The narrative then skips several years forward, finding Jiu'er and Yu Zhan'ao living happily with their son. However, their happiness is challenged when the Japanese invade, destroying the community. After the Japanese skin men alive in a demonstration of abominable violence, Jiu'er incites the men in her community to retaliate. The film comes to a climax as the men launch a guerilla attack on the Jap anese convey. The men face the Japanese military force with few weapons their technology primitive in comparison to that of the Japanese, but are determined to protect the distilling community. A bloody battle ensues, destroying not only men, but also th e sorghum. Though she is not a part of the physical fight, Jiu'er is killed by the Japanese when she
15 tries to deliver food to the men, marking her as a martyr. When the battle comes to an end, the only people left alive are Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa and his son. Past Passions and Modern Apathy From bandit attacks to military invasion, the characters of Red Sorghum live in a turbulent world, marked by battles and blood. Violence constantly looms in the area the sorghum providing excellent cover for a variety of crimes. The characters are forced to face and respond to this violence, meaning that even the innocent must sometimes act as criminals. These Chinese "ancestors are courageous enough to love and to hate" to fight for and protect the things they value (C hou 34). Their passion manifests as violence, but Mo and Zhang assert that if violence is necessitated, then it should be perpetrated it is better to be bloody and beaten, fighting for what you believe in, than to stay safe and inactive, caring about not hing: The strong affirmation of human consciousness, vitality, and freedom in Red Sorghum certainly constituted a revolt and a blow against the repression of human nature in Chinese society over the last half century and against the Confucian shackles of feudal society's long history. (Ni 196) Jiu'er and Yu Zhan'ao (referred to only as Grandpa in Zhang's adaptation) are presented alternative heroes embodying the passionate rejection of oppressive traditional standards. Mo's original Red Sorghum and Zhang Y imou's adaptation, Red Sorghum create an alternative past filled with passionate ancestors who fight to protect what they value. Both author and director argue the importance of this impassioned violence and condemn
16 the modern degradation of the human sp irit. Violence is used to rouse emotional response, forcing the modern audience to examine their own passivity. The story's narrator, the grandson of Jiu'er (Grandma) and Yu Zhan'ao (Grandpa), bemoans his modern indifference, his life without fervor. "Comp ared with his ancestors, who are men and women of action, the speaker finds himself belonging to a different generation characterized by weakness, timidity, and hypocrisy" (Chou 34). The unnamed, disembodied narrator acknowledges that he has lost the passi onate spirit of Grandma and Grandpa he is an unfit successor to the heroic legacy of his family. The narrator praises the primitive ardor of his ancestors and laments the departure from passionate cultural roots. The narrator targets the audience, appla uding his predecessors and accusing his fellow Chinese of abandoning their roots and devolving into passive modern beings: "They killed, they looted, and they defended their country in a valiant, stirring ballet that makes us unfilial descendants who now o ccupy the land pale by comparison. Surrounded by progress, I feel a nagging sense of our species' regression" (Mo 4). While these predecessors were at times amoral and violent, the argument remains that "individuality, however unrespectable, is preferable to submissiveness and blind conformity" (Chou 38). In comparison to the spirited actions of the characters, the inaction of modern Chinese people is tantamount to violence. The Construction of Violence in Red Sorghum 's Roots Seeking Narrative Mo Yan and Z hang Yimou focus heavily on violence, examining its role in the lives of their imagined, passionate ancestors. Both artists force the unfilial modern reader to contemplate the presence of violence in Chinese history and its relationship with
17 passionate liv ing. However, Mo and Zhang diverge in their actual depiction of violence, a reflection of their separate artistic movements. Mo Yan's graphic approach to violence is characteristic of roots seeking literature, which contemplates both the good and bad aspe cts of the human condition. Mo does not shy away from the ugly details, instead poeticizing the horrible beauty of violence. In contrast, Zhang Yimou minimizes the depiction of violence in his film a common characteristic of Fifth Generation cinema, wher e lush cinematography and artistry can overshadow realism. By reducing the brutality of the film's violence, Zhang romanticizes both the narrative and his characters. There are two violent events in Red Sorghum 's narrative, depicted both in print and on s creen, that warrant particular analysis for the ways in which author and director diverge the "acceptable" killing of a highwayman and "unacceptable" murder of distillery foreman, Arhat/Luohan. While Mo carefully examines these acts of violence, fully ex ploring the repercussions of violent actions, Zhang reduces the violence. However, both men raise the question of what violence is acceptable and what is unacceptable. The Brutal Beauty of Mo Yan's Grotesque Violence In Red Sorghum Mo Yan emphasizes the prevalence of violence in the lives of the peasants of Northeast Gaomi Township. Mo Yan transports the reader to the remote area of Shandong, where "there are times when everything on earth spits out the stench of human blood" (11). The reader can smell th e moist air, which sometimes offers the rich scent of sorghum and at other times, the sickly sweet smell of blood. The ground below
18 has been turned dark with blood many times, the earth itself a first hand witness to the impassioned actions of Northeast Ga omi Township's inhabitants. Many men and women have returned to the soil, becoming part of the sorghum and transcending "the cruel world of man" (71). Mo Yan refuses to shield the reader from the grotesque details of his characters' actions, unflinchingly focusing on the nauseating atrocities committed amongst the sorghum fields. Mo asserts that the savagery of murder and the crudity of death are natural and important parts of human existence, which is both brutal and beautiful. Mo Yan refuses to produce a politically palatable history, instead recognizing China's violent past and the passionate spirit now absent in modern China. In one of Red Sorghum 's earliest events, a bandit attacks Jiu'er's wedding procession. After having paraded across the dusty land scape of Northeast Gaomi Township, with the male carriers singing obscene songs and jostling the bride, the wedding party reaches the vast expanses of sorghum fields. All is peaceful until a disembodied voice cries out from the sorghum, "Nobody passes with out paying a toll!" (Mo 47). Threatening the group with a gun, a masked highwayman orders them to stop and hand over their money. However, money is not the only thing the thief covets. Showing no respect for tradition or the sanctity of marriage, the highw ayman approaches Jiu'er's sedan and pulls back the curtain that separates him from the bride. Having already accepted the likelihood of a miserable fate as the wife of a putrid leper, Jiu'er no longer fears death. When the bandit touches Jiu'er's foot, a c hallenging smile flashes across her face, shocking the man and causing him to pull "his hand away as though it had been scalded" (Mo 48). Ordered into the sorghum field, Jiu'er looks back at
19 the bearers and musicians, exchanging an urgent glance with Yu Zh an'ao/Grandpa. The young man attacks the bandit, knocking him to the ground before the other men join the assault. During the attack, Jiu'er turns away, standing aside but "listening to the dull cacophony of fists and feet on flesh" (Mo 49). Finally, the bandit's screams come to an end as he is beaten to death. Not content to leave the violence to the reader's imagination, Mo details the horrific bodily consequences: "The highwayman's stomach gurgled and his body, racked by spasms, grew deathly still, he l ay spread eagled on the ground, a mixture of whi t e and yellow liquid seeping slowly out of the fissure in his skull" (49). Once the commotion is over, Jiu'er glances at the dead body before returning to her sedan chair, resuming her position in the sedan. The wedding procession carries on silently there is no more music or song, as all fall quiet in somber introspection. The mood of the wedding now dark, the men no longer have the spirit to continue on in a jovial fashion. There is no way to ignore the gr otesque reality of the attack or the speed with which events turn violent in the depths of the sorghum fields. Mo Yan reinforces the permanence and horror of death when he revisits the highwayman's corpse in the days after his death. The author is unrelen ting is his depiction of mortality and the fragile human state, refusing to forget the earlier violence and its consequences. Rather Mo Yan weaves a rotten tapestry of disturbing images a grotesque portrait of death documenting the highwayman as he put refies at the side of a dirt path. While returning home as part of a local wedding tradition, Jiu'er is forced to confront the corpse at different stages in decomposition as she retraces her wedding
20 parade route. In death, the degeneracy of that bandit's actions manifest physically. Mo's prose, though horrible in content, presents the physical atrocities in a poetic manner, conjuring images that are abhorrent but compelling. On Jiu'er's first encounter, "an overpowering stench" radiates from rotten remain s, "the highwayman's bloated corpse covered by a layer of emerald colored flies" (Mo 69). Three days later, "A scene of filth and corruption greeted her eyes: a million fat maggots had gorged themselves until only a few pieces of rotting flesh covere d his bones" (92). However, the young woman finds beauty in the decay of her would be rapist noting the "remarkable contrast between the graceful elegance of his dead face and the mean, cowardly expression he'd worn in life" (69). Through his heroine, Mo a sserts that death is not something to be looked away from. On a different level, the distillery foreman, Arhat, called Luohan in the film, is a victim of violence related to national identity and represents the general suffering of civilians during the Ja panese invasion. Later in the chronological structure of Red Sorghum Arhat is violently targeted by the Japanese invaders, who force Sun Five, a village butcher, to skin him alive. After being taken into forced labor by the Japanese, the exasperated and b eaten Arhat stubbornly kills the two mules that were taken from the distillery by the Japanese, angered that they will not follow him as he tries to escape. In retaliation, the Japanese choose to make him an example and have him skinned him alive. In a dis turbing scene of abominable violence, the villagers of Northeast Gaomi Township are herded together like cattle and forced to watch as their comrade, Arhat, is brutally murdered. Likewise, the reader must bear witness as Mo Yan narrates the scene in harrow ing detail.
