China’s Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution (GPCR) is a well-documented period in world history, but the most profound records are found vivified in the literature and films later into the 20th century, respectively. One of the most profound novels is “To Live”, authored by Yu Hua, which as a fictional narrative offers both a unique and realistic sense of the time period at the individual level. However, the provocative film adaptation directed by Zhang Yimou in 1994 was formidable enough that it was banned in Mainland China. Zhang paints a more realistic picture of how the GPCR influenced Chinese society but adds zest to Hua’s ambiguity but acceptable imperfection. Naturally, the film has many different characteristics yet still manages to overcome the challenges that implicate film adaptations.
This analysis draws focus on the differences between Hua’s novel and Zhang’s film by juxtaposing two key themes and dual-symbolism that had changed from one format to another. The paper is broken up into two parts and begins with an introduction and analysis of Yu Hua’s novel and Zhang’s film. Finally, the second part analyzes the film and novel’s representations of two themes and symbolism that tie in with the GPCR. This paper posits that while Zhang’s film does contain many adjustments based on its adaptation, those changes were not simply a means by which he would meet the status quo, rather they were a means by which the film could become more realistic and exploits the true nature of the GPCR.
This part is divided into two sub-topics. The first sub-topic offers a summary of the book and contains spoilers. The second sub-topic summarizes the film. Both summaries incorporate key events in both formats that tie into the analysis. While the differences are not covered following each summary, it becomes apparent that there are few major differences between Yu Hua’s novel and Zhang Yimou’s film adaptation.
A Summary of Hua’s Novel
The story begins with a dialogue by an unnamed narrator who explains his encounter with a peasant-farmer working a field. The second narrator—Fugui, the peasant—begins to tell his life story. Beginning with his young adult life, Fugui explains he spent most of his time in a whorehouse gambling and eventually gambled away his family fortune. After Fugui acquires a plot of land from Long Er; the man who took away Fugui’s family fortune, to work until the Kuomingtang (KMT) took him away, leaving behind his wife Jiazhen, infant son Youqing, and mute daughter Fengxia. Fugui miraculously survived the war and returned home only to find that his mother had died and Chinese society was engaged in land reforms. Shortly after Fugui’s return, Long Er was deemed a landlord and executed and later his only son Youqing died at the hospital after giving too much blood.
The Great Leap Forward begins, communes were established, and Fugui was required to destroy his pots in order to smelt iron for the...