Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender

By Sheldon Hsiao-Peng Lu | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Breaking the Soy Sauce Jar Diaspora and Displacement in the Films of Ang Lee

Wei Ming Dariotis

Eileen Fung

Ang Lee's films are powerful evocations of cultural preservation as well as intercultural (mis)communication. Lee's work illustrates the inevitable conflicts and negotiations between individuals bound by familial and societal obligations. These familial and social dramas are often set in scenes where the infiltration of Westernization is in direct conflict with orthodox Chinese ideologies. The overall philosophy of Ang Lee's films demonstrates the struggles of individuals within and between cultures. Lee's struggles to place Chinese culture within today's progressive societies-both in the "East" and in the "West"1 -- echo a long tradition of Chinese negotiation with the influences of Western culture. In contrast to the supposedly liberating possibilities of Western culture, the (also supposedly) oppressive nature of traditional Chinese culture has been criticized by many Chinese scholars. One of the most controversial critiques has been that of Taiwanese novelist and cultural critic Po Yang ( Bo Yang),2 beginning in the 1960s. Our use of Po Yang to begin our analysis of Ang Lee's films is a deliberate attempt to acknowledge the continual efforts of participants from multiple disciplines in the current discussion of transcultural and transnational interactions. Lee's films consistently negotiate among cultures, nations, generations, and genders-illustrating the repressive as well as revitalizing forces of Chinese traditions in the intersection of the residual past and emerging future. Po Yang and Ang Lee have in common a belief in the positive power of change. The difference between them is Ang Lee's recognition of the possibility of change within Chinese societies, as well as from without. In contrast, Po Yang argues for a view of Chinese culture that emphasizes its stagnant qualities:

The soy sauce jar (jianggang) represents a confused society in which the forces of erosion and the forces of stagnation are at their most powerful. It also represents a kind of politics of enslavement. It is a mal

-187-

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