21 Jiu'er and the narrator's father watch with horror as Arhat is brought out by soldiers and reduced to an inhuman state. Strung over a Japanese truck like an animal waiting to be flayed alive "he seemed just a strange, bloody creature in human form" (Mo 34). The Japanese barbarism is both horrifying and mesmerizing, Mo Yan's narrative pulsing with Arhat's ebbing heartbeat. The violence forces a horrible transformation, butcher and victim losing their human identities as they are respectively for ced to commit and endure torture. Arhat undergoes a grotesque metamorphosis from man to animal: "As the skin was being stripped from his body, his flesh jumped and quivered, as if he were a huge skinned frog" (9). The once strong and humble man is reduced to flesh and bone in front of his community, methodically mutilated beyond recognition. Although Sun Five's life is spared, the gruesome ordeal ensures that he will never be the same. As soon as his knife slices into Arhat's flesh, Sun Five loses all conne ction to sanity, his humanity obliterated by what he is forced to do. In Father's eyes, "Sun Five no longer seemed human as his flawless knife work produced a perfect pelt" (Mo 37). As Arhat's skin falls away, so does Sun Five's grip on reality. Although n othing can make up for his inhuman act nor erase it from memory, the populace of Northeast Gaomi Township feel that Sun Five's dissolution into madness serves as divine retribution. In his fictional account, Mo Yan acknowledges the bloodiness of China's pa st by basing the event within the historical context of the Second Sino Japanese War. Mo doesn't attempt to purge a cultural memory, as is the case with scar literature, but instead forces his apathetic countrymen to recognize the suffering of their progen itors. Mo presents violence as an intrinsic part of China's history violence something art should not avoid.
22 The Minimization and Romanticization of Violence in Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum Zhang Yimou's depiction of violence is very different from that of Mo Yan. Zhang spins action to a crescendo, but leaves the climax unseen, relying upon the insinuation of violence to create tension and evoke pathos. Zhang also has a tendency to brush over violent events, moving forward quickly in the narrative and minim izing moral and emotional repercussions. While Zhang features both the highwayman's and Arhat's deaths, he gives them a much more reserved treatment, sparing his audience the sight of bodily harm. Zhang's camera work actualizes Mo Yan's words, transporting the viewer to Northeast Gaomi Township. He carefully constructs "the most beautiful and most repulsive, most unusual and most common, most sacred and most corrupt, most heroic and most bastardly, hardest drinking and hardest loving place in the world." (M o 4) On screen, the contrast between yellow brown earth and green sorghum is striking, setting the backdrop for much of the film's action, including both the bandit attack on the wedding party and the Japanese brutality. In the filmic narrative, the party traverses a barren landscape, kicking up dirt while singing and jostling the bride. As the bearers and musicians fall into line to walk the narrow path cutting through the sorghum field, the tall, flourishing stalks dance in the soft breeze, enveloping th e procession. The highwayman's voice rings out above the sorghum, disembodied and sinister. Ordering the group to stop, he spits out threats, the violent crackle of his voice in marked contrast to the peaceful sounds of sorghum moving in the wind.
23 After t he sedan party hands over their money, the robber moves into the frame, his masked figure shown from behind. A burlap sack, primitively fashioned into mask by cutting holes for eyes, conceals his face. The camera cuts back towards the bandit, revealing tha t the bandit is holding what appears to be a gun, ensuring compliance from his targets. His black clad form bends cautiously as he retrieves his loot from the ground a sizeable amount for such short work. However, as in Mo's original, the criminal has hi s sights set on a bigger bounty. Forcing Jiu'er out of the sedan, the bandit pushes her towards the sorghum while the other men look on. Once again, Jiu'er exchanges a glance with Grandpa (Yu Zhan'ao), prompting him to lead an attack on the bandit. Zhang k eeps the murder off screen, showing the flurry of fists, feet, and instruments, but not the consequences of the blows to the bandit's body. The camera stays fixed upon the men attacking as Jiu'er faces away, her figure in red contrasting harshly against th e green sorghum in the background and the brown masculine bodies in the foreground. The end of the bandit's screams signal his death, but the viewer does not see him physically expire. Despite his menacing voice, the sham highwayman's death rattle is more of a gurgle, his criminal life extinguished with ease. Zhang's minimizing of violence results in the notable absence of the highwayman's corpse when Jiu'er returns to the dirt road, traveling to and from her familial home. By eliminating the highwayman's corpse Zhang is able to keep the mise en scene balanced and pleasant, unmarred by decomposing remains; neither the viewers, nor the characters are affronted by the appalling sight. By minimizing the repercussions
24 of the highwayman's death, Zhang transforms the ordeal from an attack with brutal consequences to a heroic rescue quickly forgotten by those involved. Zhang takes artistic license with his depiction of the Japanese invasion and the skinning of Luohan, Mo's Arhat. His treatment is less graphic than Mo Yan's and comparatively limited in scope. Due to limitations of the medium and greater focus on other events, he condenses the Japanese invasion into one anecdote of extreme violence. However, unlike the instance of the highwayman, where Zhang minimizes the violence to manipulate the tone, he preserves the darkness of this scene, noting it as a violent nadir in the long, bloody saga of Northeast Gaomi Township. The scene opens with Japanese soldiers ordering villagers to trample down a large clearing in the sorghum at gunpoint. Once a sufficiently large area has been created, the Japanese casually set up a wooden rack on one of their military trucks. Zhang's camera cuts to two village butchers, who process a cow for the Japanese. The soldiers drag forth a limp man, dropping him on the ground next to the military truck. After praising the butchers' expertise, a Chinese puppet soldier orders the elder butcher to skin the man alive, threatening to kill the butcher if he refuses to comply. While his victim is hung on the rack, the butcher begs to be spared, but is forced forward. Strung up like an animal, the battered man raises his head, revealing himself as Shanpao, the filmic counterpart to the book's Spotty Neck, the butcher's employer. Zhang Yimou focuses closely on Shanpao as he asks for mercy and is granted it by the terrified butcher, who spares Shanpao a horrific fate by stabbing him. A Japanese soldier immediately opens fire, mowing down the butcher for his insubordination. However, the ordeal is not over and Luohan is brought forward and placed on the rack.
25 While Arhat of Mo's Red Sorghum is killed as a punishment for killing his Japanese appropriated mules, Zhang's Luohan is persecuted as a member of the communist party. The villagers are shocked to see Luohan, who covertly left the distillery to fight in the resistance. This alteration to the plot romanticizes Luohan's character, elevating him from stubborn man to brave hero. The second butcher, an analog to the book's Sun Five, is told to skin Luoh an or he will be skinned himself. Though hesitant, the young man raises his knife, slicing across Luohan's forehead. As Luohan screams, the camera cuts away, skipping the actual skinning and showing the bloodied butcher sitting in the clearing, laughing ma niacally. An earlier scene in the film showing the young butcher chopping up a cattle head becomes more haunting in retrospect. In comparison to his depiction of the bandit's murder, Zhang Yimou has no choice but to appreciate the brutal violence committed against the Chinese. However, Zhang focuses on violence against nature to visually represent the violence against man. Rather than show his audience the gory torture of Luohan, Zhang Yimou relies upon the portrayal of animal skinning to simulate the human dissection. Before being faced with their human specimens, the two village butchers flay a cow. They move their knives with practiced skill, peeling the hide away with ease and exposing the cattle's innards. The two butchers stretch out the flawless pelt, its brown coat bright red with fresh blood, over the hood of the Japanese truck, foreshadowing what transpires. As Zhang transitions to human butchery, the viewer cannot help but keep the violent animal visuals in mind. Though the camera does not show Lu ohan being skinned, the animal analog acts as a fair substitute. The substitution of imagery also emphasizes the animal treatment Luohan sustains for the Japanese, Luohan holds less worth than an
26 animal. The invaders do not even offer the same courtesies they do to their animals, refusing to kill their victims before they are butchered. Ultimately, Zhang Yimou plays down the full extent of violence in Red Sorghum which supports his reconstruction of the bloody narrative into a fable whose heroic charac ters are able to brush off violence. Where Zhang does acknowledge the violence committed by the characters, he downplays the physical consequences. Subsequently, Zhang reduces the reflection inducing capacity of Mo's original, instead opting to present a l ess though provoking, more romantic story. The Question of Morality In Red Sorghum morality is not based solely upon whether or not someone commits an act of violence, but is also influenced by the motivations behind the violence. The non violent Jiu'er who fights to live a passionate life, is considered good and moral, despite defying conventional expectations of female morality. In Red Sorghum much of the violence centers on Jiu'er, either being committed against her or for her. Whether the perpetrat ors are considered moral or amoral is heavily influenced by their intentions with regards to Jiu'er; the corrupt and criminal that target Jiu'er are easily identified as bad' and immoral. One character, however, is difficult to judge, with violent actions and ambiguous intentions regarding Jiu'er; Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa falls into murky moral territory, neither completely good nor bad.
