Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender

By Sheldon Hsiao-Peng Lu | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
Gendered Perspective The Construction and Representation of Subjectivity and Sexuality in Ju Dou

Shuqin Cui

Since its release in 1990, Zhang Yimou's Ju Dou has drawn intense interest from film critics, academic scholars, and general audiences. Reading Ju Dou against the difficulties and errors that often occur in cross-cultural interpretations of non-Western texts, Jenny Lau finds qualities of "Chineseness" fundamental to the film's textual and conceptual meanings, especially as inherent in the cultural notions of yin (excessive eroticism) and xiao (filial piety).1 W. A. Callahan, by contrast, reads Ju Dou as a political allegory invoking both communism and Confucianism. These systems of patriarchal domination, he argues, define the film narrative as a "woman's struggle against her social placement" and as a father-son embodiment of Confucian ideology.2 The image of Ju Dou has become iconographic in Chinese film criticism: a still of an impassioned Gong Li dominates the cover of Rey Chow 's Ptimitive Passions. Chow describes Ju Dou as "the sign of a crosscultural commodity fetishism," and, indeed, the appetite for viewing -- and writing about -- new Chinese cinema is strong. One can, as Chow does, see the director in the role of exhibitionist, displaying his "exotic" female protagonist, and thus engaging in the "Oriental's orientalism."3

This article supplements the growing body of broadly cultural and political analyses of Ju Dou by concentrating on cinematic analysis to show how the film produces meaning -- more specifically, gendered meanings. As the central image in the film, the figure of Ju Dou exposes the oppressions that issue from social traditions. But behind her entrancing visibility lies the shadow of a patriarchal unconscious. In other words, a hidden male subjectivity is projected onto the sexualized heroine of the film, which throws open the question of whose subjectivity and sexuality is being represented. To address this question, I rely first on a textual analysis of the meanings embedded in cinematic language and, second, on how the representation of woman occurs through gendered perspectives. Finally, 304I argue that represen

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