CulturalCritique of Yellow Earth
Yellowearth is a film of the ancient Shaambei Peasant’s of China in the1930’s. It is a story of deep cultural attachments that neededreforms, but such reforms emanating from western influences were metwith hostility from the local people. This paper is a culturalcritique of the film. Through the critique, the paper explores a deepunderstanding as well as examining character development of Cuiquao,her position in the cultural setting and her role in highlighting thecultural relevance of Yellow Earth.
Thefilm “yellow earth” seems to be having an ironic twist.Culturally the film tells a story of the ancient cultural setting ofthe Chinese people who seem to be obsessed with their culture andhistory. There is a strong evidence of feudalism and superstitionamong the Chinese people. The soldier is expected to bring aboutwestern cultural change to these people. He conversely failsmiserably to bring any material or ideological change. However, thisirony is highlighted further when the peasants who have beenliberated engage in drum-dancing, displaying positive reactions ofthe young generations (Groot 112). The young generations welcome theidea of revolutions led by young people like Cuiqiao and Hanhan.
Theancient Chinese cultural representation of colors and theincorporation of natural resources have been highlighted by the film,just like other Chinese films (Clark 29). Yellow earth represents andsignifies an immediate embrace of non-western alternatives. Themakers of the film have stressed on the need of Chinese culturalrepresentation through the limited range of colors. Moreover, thereis the use of natural lightening coupled with a non-viewpoint use offilmic space. All these integrations initiate and aspire to a Taoistbelief. However the film has little depths that represent the horizonand the sky proportioning them to an extreme. Zero political codingis represented by the Chinese use of nature through ancient paintings(Kuoshu 22). Thus the Chinese political discourse is indeed poorlyrepresented by the Yellow Earth’s, starting the film byprioritizing of the Chinese narrative and departing from theconventional style.
Thefilm “Yellow Earth” further depicts marriage as a ritual andromance as a taboo in the ancient Chinese culture. The problematicrelations of affinity further complicate these relationships. Cuiquaohas an excessive distance relationship with her peasant father whileshe engages in an intimate relationship with Hanhan. Cuiquao engagesin this intimate relationship, which is a cultural taboo, which costof her own life. This way, the film illustrates social patriarchy andsexual repression. In this regard it involves a lot of negotiationbetween socialist feminism and the existing patriarchy.
The“Yellow Earth” clearly highlights the cultural activities of theShaambei peasant. According to Groot, they seem to have a specialmaterial relationship with their lands. The film depicts the peasantactively involved in these repetitive cultural activities such as theplug of their lands on bare slopes and resistively getting water fromthe ten mile yellow river. Moreover, they are highlighted tendingafter animals such as the sheep. They cook quietly in their cavedhomes. A moderate out of the ordinary interest is accorded to rainprayers and marriages. Regardless of the fact that they show loyalallegiance to their cultural setting, they are however guided by apractical philosophy. They have a paternal benevolence to one anotherand only engage in few words. This is because there is a highpossibility that they are neither sad nor happy. Cuiquao’s fatheris shown trying to sing some folk songs in the presence of thesoldier in fear of losing his job.
Inaddition the film depicts the symbolic representation of the Agrarianreceptivity that is ancient. The film does not indicate anyagricultural activities such as farming or harvesting. The film hason the other hand illustrated the ancient cultural setting of a oneman, one tree and one cow. The land appears to be flattened and bare.The symbolic representation of the yellow river brings about mixedmeanings. The yellow river has been shown to sustain the lives of theancient Chinese people as well as destroying their very ownexistence. The setting of the film depicts a culture that requireschange, but the peasants are held on to their cultural values (Clark29). This has been highlighted by the physical display of the landand the people that has obviously amounted to delay to theintroduction to modernity. The people are stubbornly attached totheir cultural beliefs.