27 The Good Mo Yan and Zhang Yimou agree in their depictions of Jiu'er as the embodiment of good, setting her as the standard t o which all others are measured. However, good in this instance does not represent the traditional concept of proper female conduct reserved, subservient, and unflawed. Rather, Jiu'er's good ness is derived from her passionate, though conventionally amor al, actions. Regardless of her faults, the largely non violent Jiu'er is presented as a symbol of acceptable morality. Jiu'er has mild outbursts of violence, but unlike the men of North Gaomi Township, none of her actions result in death. Jiu'er's expressi ons of violence come in retaliation to male attempts to subjugate her. For instance, upon returning home after being married, Jiu'er lashes out at her father, throwing a clay bowl and flipping a small table as he verbally assaults her. Though the act is sm all, it is a significant act of familial dishonor that clearly demonstrates her frustration with being used as a commodity, and marks her renunciation of her family heritage. Later, when Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa returns to the distillery after having killed Jiu' er's husband, he drunkenly boasts about his exploits with the new widow. When he attempts to take over the role of husband, barging into Jiu'er bedroom, she rejects him, angered by his disrespectful behavior. The other male workers offer physical assistanc e by removing Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa from Jiu'er's bedroom and holding him down while she hits him. In her only act of physical violence against another human, Jiu'er asserts her new authority in the now patriarch free community. While Jiu'er is presented as a hero, even a martyr, Confucian ideals condemn her life choices. On a traditional morality scale, Jiu'er would certainly be denounced. Jiu'er is
28 an unfillial daughter who actively rejects her father after he sells her to the leper. Furthermore, she is wil ling and happy to couple with Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa in the sorghum fields, even though she is married, a clear violation of her supposed duties as wife. To add insult to injury, she not only has a child with her husband's murderer, but also eventually allows him to cross the marital threshold. While under the traditional patriarchal structure Jiu'er would be classed as morally bankrupt, it is her rejection of that structure that enables her glorification. By rejecting the traditional structure, Jiu'er creates an environment in which the distillery workers can construct a free society. Jiu'er does the best that she can, within the circumstances she is dealt. She narrowly escapes a miserable fate married to a leper and chooses to liberate herself and the distill ery; she fights for independence until her death. In Mo Yan's account of Jiu'er's death, the reader is afforded privileged insight into Jiu'er's reflections upon her actions and morality as she lies wounded in the sorghum fields: "Sin doesn't frighten me, nor does punishment. I'm not afraid of your eighteen levels of hell. I did what I had to do. I managed as I thought proper. I fear nothing" (Mo 72). The courageous and audacious woman lives with passion at every moment, dying in a battle that she encourage s, with no regrets. "Unlike countless heroines in Chinese cinema, Jiu'er is a woman unshackled by Confucian ethics, and her sudden and tragic death at the hands of the Japanese invaders also places her above all moral judgment and criticism" (Li 112). Jiu' er's death at the hands of the Japanese is representative of the death of the Chinese spirit, annihilated by cold progression and apathy.
29 The Bad While Mo Yan's moral stance is at best ambivalent," his depiction of corrupt patriarchs and the Japanese is one of clear moral condemnation, a viewpoint that is maintained in Zhang Yimou's adaptation (Chou 35). These men have violent intentions and bring harm against Jiu'er, either trying to exploit or wound her. Jiu'er's father, the narrator's Great Granddad, i s a vile old man who sees his daughter as a commodity to be traded to the highest bidder, regardless of Jiu'er's wellbeing. He arranges Jiu'er's marriage to a wealthy leper, trading his daughter for a mule. Without lifting a finger, the old man passively c ondemns her to a life of pain, misery, and certain death. Impressed with himself for securing a valuable trade, Jiu'er's father drinks himself into a celebratory stupor and vomits repeatedly when returning home from the distillery with Jiu'er. His moral co rruption manifests itself as sickness, organic "filth and bile" pouring forth (Mo 69). A compromised physical state is a definite indicator of immorality in Red Sorghum This concept is fully realized in the case of Jiu'er's husband, named Shan Bianlang i n Mo's novel and Big Head Li in Zhang's film, a leper who "oozed pus and excreted yellow fluids" (Mo 45). Like Jiu'er's father, Big Head Li/Shan Bianlang desires to profit from the young woman's misery, actively precipitating her physical harm. The severit y of his sickness indicates the depths of his corruption rotten from the inside out. While the sickly patriarchs represent the broken Confucian system, the Japanese embody the nameless, faceless threat of modernity and warfare. With their trucks and mach ine guns, the Japanese are a threatening inhuman force The Japanese present a threat not only to the people of Northeast Gaomi Township but also to the landscape. The
30 barbaric Japanese commit atrocious acts of violence against man and nature. The Japanese regard the Chinese as commodity for them to exploit, just as the patriarchs did with Jiu'er. The Japanese force the villagers to work on a highway, punishing anyone who slacks off and killing those who resist. With perverse malice, the invaders force the villagers to destroy their own land and torture their own people. The Japanese troops, along with their Chinese puppet soldiers, make the villagers trample down a large clearing in the sorghum field, preparing a site for the brutal slaughter of their compa triots. While the destruction of nature is a painful occurrence for the villagers, to whom the sorghum is not only a crop but also a symbol of freedom, vitality, and spirit, the Japanese are unmoved by the violence against nature. Not content to only make the villagers desecrate their land, the Japanese turn man against man, forcing the Chinese to butcher each other. By murdering Jiu'er in a hail of bullets, the Japanese are fully established as anti good. The Ugly In terms of morality, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa is the most complex character in Red Sorghum His motivations are ambiguous and his actions violent. Furthermore, Mo Yan and Zhang Yimou diverge in their depictions of Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa the former assigning Yu Zhan'ao greater culpability for crimes. Zhang reduces Grandpa's role in violence, portraying him as a passionate drunk rather than a murderer. Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa commits many acts of violence, but none of them are against Jiu'er. Nonetheless, it i s hard to discern whether he wants to protect or posse ss her. While he attacks the roadside bandit that interrupts Jiu'er's wedding parade to save
31 her, his murder of her leprous husband is less pure in motive. Killing the leper may protect Jiu'er from his diseased touch, but the justification does not mitigat e the fact that Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa murders a man to be with his wife. He commits violence for his own benefit, but the consequences of his violence are considered acceptable. Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's morality is further complicated by the artistic choices of Z hang Yimou in his adaptation, which significantly alter his representation. Mo Yan clearly establishes the crimes of his male protagonist, blurring the line between hero and bandit. Zhang, however, leaves marked ambiguity, which creates moral superficialit y and romanticizes the potential violence committed by Grandpa. The divergence in depiction begins, with Zhang Yimou's complete omission of Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's first murder, when he kills the monk who has started an affair with his widowed mother. Distr aught because "villagers began taunting him by calling him Junior Monk," Yu Zhan'ao decides to kill the monk (Mo 107). After following the monk one night, he stabs the monk with a sword, employing violence to solve his personal problems. Mo's Yu Zhan'ao is a murderer, ready to kill anyone who threatens him. In contrast, Zhang's Grandpa has no murderous past and his violent present is largely romanticized. In Mo Yan's narrative, Yu Zhan'ao decides to murder Jiu'er's husband as soon as Jiu'er confides in him about her husband's leprosy. He carefully plans and executes the murder, killing the leper in his own bedroom. Mo details how Yu Zhan'ao traverses the compound, creating a fire to distract the workers while he attacks the owner. Yu Zhan'ao risks his health to kill the man who stands in the way of a relationship with Jiu'er.
