China City and Country Ideals Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

She then receives abuses at home and at school for her choices, even though her choices are directly evident of communist ideals. She therefore feels as if no one from the principle to the janitors respect her and she receives no respect even at home. Cuiyuan faces a universal challenge, as her ideals have told her that the right thing to do is study hard and achieve academic success, this she has done, yet it is not really appreciated because she has not met the old standard of academics and has not chosen a path that will improve her family. Though the family may be improved by the esteem of their daughter's rise to become a professor they are still challenged by the fact that this path is not yet defined enough to offer improvement, in the same manner that thousands of years of tradition based on marriage as the most fundamental way that a woman can change her life and that of her family. While in the same story a similar but gender reversed drama was playing out. A prosperous business man (Lu Zongzhen) was attempting to allude a lower class relative as the younger man (Dong Peizhi )had intentions of securing the hand of the businessman's daughter as way to improve his lot in life. Dong Peizhi is a the young son of his wife's cousin who has come from a very poor background. He has calculated that marrying Lu Zongzhen's eldest 13-year-old daughter would greatly improve his status and prospects. (Chang, 2007) Lu Zongzhen believes his daughter is far to young to marry and that she deserves better than Peizhi. The challenge of the situation is apparent as each individual seeks out his own rational needs over those of the lot he has been cast into. Peizhi sought the wealthier man's young daughter while the young professor sought to hold on to the fact that she was living the dream her ideals were built for, and enduring the abuse of not having made the same choice that Peizhi was now attempting to make by marrying up. All the while the city was sealed as a result of a conflict with an even more desperate lower class likely of new urbanite status, an even more precarious status than that of Cuiyuan, Lu Zongzhen or even Peizhi. The old dredges of traditional society continue to pervade the reality of life in an urban Chinese setting. The blockade is in place to keep the beggars out and the tram of only slightly more well off individuals is stuck outside to cope with their own internal drives and thoughts, slowed down by and event they would wish not to think about. The people on the tram are described as seeking any kind of distraction that allows them to continue not to think, reading shop signs if they have nothing with them to distract, as according to the author, thinking is painful. (Chang, 2007) Thinking is painful business, just as the students at the labor college are stressed by the demands of their "real" life as members of the laboring class and low income families too much to receive the kind of education they would actually need to break the barriers of the academic old guard, the urbanites are stressed by the duality of the old vs. The new ways and definitions of "success."

In the film, new conflicts arise when again the old guard attempts to assert a syllabus that is far too extensive for the part-work, part-study reality of the Labor College. In the work, the voice of reason or middle ground is a young female teacher who has studied in a full time university and was challenged by the standards even with the opportunity to study all day. The demand of the vice-principle and the dean (who has since been replaced as admissions coordinator by the elder party advocate from the village) is to follow the syllabus and allow it to "weed out" those who cannot keep up. Since Principle Lung has enrolled students with limited academic experience and the students will be expected to learn trade skills and work as well as study the conflict is foreseeable and obvious.

Lung's point is that elitist students from non-laboring classes and those who are aristocrats with no skill to work have ridden on the back of the worker and relied upon the worker to provide for his needs while he simply follows these rigorous standards of study. Dean Sun and the vice-principle are at odds still strongly believing that the reason that some rise to the top of the academic pursuit is because some people are simply better than others. In the words of Lung. "…there is one thing we must all bear in mind…the students we train must become laboring people…with both socialist consciousness and culture." Lung points out that no one among them has the experience to create such a system and that they will have to forge ahead to tread a new road, one that has never been trod before and cannot be based on the ideals of old academic standards. This is a standard that is mirrored by Cuiyuan's dilemma, as the old academic guard is pervasive still at her university, and is reflected in the abuse she receives by the students who expect an English professor to either be a native English speaker, therefore from abroad, or to have traveled and studied abroad the way that the elite have to come to dominate the academic and business worlds in China.

The broader conflict is obvious, the old vs. The new the ideal vs. reality and most importantly the city vs. The country. Each sees the other's flawed logic as impeding progress and each are right in their own way. Urbanization in China is really the only option during the cultural revolution and following it, as opportunity is far to limited to offer the rural country people the opportunity to make personal progress for any cause and they must therefore seek out education and even employment in the city. Yet, when they do so the; "…metal shop gates came rattling down, all in a single sweep," (Chang, 2007) and they are barred from entry. The city and the country are forever locked in an impasse, despite the idealist teachings that stress egalitarianism and that they should both at the very least learn each other's craft.

The very real exposure of the rural classes to the urban setting as well as the fact that they were themselves now dependant upon others to grow and transport their food and then often without the means to purchase it beyond subsistence, despite the fact that they were working harder than ever is a practical reality of urbanization. Conditions were hard in the country, but at least they could subsist and had clean air and water to enjoy. While urban dwellers rarely and only begrudgingly exposed themselves to the rigors of the country and when they did it was not to make a fundamental change to thinking like a laborer but was to bring confusing ideas to the country. The impasse is evident and stark and very obviously represented in the fantastic literature and mass cultural expression of the post-revolution period. The whole purpose of the Cultural Revolution was to challenge the old notions of who has and holds power and wealth and redistribute it to the masses, and in so doing the ideal left a void of confusion and conflict that is fully reflected in the literature and media of the day in both state supported works like the film and some would say even more challenging private ones such as the photography and literature that has been offered in this coarse.


China, (1975) Breaking With Old Ideas Motion Picture.

Harvey, D. Money, Time Space and the City

Congwen S. Bian Cheng

Chang, E. (2007) Sealed Off

Mao, D. (2001) Midnight

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