Red Sorghum

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University of British Columbia

Confucianism in Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum
Significance of Formal Context in Creating Positive Depiction

Ian Godman
ASIA 355 (921)
Rui Wang

Red Sorghum is a complex cinematographic exploration of Chinese cultural roots resistant to unambiguous interposition within the socio-political spectrum, particularly in relation to Confucianism: a lingering and historically viable doctrine intimately intertwined with the Chinese civilization. Zhang Yimou’s works are sometimes ascribed with an anti-Confucian sentiment (Neo, 2). However, such observation can be traced mainly to a medium-free contextualization of feminism within a historical framework of patriarchal dominance affiliated with Confucianism. In other words, establishing the aforementioned contextual connection in a complex medium such as cinematography requires a validation that relies on factors other than the mere mention of China to prove that Confucianism is the dominant force behind the tyranny of patriarchal environment. While such factors are present in some Zhang Yimou’s works, they are by no means universal to all of them. For instance, David Neo manages to establish sound grounds for such a connection in his article about “Raising the Red Lantern”, through visual factors of immediate significance to the cinematographic medium: he argues that architectural positioning has metaphorical significance to epitomize the restraints established by Confucianism, saying that “the way in which space is outlined and occupied in these houses is an expression of complex social rules”. The discourse space in Red Sorghum on the other hand is defined by a radically differing set of elements, which offers no substantial evidence in support of Confucianism as a restraining system, other than on the level of the narrative itself where the girl is initially taken to marry a leprous guy to fulfill the obligation of filial piety to her father. In fact, through...
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