32 Despite murdering the man who once employed him to carry Jiu'er, "he felt no remorse, though, over murdering Shan Bianlang, only disgust" (109). While the Mo Yan's book makes it clear th at Yu Zhan'ao killed Jiu'er's husband, Zhan Yimou's film is vague about the event, romanticizing the murder of the leper. Zhang chooses not to depict it, instead reducing the event to an ambiguous voiceover. After Jiu'er disowns her father and makes her re turn to the distillery, the narrator discusses the murder: When Grandpa scolded her father, something happened in Slope Shibali. Da Li Tou [Big Head Li/Shan Bianlang] was killed by someone. Exactly who did it isn't clear. I always feel that this was my Gr andpa, but until he passed away I still never asked him. ( Red Sorghum) The narrator cannot say with certainty whether his Grandpa murdered his Grandma's husband, but he notes that he likes to think so. For the nonviolent descendant, the murder is merely an act of romance This simple adjustment to the narrative modifies Yu Zhan'ao /Grandpa's culpability in the murder and romanticizes the event. This ambiguity reduces the impact of the slaying, transforming it into a deus ex machina which the audience readily accepts as a natural part of an idyllic story. The only acts of violence for which Zhang establishes Grandpa's guilt are to protect either Jiu'er or the distillery. Subsequently, his actions are justified by supposedly heroic intensions. While Yu Zhan'ao/ Grandpa's murderous behavior differs between book and film, his role as a leader in the final resistance against the Japanese remains the same. Jiu'er rouses the men to action, giving them wine and declaring, "if you're honorable men
33 you'll drink it, then go out and destroy the Jap convoy" (Mo 28). Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa follows her decree, rounding up the men to launch an attack on the invaders, but the assault goes badly, leaving everyone but Grandpa and his son dead. Nevertheless, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's leader ship role in the heroic attempt counterbalances his previous violence, separating him from the bad. The prevalence of violence in Northeast Gaomi Township complicates the relationship between violent actions and morality. The absence of violence does not n ecessarily make a person moral and neither does the presence of violence definitively indicate amorality. Rather, the assessment of morality is based in the motivations behind violence, making those with good intentions, such as Jiu'er, good, while those w ith bad intentions, like Jiu'er's father, the leper, and the Japanese, are bad. Grandpa, with his mixed motivations defies absolute classification, not good or bad. Conclusion Violence plays a central role in both Mo Yan's original work, Red Sorghum and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation. Stylistically, the men differ in the actual depiction of violence, reflecting roots seeking literature and Fifth Generation film. Mo takes a graphic approach in examining the consequences of human behavior, while Zhang mini mizes the violence, allowing him to create a romantic fable out of Mo's realistic saga. However, both men force the audience to confront the light and dark sides of the human condition. Their search for alternative roots uncovers a violent narrative about imagined heroic ancestors, for whom violence is a physical expression of passion, used acceptably to fight
34 or protect. Mo and Zhang champion the passionate actions of Jiu'er and Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa, but condemn patriarchal corruption and modern apathy. The influence of Mo's and Zhang's shared experiences of hardship during the Cultural Revolution is visible in their depiction of violence and morality. The lingering enmity toward the Communist regime translates into a condemnation of the sick patriarch and e ndorsement of his murder; Mo and Zhang establish that violence committed to protect against corruption is acceptable. However, the violence of the morally corrupt is viewed as unacceptable, justifying its destruction by any means. The violent destruction o f the patriarchy introduces new expectations of gender, which becomes the focus of my analysis in Chapter Two.
35 Chapter 2: The Destruction of Traditional Gender Expectations and the Reconstruction of Femininity and Masculinity Introduction The roots seeki ng narrative of Mo Yan's Red Sorghum and Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum involves the "creation of a local society in which orthodox traditional male and female roles are transformed" (Sutton 40). In the countryside setting of Northeast Gaomi Township, tradition al Confucian ideals prevail, establishing an oppressive patriarchal hierarchy. However, both Jiu'er/Grandma and Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa rebel against the old system while redefining femininity and masculinity in a newly constructed gender hierarchy. Resisting Confucian expectations of femininity, which require women to obey the male figures in their lives, Jiu'er first rebels against the patriarchal demands, refusing to submit to her father or husband. Following the death of her husband, Jiu'er then takes on a role of authority, opposing the conventional limitations of female power and agency. Moreover, her power is closely connected to her sexuality. She asserts her sexuality, challenging expectations of female desire and realizing her personal agency. At the s ame time her sexuality is dangerous to the traditional patriarchy, causing the murder of her leper husband when she asserts her desire for another man. If Jiu'er represents the new woman, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa is the epitome of ideal masculinity. In the trad itional patriarchal system, masculinity is based on status and wealth, placing all power in the hands of one man, while everyone else in the hierarchy is subservient to his authority. The sickness of the old system is embodied by the
36 sickness of Jiu'e r's leper husband whose murder is thus justifiable. Just as the sick old system must be destroyed, the leper must also be killed off. After the leper's murder, Jiu'er takes over the traditionally male held leadership position, signal ing a major overhaul of the power structure. In the absence of feudal patriarchy, a new standard of masculinity emerges, based on standards of physical strength and ability. As the men adjust to a new hierarchy, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa gradually establishes himself as the embodiment of masculinity. By as serting his sexuality and demonstrating his worth, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa proves himself as the dominant male. Traditional Expectations of Women in Confucian Patriarchy Certain standards in Confucian ethics, which play a large role in traditional Chinese soc iety, marginalize the role of women, giving strict guidelines that force women into subservience. The Three Obediences and Four Virtues ( ) outline the expectations of women in Confucian society: The Three Obediences states that a woman must obey her father before marriage, her husband upon marriage, and her oldest son upon widowhood" (Liao 122). Beyond respecting and serving the men in her family, a Confucian woman is expected to adhere to a set of approved behaviors. "The Four Virtues refer to what were once seen as specifically female virtues. They include moral conduct, proper speech, modest appearance, and diligent work" (Taylor 78) In the traditional Confucian society, the ideal female is one who faithfully follows the Three Obediences and Four Virtues. She must be passive, obedient, and always defer to the appropriate male in her life, be it father, husband, or son.
