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Using The Golden Era in a 12th grade lit class

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Aja Koester
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Using The Golden Era in a 12th grade lit class

I watched the film The Golden Era directed by Ann Hui. It tells the story mainly of Xiao Hong, but also of her husband Xiao Jun, who are both prolific writers from China in the 1900’s. I chose the film because I had heard of Xiao Hong’s work previously, but knew very little about her life. The film does a beautiful job of telling her story all the way from when she was a young girl until she passed away at 31. It touches on many topics that have been covered throughout the seminar (i.e. arranged marriage, opium use, the leftist party, Japan’s rule over China, early Communism, etc,) but through the context of Xiao Hong’s life.


Early in the film she struggles with her father’s oppressive treatment of her as a female and at a young age she resists an arranged marriage by running away. She elopes with her cousin, but he soon leaves her and she is shamed by her family and town. She then spends time in jail, but the film explains that she never spoke of her experiences except for in her later writings. She reconnects with the man who she was arranged to marry and he seems to have an opium problem. He disappears during her pregnancy with their baby. She gives the baby away, and her writing “The Foundling” is based off this point in her life. She ends up writing to a literary group of Chinese leftist writers for support and they befriend her. Through them, she meets her husband Xiao Jun. They live together for many years in rough conditions as struggling writers and they become close with Lu Xun, who is knows today as the father of modern Chinese literature. Both Lu Xun and Xiao Hong deal with health conditions and seem to connect on that shared experience. She lives in Tokyo for a brief period of her life and when she returns to Hong Kong she eventually passes away at the young age of 31.


I teach 12th grade world literature and I felt this film could be used in many ways in my classroom. For one, I do a unit on postmodernism that looks at certain styles including metafiction and fragmentation. While this film is by no means what most people think of as the typical “postmodern” style, it is a great example of metafiction and breaking the fourth wall. The film opens with the already dead Xiao Hong directly addressing the audience to give an expository account of her birth and death before moving into the dramatic retelling of her life. The narrative is jarringly broken up multiple times when the camera cuts to characters directly analyzing or giving commentary to the audience about the moment taking place in the film. They often explain which of Xiao Hong’s literary works were influenced by the event taking place. For instance, when Xiao Hong has lunch with her brother after her family has shunned her and she has run away, she tells the audience, “My younger brother’s eyes are pitch black” referring to his misunderstanding of her at this moment. Her younger brother in the film looks at the audience to explain, “Since sister ran away, our family was ruined…That chance meeting with my sister, became the subject of her essay Early Winter.” Through this, Hui acknowledges the contrivance of her own film and brings a self-awareness to its fictionality, which is a style that has often interested my students both in film and literature.


Along with looking at the postmodern style of the film, I feel I could use the authors and literature it covers to look at Realist literature in China. The film could be used to build context for the authors of this time period, including Xiao Hong, Xiao, Jun, and also Lu Xun. The film does a great job of placing their writing into a larger historical context and into moments within their personal lives that clearly influence their works. It blends pieces of their writings both into the actual narrative framework and by superimposing readings over certain scenes. I think my students would appreciate looking at clips from the film as introductions into reading these works.