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To Live by Zhang Yimou

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Gerlinde Goschi
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To Live by Zhang Yimou

This is the second movie I watched directed by Zhang Yimou.  The first one was Flowers of War about the Nanking Massacres.  I like the director’s style and his recurring theme, the resilience of Chinese people in face of hardship and adversity.  I highly recommend this movie to everyone. It will touch everyone’s heart! Thank you, Dr. Dube, for the link!


I am planning to show parts of this movie (15-minute increments) to my 8th graders as part of a persuasive writing lesson.  Students will compare two periods of China’s history and argue which one created more advantages for the family.


To Live is a based on the novel with the same name by Yu Hua. It accentuates the resilience of a husband and wife for three generations in the midst of upheavals, wars, and political change in 20th Century China.  It was banned by the Chinese government in 1994, but it won the Grand Jury award at the Cannes Film Festival.  The acting is phenomenal.  Zhang Yimou teaches the audience great history lessons through Fugui’s eyes and his Chinese shadow puppet theater.  Many scenes stuck with me. Among them, in the middle of the movie the village cadre tells all students to report to the school to help melt iron that was collected from all residents.  Youquing, his son, has not slept for three days because he was helping out his mom at work. But, Fugui, the father, wakes him in spite of his mom’s protest to allow the son to sleep. As Fugui carries his half-sleeping son to school on his back, Fugui says:  “If Youquing does as daddy says, our lives will get better and better. Our family is like a little chicken. When it grows up it becomes a goose. And that will turn into a sheep. The sheep will turn into an ox.” Youquing asks: “And after the ox?” Fugui replies: “After the ox is Communism.”  This is a great scene to show to students asking what they think this means? A similar scene is repeated at the end of the movie when Fugui places little chicks his grandson brought into his box where he kept the shadow puppets that had to be burned. His grandson asks what happens to chicks when they grow up.  Fugui’s answer this time: “The chickens will turn into geese...and the geese will turn into sheep...and the sheep will turn into oxen…” His grandson asks: “And after the oxen?” Fugui contemplates: “ After the oxen….after oxen Little Bun will grow up….. And life will get better and better.”

This is a powerful movie and a must see for all!

Jacqueline Mercado
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Jacqueline Mercado's picture
To Live

Gerlinde, I also saw this movie (thank you, Professor Dube for posting this in the forum!) and like you was very touched by the resilience of Fugui and his wife.  Despite the tragedies that came their way in the midst of all the political change that took place in China, their determination for a better life was sincere and allowed them to persevere in the face of much adversity.  In this sense the movie is optimistic, hopeful and uplifting.