37 This ideolog y promotes the establishment of separate male and female spheres, with men dominating the public sphere (outside of the household) while women occupy the private sphere (domestic life.) The Three Obediences and Four Virtues attempt to restrict women, releg ating them to lives at home. While in the public sphere men are charged with managing business and physical work, the private sphere charges women with managing the household and taking care of "feminine: duties, such as needlework, cleaning, and cooking. Not merely subjugated by the traditional patriarchal rule, women like Jiu'er are also objectified and traded. Assigned value based on beauty and proficiency in the Four Virtues, brides are purchased from their fathers, who readily give their daughters to the highest bidders. The Four Virtues and the objectification of women play into the role and importance of bound feet within the traditional patriarchy. Not only are bound feet valued as a symbol of beauty, but they also function as a means to restrict wo men to the private sphere. Bound feet are highly fetishized and Mo Yan notes, "Even a pock faced witch is assured of marriage if she has tiny bound feet, but no one wants a girl with large unbound feet, even if she has the face of an immortal" (89 90). In the existing patriarchy, daughters are dealt a tough hand Within a household, daughters have no authority and garner little respect. Since Confucian standards establish that a woman will leave home, taking on wifely duties instead of filial duties, she i s merely a transitory figure in the family whose worth is equated with her trade value. This point is exemplified by distillery tradition in Northeast Gaomi Township: "Without exception, the craftsmen from our neck of the wood live by a simple rule: they w ould rather pass on their skills to their sons' wives than to their daughters. This established
38 practice carries the same weight as the law in certain countries" (Mo 86). Essentially, daughters are considered traitorous non family, who, by society's expect ations, will "abandon" their families, offering little to nothing in filial support after their marriage. In Red Sorghum Jiu'er's father has no consideration for the fate of his daughter, only for the fate of himself. Jiu'er's father feels no remorse ove r trading his daughter into a life of certain misery and sickness. Instead, he celebrates his success at securing a good trade, drinking himself into a stupor that lasts for days. Women are deprived of personal agency, unable to control their destinies or express their desires. Love and passion are annihilated by the commoditization of women. The bridal market is ruled by status and wealth, excluding men with no social standing. Whether a woman will face a life of leisure or misery is a matter of luck, for money and standing do not preclude corruption be it physical or emotional. On the contrary, the power of wealth allows the old, sick, and sterile to purchase, and subsequently destroy, young, healthy beauty. Jiu'er's Rejection of Traditional Expectation s Jiu'er refuses to submit to the Confucian expectations of women, rejecting the traditional patriarchal structure. Up until the time that her father trades her to the leprous distillery owner, Jiu'er follows the guidelines established by Confucian ideals, taking care of domestic duties and her appearance. However, her faith in the established patriarchy is shattered when she is made the object of exchange by her father to her leprous husband for the mere price of a mule" (Ng 82). Prior to the marria ge, Jiu'er hears rumors of her husband's leprosy, but her parents (only her father is represented in the film) assure her that her husband is healthy. Their filial daughter trusts in them, "after all,
39 she thought, her own parents wouldn't lie to her" (Mo 4 0). However, the horrifying reality of her husband's sickness and her parent's betrayal of trust undermine her belief in the traditional structure, leading her to question the established order. Devastated by her family's dishonesty, when Jiu'er returns ho me after her marriage a local tradition she refuses to eat or speak, instead sitting "as composed as the Guanyin bodhisattva" (Mo 86). Jiu'er's father continues to feel no compassion for his daughter and berates her for not accepting her fate: "What ar e you up to, you little tramp ? People destined to marry are connected by a thread, no matter how far apart. Man and wife, for better or for worse" (87). Jiu'er retaliates by throwing bowls across the room one of the only times she has a violent outburst physically expressing her frustration before breaking down into tears. Clearly women are expected to accept their lot, however tragic. The betrayal of her family leads Jiu'er to actively reject her father and later, the whole Confucian patriarchy. Jiu'er rebels against expectations, refusing to honor her father or husband. When her father comes to the distillery looking for alms, Jiu'er condemns him, publicly declaring, "You're no father of mine, and I forbid you ever to enter my door again!" (129). Jiu'e r's father fires back, "You misbegotten ingrate! What makes you think you can turn your back on your own family? I'm going to report you to the county authorities for being disloyal and unfilial!" However, Jiu'er now takes on a power position, no longer in debted to a corrupt father. She no longer cares about the family that was disloyal to her, instead establishing a new homestead at the distillery, off limits to her father.
40 Unwilling to surrender to the advances of a sick husband, Jiu'er rejects her role as wife. Even before meeting her husband, while unsure of his disease, Jiu'er arms herself with a pair of scissors, perhaps to use on Shan Bianlang, perhaps to use on herself" (Mo 46). When her husband tries to approach her, she refuses his advances, thre atening him despite his ownership.' The narrative supports Jiu'er's rejection of her husband, giving him a monster like depiction. Shan Bianlang/Big Head Li is a wizened, putrid man, with a "red and festering" face and "a clawlike hand" (68). The husband' s sickness makes it acceptable for her to reject him, as he poses a significant threat to her unspoiled beauty. Due to the early death of her husband, Jiu'er spends little time as a bride before being transformed into a widow. During that time, she commits one of the greatest sins against her husband and the Three Obediences adultery. Waylaid by Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa on her return home, Jiu'er couples with him in the sorghum fields, glad to be transported away from her miserable reality and into the arms of a young, healthy man. Although this behavior is prohibited by societal standards, Mo and Zhang celebrate the union. Zhu Ling notes, "the narrator's grandmother, is one who deviates from traditional feminine virtues in pursuing personal happiness an adult eress who would have been censured within both feudal or communist ideologies for moral depravity" (123). However, once again her husband's sickness relieves her from moral retribution. Shortly after Jiu'er and Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa sleep together, he launche s an attack on the distillery, killing Jiu'er's husband and rendering her a widow. As a widow, Jiu'er continues to ignore traditional society's expectations of her. Rather than mourning the death of her husband and accepting a life of solitude, Jiu'er embr aces her freedom and asserts herself as the new head of the household and manager of the distillery. "Grandma
41 takes her own initiative, quite against the tradition of feminine subservience in China" (Chou 37). When the distillery employees start to leave f ollowing the death of Jiu'er's husband, she convinces them to stay, appealing to them by describing her plans to reinvigorate the operation. In clear opposition to traditional mourning practice, Jiu'er decides to purge the distillery of any traces of her husband. Rather than condemning Jiu'er, her decision is fully supported by her superstitious employees, who fear her husband's sickness may linger in the property. Together they use sorghum wine's folkloric power to protect against malicious spirits to cle anse the entire compound, burning or burying anything that cannot be washed. The emerging community rejects traditional expectations, creating an environment where a woman is able to take control and be respected by men. Although she commits adultery with Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa and becomes pregnant with his child, Jiu'er doesn't immediately allow him to take her husband's place. Despite disregarding Confucian expectations of a daughter and a wife, Jiu'er attempts to maintain a level of decorum by not acknowledg ing her lover or their relationship. When Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa drunkenly brags about sleeping with Jiu'er and enters her compound without permission, she physically reprimands him, beating him in front of the other workers. The embarrassing event frustrates Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa who begins drinking heavily everyday, becoming angrier and angrier as Jiu'er continues to ignore him. When Jiu'er visits the production compound one day to see how the wine is made, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa forces her to pay attention to him. After the other men demonstrate how they produce the wine, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa steps forward and pees into one of the wine crocks. While everyone else looks on in shock, the young man shows off his power
42 by skillfully cleaning the distiller by himself. He confronts Jiu'er, finally forcing her to address him and recognize him as the father of her child. However, Jiu'er does not simply submit to his actions, but rather accepts that she can no longer deny her love, however adulterous. She is not weak or withou t agency in the situation as she desires him. While their relationship is condemnable within the traditional framework, the local community accepts the pairing, even if they are not truly husband and wife. After the incident in the distillery compound, Ji u'er allows Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa to stay with her and he takes on the role of her husband. Though he takes over as the new patriarch, Jiu'er continues to rebel against tradition by maintaining her authority as the head of the distillery. Shortly after accept ing her position as wife, Jiu'er takes on the position of mother. However, g iven her death early in life, she forfeits her ability to obey "her oldest son upon widowhood," effectively failing in all of her Confucian obligations (Liao 122). Nevertheless, th e relationship with her son is the healthiest that Jiu'er has with a man. He is the only figure in the Confucian patriarchy that does not commodify her. The Assertion of Female Agency The distillery compound is divided into traditionally male and female areas, with the men governing the business and the production of wine while the women manage the household. If the leper had not been murdered, Jiu'er would have been restrained exclusively to the female compound, holding little authority and deferring to her husband. However, Jiu'er is liberated by her husband's death and takes the opportunity to take on a leadership role within the community formerly unattainable for women.
43 While Jiu'er's leper husband was head of the household, he was little more than a symbolic figurehead who put matters of business in the hands of Arhat/Luohan. However, despite how minimal the leper's physical role in the distillery was, his death threatens to shut down the operation. Jiu'er forges her way into the male dominated societ y by seizing control of the distillery when the leper is killed. With a natural aptitude for leadership, Jiu'er easily convinces the wary employees to stay by suggesting that they cleanse the distillery and asks Arhat/Luohan to maintain his duties as disti llery foreman. Jiu'er is given an unprecedented level of power, controlling not only the private female sphere, but also holding a position of power in the public male sphere. Although Jiu'er gives up some authority by deferring to Arhat/Luohan, it is not a decision made by weakness, but by business acumen. In her position as boss, Jiu'er makes several business decisions that contribute to the distillery's success, proving that she is much more than a pretty face and of equal intellect to men. Jiu'er is in strumental in the decision to buy grain for the distillery later than normal, suggesting that they will get a better deal if they wait. While Arhat/Luohan is unsure about her judgment, he defers to his boss and later announces that they have saved financia lly. Later, when the foreman declares that the sorghum wine is ready for sale, he asks Jiu'er what to name it. She christens the wine Red Shibali, a moniker that marks the success of the distillery under Jiu'er's management. The only person who proves to b e more valuable to the operation and its success is Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa whose natural potency gives the wine a notably fine flavor. Though it is unprecedented for a widow to take on her husband's role, the distillery workers support Jiu'er's assumption of power. Jiu'er is a beacon of health and
44 beauty, a young woman who they respect, even though she openly defies moral expectations. They accept her disregard for convention at first because they despised and feared her sick husband, but gradually come to ad mire Jiu'er for her skill and composure. Jiu'er's power comes from both the absence of patriarchy and the absence of female competition. Unlike Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa who must destroy an existing patriarchal structure to redefine masculinity and assert himse lf, Jiu'er has no female competition. Other women in the first two books of Red Sorghum and the film adaptation are marginalized and desexualized. Jiu'er has full control in the female compound, where she is waited upon by a small group of female attendant s, who go unseen in the film. Any power these peripheral women hold is restricted to the female domain, within the private women's sphere of the distillery. The absence of a matriarch or an established female structure within the distillery allows Jiu'er t o cast a fresh mold for femininity without opposing a prevailing model. There is no female structure in place that aims to protect the patriarchy. To find an example of a female protagonist pitted against an establish ed female order, one must look no further than Zhang Yimou's later work Raise the Red Lantern (1991). In the film, Gong Li again plays a young woman who is purchased by a wealthy but morally bankrupt man. In Raise the Red Lantern the female protagonist be comes the fourth wife/third concubine of a rich landlord and finds herself part of an oppressive female hierarchy. Unlike Jiu'er in Red Sorghum the protagonist of Raise the Red Lantern must contend with other women and is unable to escape the clutches of objectification, subsequently facing a miserable fate of madness.