Theyellow earth also illustrates the peasants as a people who have ahigh regard to their land. They commonly refer to their land as theyellow earth. There is a genuine relationship depicted between thepeople and their land which is a deification form. Moreover the filmoffers a balanced understanding of the agrarian beliefs. Statementsmade by the soldier reflect his deep beliefs of the modernized formof reforms. The relationship of the soldiers with the peasantsindicates a revolution that tries to replace the existing mythicbeliefs (Groot 117). However, there is a strong blind loyaltydepicted by the peasants to their lands. This discovers homology andis narrated by the soldier by a normal conversation with his leader.Hence the ancient structure of power changes.
Thefilm further shows the peasants assembling in their dried out landand they are relentlessly singing their ancient Chinese folk songs.These folk songs describe their mythical cultural beliefs in aprimitive form. The manner in which they praise their gods indicatesa form of survival instinct to their gods. They collectivelydemonstrate their cultural blindness to the ties of their culturalbeliefs (Kuoshu 29). This blindness is further demonstrated by thesoldier who is depicted standing silently at a distance. Theircollective failure is reflected by the soldier’s unnatural behavioras well as the soldier’s failure to help reproach from their owncultural blindness.
Theyellow earth film demonstrates the roots of feudalism that can betraced back to the peasants’ cultural and economic basis. These twoimportant factors clearly help to bring about the Chinese socialism.The film brings to light clearly the micro-narrative that reflectsChina’s contemporary political and economic that are historicized(Groot 121). The land draws out both vertically and horizontallywithin the film’s frame. This is a centrifugal depiction of asymbolically boundless space that is clearly unfocused to one’sconscious that seeks pleasure. Thus, it is possible to view the filmwithout necessarily becoming a product of cinematic discourse.
Theyellow earth shows the impacts of the failed fate of Cuiquao. Thisunsuccessful fate has integrated the whole view of social identitywith the critique of political discourses that are dehumanized.Feudalism and the victimization of women are signified by the cultureof paternally arranged marriages that engage in exchange of women.The kind paternal fathers are replaced by the usual clichés of classvillains and cruel fathers. Since the 1930’s China has often usedliterature and films to illustrate the use of feudal marriageceremonies. However yellow earth seems to be more complex and subtlein the way sympathy for women enunciated (Semsel 14). It is throughthis structural setting that the film “yellow earth” hassuccessfully made known of the statement of patriarchal power assymbolically evident in cultural, social and political practice.
Thereis an excessive and repetitive use of the red color in the film.Naturally red color represents fortune, happiness and spontaneity.However the use of Cuiquao together with other women reverse thisentire knowledge and meaning with the demonstration of oppressivemarriages. Cuiquao is depicted as a spectator in the first marriage.She witnesses the bride and groom kneeling in front of the perceivedancestor’s plate after which she is led straight to the bedroom.The different shots of Cuiquao taken during the entire time depicther as a young rural female and more importantly as a potentialvictim (YellowEarth 1).Cuiquao is forced to witness the entire ancient victimizingnarrative, though it is important to understand that she was entirelyconnected.
Thefirst relationship that Cuiquao engages with the soldier brings tolight the issue of women liberation. The yellow earth depictsCuiquao’s father as the one who is a defiant feudal and the soldieron the other hand is the promise of liberation. A dialogue betweenthe soldier and the peasants’ best illustrate this fact. HoweverCuiquao’s father shot back at him with a strong allegiance to thecultural rules that bound them. However, looking at differentcomparisons brings about a strong fixation of women. One is the factthe peasant need of village survival that is guaranteed throughexchange of women. The other one is the need of reforms thatliberates women for an assurance of a cause.
Clark,Paul. ChineseCinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press (CUP) Archive,1987, Print
Grootde Jerome. ConsumingHistory and Heritage of Contemporary China.New York. Routledge Publication. 2009. Print
Kuoshu,H. Harry. CelluloidChina: Cinematic Encounter with Society and Culture.Illinois. Southern Illinois Press. 2005. Print
Semsel,George., Chen, Xihe., and Xia, Hong. Film in Contemporary China:Critical Debates, 1979-1989. Santa Barbara, Ca: ABC-CLIO
YellowEarth.Dir.KaigeChen.Written. KaigeChen,and Ziliang,Zhang. GuangxiFilm Studio,1984. DVD