Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Rouge Faces: Chinese Women in Dilemma

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Rouge Faces: Chinese Women in Dilemma

Article excerpt


Yu Li's 2005 film Dam Street can be read as an attempt to address women's issues in rural China. By examining the female characters : the protagonist Xiaoyun embodying a man-made image of rouge face and supporting female characters internalizing traditional values, the article argues that the film has successfully delivered a non-propagandistic message of Chinese women's situation: women are restricted by different levels of patriarchies. The article has made an exploration in the cinematographic and historical and cultural context to reveal the image of rouge faces in specific sense and in general sense.

Keywords: Yu Li, rouge faces, patriarchy, Chinese women, non-propagandistic

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

1. Introduction

The film Hongyan / Dam Street (2005), is a vehicle through which the writer/director Yu Li examines the contemporary paradox of Chinese women - living in a society that claims to be woman-friendly, but is in fact not. While this is not an uncommon issue in feminist literature or film-making, what makes this worthy of examination is that Chinese patriarchal culture is still heavily influenced by this thinking despite the rise of feminism, and Chinese cinema rarely engages women's issues so boldly or openly. Though Kristeva ( 1977) claimed that in the Chinese bourgeois revolution of the beginning of the century, elements of national liberation, socialist ideology, and the emancipation of women were indissolubly linked and Mao fights against the requirement of chastity and for women's liberation, Mackinnon(1982, p.523) argues "if seizures of state and productive power overturn work relations, they do not overturn sex relations at the same time or in the same way, as a class analysis of sex would (and in some case did ) predict". The publication of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex in China is regarded as a milestone event to the feminist cause. When asked about people's response to the translation and introduction of the book, Cui (2003, p.172) quotes Dai's words, "What readers see is sex not feminism". In fact The Second Sex has not impressed people with the term being preposterous instead it has reinforced, to most Chinese in the late twentieth century, the concept that women are the second sex, and to the feminists in China, it serves to recognize the existence of gender differences. As the Cultural Revolution came to an end in 1976, there was a sudden fervor for the introduction of western philosophies into China. However as many western thoughts have been misinterpreted, Beauvoir caught attention as Jean Paul Sartre's wife or as a woman standing behind the great man. Not until in the year of 1988 did appear three abridged Chinese translations of The Second Sex. Dai's study (2007) shows during this period women in cities were faced with the subtle double standard under the guise of absolute equality: women are expected to be wantons in the society and chaste wives and devoted mothers at home. The observation made by Dai on gender development in China is based on analyzing urban women, women intellectuals in particular and it can be safely inferred that in the rural area feminism is almost a neglected issue and women are placed in a more complicated situation as illustrated by the protagonist Xiaoyun in the film. In fact, the great paradox of Chinese feminism is that it was not started at the grass roots level like other nations, but has been promulgated from the top echelons of public authority, which is still heavily influenced and dominated by men. As the concept of human rights confuses Chinese people, feminism is a biting and vague concept for most Chinese. Women would rather claim to be tough women or crazy women (nvhanzi or nvshenjing) than be labeled as feminists so as not to be marginalized by the community.

Though Yu Li denies being a feminist, and is specifically anti womanist1 (nvquan zhuyi which emphasizes women's dominance), there is no doubt that her film, shot in a rural Sichuan town, sets out to expose the issues faced by Chinese women in modern China. …

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