45 The Dangerous Empowerment of Jiu'er's Sexuality Sexuality plays a central role in Jiu'er's female identity. By realizing her sexuality, Jiu'er breaks out of the model traditionally thrust upon women, allowing her to be a partner rather than an object in her relationship with Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa Jiu'er not only rejects the traditional expectations established for women but also reverses the typical gender dynamic by asserting her sexuality a nd objectifying men with her gaze. "Her gaze reverses the conventional voyeuristic positions of men peeking at women and makes Grandpa' the object of her desire" (Ng 82). Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's actions make it appear that he claims her through force, but th e idea that she simply submits to him ignores Jiu'er's own agency. He r desire for the strong young man is the linchpin of the equality in their relationship; it is what gives her control. After being objectified by two degenerate males her father and her leper husband Jiu'er turns her gaze towards the muscular men employed to carry her wedding sedan. While the old patriarchs objectified her, she objectifies the younger men: Even though she is portrayed as the object of male desire throughout the film, a t the beginning of the film it is Nine [Jiu'er], not grandpa' (who as the sedan carrier is an object of the female gaze), who initiates the glance/object process, who sets in motion the game of sexual seduction and indeed the whole drama of Red Sorghum ( Zhang X. 326) In her sedan chair, Jiu'er sits in a powerful position, affording her the chance to return the lustful glances so frequently forced upon her. Despite the fact that she is about to be married, Jiu'er peeks through the curtain covering her se dan chair. She is impatient, her desires overriding decorum. Jiu'er studies
46 the muscular figures in front of her, her gaze lingering on their masculine forms, enamored with them. Yudong Zhang notes the contrast between the healthy young men and Jiu'er's hu sband that fuels her desire: From within the sedan, the bride, profoundly upset, at times anxiously peeks through the curtains. Her vision, again and again, is blocked by the strong muscles of the sedan carriers, covered as they are with sweat and dirt. To the bride confined in the sedan, the presence of the muscles is posed here as a fascinating threat fascinating' because by comparison, the lack of muscles (and sexuality) in her leper husband' is even more threatening. (39) Despite their vulgar commen ts and violent shaking of her sedan chair, the young, strong men still appeal to Jiu'er. While she finds the idea of marrying an educated, refined, yet sick man horrifying, she is unfazed by the healthy sedan workers' obscenities. Of all the sedan workers Jiu'er forms a fateful bond with the young and handsome Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa. Jiu'er and Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's relationship is complex, "marked by measures of spontaneity, chance, and uncertainty" (Mo 99). Although he makes possessive claims on Jiu'er, publ icly declaring his ownership of her, their relationship is not based solely on his sexuality sh e desires him too. While Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's aggressive actions make it easy to contend that he claims her through force, she does not merely submit to him an y "giving in" coincides with her desires. She only allows him to claim' her after he demonstrates his strength and ability. On both of the occasions that Jiu'er yields to Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa she is impressed by his physicality and gives in to her own sexu ality. However, the analysis of
47 these events is made problematic by Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's unnecessarily and inappropriately aggressive behaviors. The first instance occurs when Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa grabs Jiu'er from the back of her mule and carries her off in to the sorghum. The second instance occurs when Jiu'er visits the distillery compound and Grandpa shows off his strength and skill. Their first private meeting is particularly troubling, due to Grandpa's bizarre handling of the situation. He thoughtlessly presents himself as the bandit who tried to rape Jiu'er the previous day, wearing the highwayman's mask and carrying her into the field. While the scene at first presents as one of rape, the situation transforms when the attacker shows himself. "When he re veals his face, she looks at him with desire, thus putting herself on equal footing with the man" (Ng 82). Once Grandpa's identity has been established, the rape' (or rather, love making') scene is poeticized and enthusiastically celebrated" (Zhang Y. 4 0). Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's actions may at first seem sinister, but his insensitivity is mitigated by her physical lust for the brawny man: "Her soul fluttered as she gazed at his bare torso she swooned" (Mo 70). Jiu'er buckles under the pressure of her female desire not the force of her lover. Several months after the events in the sorghum field take place, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa forces another interaction on Jiu'er when he uses his masculine/physical power to demonstrate his worth to Jiu'er. She is hesita nt to accept her desires and their consequences, but has to address them when Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa makes his stand. Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa, frustrated with Jiu'er's treatment of him, forces her to recognize his strength and virility by performing back breaking t asks with skill and asserting his male dominance by peeing into a wine crock. This event breaks Jiu'er's
48 remaining faade of morality, forcing her to acknowledge her feelings, however conventionally immoral. Saying that she acquiesces to Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's advances and folds under the power of his masculinity would once again ignore the fact that she desires him. As Ng puts it, "Only when she is desirous of him on his second return does she let him carry her into her room." (83) Jiu'er's sexuality on the other hand, is a distinct threat to the traditional patriarchy, playing a large role in the eventual destruction of the hierarchy. This threat becomes a physical problem for Jiu'er's leper husband, for whom she has no sexual desire. Not only does she reje ct him on the basis of this lack of attraction, but also for her fear of his disease. Jiu'er refuses his sexual advances, instead focusing her sights on the young and virile Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa In acknowledging her sexual desires for him, Jiu'er not only e mpowers herself, but also condemns her husband to death by accepting Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's advances Now the focus of Jiu'er's sexuality, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa becomes determined to destroy the dangerous sexuality of Jiu'er's husband, which poses a threat to J iu'er in much the same way as her sexuality threatens the leper. Masculinit ies in The Traditional Patriarchy In the established patriarchy, like that headed by Jiu'er's leper husband, male dominance is based on financi al means, not strength or ability. The hierarchy is completely unbalanced, with the power residing in the hands of one male, while everyone else is subservient to hi m. Power is asserted through ownership, with respect purchased rather than earned. Because his authority is secured by monetary rather than physical
49 strength, the patriarch may be old or young, smart or foolish, virile or sterile there is no bodily requirement. He does not have to prove himself to his peers by physically demonstrating his supr emacy he merely has to pay them. Furthermore, the central patriarch's morality becomes unimportant because his money and position ensure than no one will challenge his actions. Women are extraneous to the hierarchal structure, having no control in the m ale sphere. However, tradition dictates that the patriarch have a wife and establish a lineage. The possession of money means that a man can express his desires by bu ying rather than earning what he needs and wants, from a homestead to a wife. The purchase d bride must honor and obey her husband at all times, serving him as he demands. They are required to take care of the household and expected to bear children, or most importantly, a son. Essentially, as purchased property, women become slaves to their hus bands, following Confucian ethics regardless of their emotions. The hierarchal system forms a pyramidal structure, where the dominant patriarch is at the top, supported by a secondary level of managers and a tertiary level of workers. Any and all power hel d by the patriarch's employees is subject to his ultimate authority, as they are expected always to defer to him. Furthermore, as men without capital, they have no power and limited ability to express their manly desires via the establishment of a home or family. The hierarchy and power structure that the men are confronted with is similar to that which the Chinese faced in the Cultural Revolution, when people with arbitrary power ordained by a sick system ruled over those without power. In the political fe rvor, men had limited power, emasculated by the threat of violence. Individual agency was
50 restricted by tight Communist control, under which local work units limited personal freedoms, not only assigning homes, jobs, and food, but also requiring people to seek permission for marriage and have children (Boden 48). Within the traditional structure, the ancillary males are unlikely to be able to realize their masculine goals (i.e. ownership of a homestead, wife, son) without the aid of wealth. The hierarchy em asculates the secondary and tertiary males by limiting their ability to express their desires. The laborers have no rights and no power, forced to accept the conditions provided by their boss. As such, the young, healthy men are oppressed by the system, re stricted to positions subservient to the primary male. The distillery hierarchy adheres to the traditional model, with Shan Bianlang/Big Head Li supported by Arhat/Luohan at the secondary level and his laborers at the tertiary level. Masculinity and Sick ness: A Battle Royale Although the dominant patriarch's authority is not determined by his health or strength, the Shan Bianlang/Big Head Li 's sickness presents to his laborers as an affront on masculinity. While the traditional structure relegates the healthy young men to a subservient role, the owner's sickness makes it hard for them to accept such submission. However, the wealth based nature of the power system means that even a sick patriarch can assert his dominance over other men. The fact that a sick man is able to actualize his masculine desires is an insult to the healthy laborers who have no agency, but whose work supports. While the leper's physical impotence is offensive, his disease poses an actual threat to those around him, making the forc ed subservience of his employees and wife
51 more unacceptable. It is not only the owner's weak constitution the limits his mobility, but also his dangerous illness, which threatens to contaminate anything he touches. The danger of the owner's disease is furt her magnified by his unwillingness to acknowledge his condition. As his corruption manifests physically, the degradation of his body and the implications of interacting with the leper strike fear into the hearts of his employees. Mo and Zhang support this fear by providing abhorrent depictions of the owner, "a scruffy leper who oozed pus and excreted yellow fluids" (Mo 45). The distillery workers are highly superstitious about the owner's disease, fearing for their lives. The leper's mere touch is extremel y hazardous, with the potential to destroy beauty and virility. As a result, very few people interact directly with the man and those who are required to find themselves in a perilous situation. While the owner's illness precludes women from finding him de sirable, the power of money and commodification of women means that he can use his money to assert his sexual dominance by purchasing a wife. The transaction is one of biological violence for he knows that his leprosy will eventually obliterate the unspoil ed beauty of his young bride. Jiu'er manages to evade his grasp, but that does not invalidate the leper's intentions. The leper's willingness to destroy innocence is an indicator of his absolute degeneracy and is both a central motivation in his murder an d a justification for it. His murder occurs shortly after Jiu'er accepts Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa 's passionate advances in the sorghum field and he discovers that her husband truly has leprosy. Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa decides that he must kill the leper to protect J iu'er, subsequently
52 freeing her so they can be together. His rage is fueled by the heinous indifference of the leper to the damage he is dealing the oppression and destruction of perfect youth, beauty, and passion. Jiu'er's composed beauty only adds to t he tragedy of the situation, further propelling Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa to protect her by eliminating the threat of the tarnishing touch of her husband. Mo and Zhang rely on the reader/viewer to be equally affronted by the leper's sickness and intentions, there fore accepting the murder. While Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa kills the leper essentially to "take" another man's woman, the threat of the owner's sickness is used as justification for the murder. Mo Yan provides gory details, further vilifying the leper by emphasiz ing how disgusting his body is, his "golden blood" making Yu Zhan'ao feel "like throwing up" (106). Although the leper is the victim, he is still portrayed as the villain. Zhang Yimou's film does not depict the murder or give any specifics, minimizing the event. Grandpa is not definitively identified as the killer, though his grandson romantically suggests in a voiceover that he was the murderer. Despite relieving Grandpa of responsibility for the murder of Jiu'er's husband, Zhang's narrative still uses the leper's sickness as a rationale for accepting his killing. Immediately following the leper's death, the community is unaware of who committed the murder. The absence of a suspect makes it easier for the community to justify, accept, and subsequently, cele brate the leper's death. Happy that they will no longer have to deal with their sick, miserly boss, the distillery workers are not concerned with who murdered the leper or why. Because Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa does not immediately appear as a suspect, his claims to the murder are not believed, the community has no one to condemn for the crime, which helps them downplay the notion
53 of the leper as a victim. By the time the community finds out that Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa murdered the leper, they have already accepted th e murder as a positive occasion. New Expectations of Physical Masculinity After the leper's murder, a new hierarchy forms, similar in structure to the former incarnation, but free from the oppression of a sick, patriarchal rule. The new hierarchy, with Ji u'er at the t op, indicates the establishment of a system liberated from the traditional, Confucian based one that was previously in place. The whole distillery is reinvigorated by the death of the leper and Jiu'er is championed as its leader. The acceptan ce of Jiu'er as a leader derives from the fact that she is not perceived as a threat to masculinity. However, by taking over the leadership role, the highest position any man can attain is that of her husband. In the new community, masculinity centers upon strength and physical dominance. Male worth is now based on physical skill and ability. The physical focus contrasts sharply with the monetary focus that allowed sick men to hold power. There is little doubt that Mo Yan's very attempt to construct a kind of raw masculinity and a subject (subjects) of power in the presumably agricultural, semiutopian setting of the red sorghum field bespeaks of a deep disillusion with the official Chinese ideology and cultural legacy, be it Confucian or communist. (Zhu 132 ) Both the written work and the film focus on and worship the strong male form, offering detailed depictions of their "firm, muscular chests" and "broad shoulders" ( Mo 42). Throughout Zhang's Red Sorghum the male body lingers on the screen the camera
54 pa ssing over sweat covered bodies as they perform physical labor. The body is presented as the prime indicator of masculinity in this new hierarchy, largely dictating desirability. With Jiu'er in the primary male' role, Arhat/Luohan maintains his secondary position and the workers remain tertiary males. The secondary male, Arhat/Luohan, looks to the distiller's new proprietor, Jiu'er who has inherited the property by way of her brief marriage to the leper. Loyal to the business, not its patriarch, Arhat/Luoh an cares about the future of the distillery and its wine. At Jiu'er's request, Arhat/Luohan continues his role as overseer of the wine production and distribution. Jiu'er's lack of knowledge about the business isn't a problem because Arhat/Luohan was mana ging it completely for the sick owner. Once again, Arhat/Luohan accepts a role of deference, which undermines his masculinity. Any possibility that he could step forward into the position of Jiu'er's husband is nullified by his ready acceptance of a positi on subservient to Jiu'er, subsequently becoming undesirable to her. The position was acceptable under the old order, but the new structure prizes a man's ability to stand for himself. It is unclear whether or not Arhat is attracted to Jiu'er, but he does not express his desires, if he feels any. The closest indicator of Luohan's feelings come in Zhang Yimou's film, when he goes to Jiu'er's compound to share good news about the sorghum wine and is greeted by Grandpa. Luohan is flustered by the sight of Gra ndpa, who stands shirtless in the doorway tying the waist of his belt. Luohan diverts his eyes from Grandpa's muscled body, visibly bothered that the young man has answered the door, brazenly asserting himself as Jiu'er's lover Older and with a slight bu ild, Luohan cannot
55 compete with Grandpa's physical masculinity. Luohan remains attached to the values of the old system, evidenced by his distress over Jiu'er's expression of sexuality. The distillery workers continue to hold minimal authority, but are no longer oppressed by a regime that restricts males based on financial ability. As the new owner of the distillery, Jiu'er recognizes the role the men play in the wine making process. This allows the tertiary men to use their physical skill to demonstrate t heir worth. Even the modern narrator recognizes the value of the tertiary males, commenting, "The young men of his [Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's] generation were as sturdy as Northeast Gaomi sorghum, which is more than can be said about us weaklings who succeeded them" (Mo 43). The value of strength is emphasized by the inadequacy of modern males, whose apathy has rendered them powerless by comparison. Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa as the Embodiment of Masculinity In sharp contrast of the largely asexual men in the distiller y, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa demonstrates his masculinity through his physical strength and skill. While Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa murdered the leper, creating the opportunity for him to be with Jiu'er, his absence following the murder keeps him from laying immediate cl aims on her. Wh ile masculinity and desirability are based on aggressive assertion, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa cannot take claim for this violent act or he will face severe consequences. He may have "saved" a woman and, arguably, a community, but he did it to serve his own desires. By the time he returns to the distillery, she has been empowered by her time as boss and now rejects Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa, despite the fact that he saved her from the leper. He grows
56 frustrated that although he vanquished the traditional pa triarchy that oppressed his lover, his lover now oppresses him. Though Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa is eventually championed as a symbol of masculinity, Jiu'er and the male community challenge his validity. The events that follow Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's return to the distillery differ structurally between the book and film, but in both mediums Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa loses respect as a result of drunkenly ranting about his relations with Jiu'er. Returning with the expectation that Jiu'er will welcome him, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa finds himself rejected by his lover. After entering Jiu'er's bedroom, resolute to take what he believes is his rightful place next to her, Jiu'er has him removed by the other workers. After he is taken outside, Jiu'er beats Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa while the wo rkers hold him down. Once Jiu'er finishes reprimanding him for slandering her despite speaking the truth Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's fellow workers give him another beating. The event humiliates Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa, who is emasculated by both his lover and his peers. Jiu'er refuses to acknowledge him, forcing him to acknowledge Jiu'er's power and prove himself. Furthermore, within the tertiary level, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa has no respect. The lack of regard for Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa is so great that in the book, when he argues that he killed the leper, the other men simply laugh at him, refusing to believe that Yu Zhan'ao could have done it. After being embarrassed, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's anger builds until he decides to assert his masculinity in a demonstration of str ength and potency. "He shows off his strength by carrying big pots of new wine, placing them in a row, and then urinating into each of them." (Zhang, Y. 40) Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa finally gets the attention of those
57 who doubted him, shocking them with the abil ity he has kept hidden until now. The narrator comments, "My granddad Yu Zhan'ao worked with such consummate skill that Uncle Arhat and the other men looked on in awe" (Mo 149). After he finishes urinating, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa walks up to Jiu'er, forcing he r to acknowledge him. She acquiesces to his demonstration and allows him to share her quarters. Only when Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa proves his incredible strength and skill do both his peers and Jiu'er accept him as a male authority a boss and husband. Zhang s ignificantly alters the scene from Mo's original novel, eliminating a brief dialogue and changing the overall depiction of masculinity. In Mo's Red Sorghum when Yu Zhan'ao approaches Jiu'er he kisses her face before demanding whether Jiu'er is pregnant wi th his child. Stunned by his actions and overwhelmed by his brawn, Jiu'er is forced to admit the truth. She begins to cry before answering, "If you say so," and walking back to her bedroom (149). She allows him to follow, accepting his claim on her now tha t he has proved himself. In Zhang's adaptation, Grandpa walks up to Jiu'er and without saying a word carries the stupefied woman to her bedroom. By simplifying the exchange, Zhang makes Grandpa's actions more primitive and glorifies the power of masculinit y, which intoxicates' the bride into a semi (un)conscious state" (Zhang. Y 40). The adjustment to this scene underlines one of the main differences between Mo's and Zhang's depiction of Grandpa and his masculinity Mo giving him more depth and thought, while Zhang reduces him to his muscles and strength. Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa cements his "right" to his new status by transforming the company's success. While Jiu'er makes good business decisions that help the distillery succeed, "Granddad's skills revolutioni zed the operation" (Mo 149). Most remarkable is
58 the effect that Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's blasphemous act of urinating in the crocks has on the wine. "The man's urine in the jar is said actually to improve the wine quality greatly, another proof of his natural phallic potency" (Zhu 125). Under the leper's rule, the wine was mediocre reflecting his sickness, but with Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa's influence, the wine is strong and flavorful. From his body to his magical urine, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa is the physical embodiment of masculinity under the reformed hierarchy. Conclusion In Mo Yan's and Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum the story of cultural roots examines the traditional expectations of gender, creating an untraditional community that challenges conventional ideals. Mo and Zhang criticize the traditional patriarchal structure, condemning sickness of masculinity and providing alternative, passionate figures that embody young, healthy sexuality and new ideals of femininity and masculinity. Traditionally, young men and women l ike Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa and Jiu'er found themselves oppressed by the corrupt patriarchy. However, Jiu'er's leper husband is murdered as a consequence of Jiu'er's sexuality, destroying the hierarchy and liberating the community from oppressive expectations o f tradition. Red Sorghum promotes young, healthy incarnations of femininity and masculinity as a solution to not only corruption, but also to indifference. The new interpretations of gender and social hierarchy are presented as a possible "root" solution to modern apathy. Jiu'er and Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa are presented as new ideals of their respective genders. Jiu'er represents the liberated woman, who asserts her sexuality and lives with audacity. Her natural beauty and composure are part of her femininity, but she is no longer reduced
59 to her trade value as a commodity. On the other hand, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa provides an alternative to the corrupt, sick patriarchy, replacing wealth based dominance with strength based dominance. Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa embodies the n ew expectations of young, strong masculinity, which Mo and Zhang present as a solution to Confucian ideals of male gender.
60 Conclusion Red Sorghum both Mo Yan's original literary work and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation, is a classic example of the roots se eking movement. Through the creation of an alternative history of violent and bold ancestors, Mo and Zhang find the solution to the devastation of cultural identity that China suffered during years of hardship in the Cultural Revolution. The cure for the d amaged Chinese spirit lies in the expression of passion, something Mo and Zhang assert has been replaced by modern apathy. The heroic figures of Red Sorghum defy conventional values, transcending traditional ideals to find happiness in redefined expectatio ns of morality and gender, with Jiu'er and Grandpa acting as the embodiments of new femininity and masculinity. Mo Yan and Zhang Yimou diverge in their depictions of violence, but both focus on the significance of its role in the human existences of Northe ast Gaomi Township villagers and as part of Chinese cultural identity. In response to the righteous propaganda of Communist approved historical narratives and depictions of righteous heroes, Mo and Zhang closely examine the violence of China's past, forcin g their audiences to appreciate both its importance and consequences on morality. Mo and Yan have different approaches to the presentation of violence, alternatively venerating and romanticizing it. While Mo's attacks, murders, and wars are marked by blood and brutality, Zhang looks at them through an idealized lens. Subsequently, character morality varies between book and film, but both men accept that heroes can be flawed. In both Mo Yan's and Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum conventional standards for gender a re rejected, destroyed, and transformed. The reigning Confucian based patriarchy oppresses women and men without inherited authority, forcing them into subservient
61 roles. Shan Bianlang/Big Head Li heads the local hierarchy, the corruption of the system emb odied by his leprosy, which threatens to infect the whole community. The distillery patriarchy allows the sick leader to actualize his desires with money, while the agency of healthy young men and women is stifled. Angered that the nauseating leper prevent s him from expressing his sexuality, Yu Zhan'ao/Grandpa murders Jiu'er's husband. Without Shan Bianlang/Big Head Li, expectations of masculinity transform. Jiu'er establishes her femininity, realizing her agency for the first time in her life, taking over leadership in a traditionally male sphere and asserting her sexuality. Under the leper's rule, men that lacked financial authority had no chance to assert their dominance. The oppression mirrors that suffered by men in the Cultural Revolution, during whic h they were emasculated by political tyranny. Red Sorghum redefines ideal masculinity, making the male body and physical strength the basis for male dominance. Yu Zhan'ao eventually establishes himself as the embodiment of masculinity, but only after provi ng his power and expertise. In their incarnations of Red Sorghum Mo Yan and Zhang Yimou both present compelling narratives in the creation of an unorthodox history. In their search for roots, inspired by their respective artistic movements, Mo and Zhang d evelop a new cultural identity that advocates the expression of passion, even if that involves violence. They champion a new standard of gender and condemn the arbitrary oppression of personal agency.
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65 Filmography Farewell My Concubine [ ]. Dir. Chen Kaige. Perf. Leslie Chung and Gong Li. Miramax Classics, 1993. Film. From Beijing with Love [ ]. Dir. Stephen Chow. Perf. Stephen Chow. Wins Movie Production Ltd., 1994. Film. Hero [ ]. Dir. Zhang Yimou. Perf. Jet Li, Tony Leung, an d Maggie Cheung. Beijing New Picture Film Co., Ltd., 2002. Film. Ju Dou [ ]. Dir. Yimou Zhang. Perf. Gong Li and Li Baotian. Miramax, 1990. Film. Not One Less [ ]. Dir. Yimou Zhang. Perf. Wei Minzhi. Columbia Tristar, 1999. Film. Raise the Red Lan tern [ ]. Dir. Zhang Yimou. Perf. Gong Li. MGM, 1991. Film. Red Sorghum [ ]. Dir. Zhang Yimou. Perf. Gong Li and Jiang Wen. Xi an Film Studio, 1987. Film. Suzhou River [ ]. Dir. Lou Ye. Perf. Zhou Xun and Jian Hongsheng. Strand Releasing, 2000. Film. To Live [ ]. Dir. Zhang Yimou. Perf. Ge You and Gong Li. Shanghai Film Studio, 1994. Film. Yellow Earth [ ]. Dir. Chen Kaige. Guangxi Film Studio, 1984. Film.