Moderen Chinese Authors Usage of Setting and Time

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For as long as humans have had the ability to document their thoughts literature has become an integral part of society. Literature has the ability to shape and reflect society, whether it b fiction or nonfiction. The events happening in society usually are reflected in an author’s work. Ling Qichao, one of the most famous Chinese intellectuals of the early twentieth century said it best when he stated, “To modernize the Chinese people, it has to start from the modernization of the genre ‘novel’.

Throughout China’s long century of struggle, reform, and transformation, literature has played a pivotal role in not only reflecting the events and sentiments of the time but also giving the people the option to criticize and negotiate the raging revolution and how its existence has affected the society. By looking at Chinese literature of the twentieth century, we are able to see the reformation of China’s national identity and the changing dimensions of human interiority; all of this reflecting the consequences of modernity and showing how the society coped with the trauma of drastic change.

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Chinese authors and filmmakers were able to utilize fictional arts to creatively express themselves and the people. However, as time moved forward and society modernized, the literary devices employed by these storytellers were transformed as well. Chinese authors began telling stories not just through the characters of the story but also other literary devices employed. For example, setting and time period are just as important as the characters of a story because human beings are products of their environment.

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Modern Chinese fiction makers such as Jin Yong and Yu Hua and Zhang Yimou used setting to advance the story’s plot and create meaning; in some instances, the setting could be described as a character itself. A great example of modern Chinese fiction makers using setting and time to advance plot can be seen in “To Live”, Zhang Yimou’s film adaptation of Jin Yong’s “To Live”. Zhang Yimou uses setting and time period to uncover the deep human suffering of the Chinse people in the 20th century.

The movie follows the lives of a family in China from the gambling dens of the 1940s to the hardships faced during the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s. By starting the story in the 1940s and dragging through the 1960s audiences are able to witness a family’s life before, after, and during the Cultural Revolution. We are able to see major events of Chinese history and witness the transformation of the Chinese national identity; most importantly we are able to see how these events affected the lives of this family. The period from the 1940s to the 1970s showed much change in the span of 40 years, from the end of World War 2 through the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong to present Communist China. When we first meet Fugui he is a rich a man addicted to gambling, much to the dismay and agony of his wife. After gambling away his family’s fortune, the family begins to fill their first tendrils of hardship, however, these hardships do not stop there. Much of “To Live” takes place in the same neighborhood.

Following Fugui’s moved from his ancestral home and his participation in Cheng Kai-Shek’s Nationalist ArmyArmy/ surrender to Mao Zedong’s Liberation Army, he reunites with his family and quickly falls into life with them. Fugui realizes that, like his wife, his lifelong goal is “to live” a quiet and peaceful life. However, they are not given this privilege as the battle to stay alive and together under the “communist structure” of Mao Zedong After being involved in the Chinese civil war, Fugui and his family settle down in a place in the city. This setting is important because the city reflects the political struggling along with the rise of communism. Though a majority of “To Live” takes place in the one neighborhood, this setting still plays an integral role in advancing the plot; because we are able to see the advancement of the plot in the way the decor of the neighborhood changes through time. As time passes and the identity of the neighborhood and the attitudes and goals of the people change, the decor changes with it to reflect the people and events of the time. After Fugui surrenders to the Liberation Army and reunites with his family in the city, this time period can be inferred to be around 1950.

The end of the 1940s was around the time where the Communist Party of China was formed and Mao Zedong came to power. China had been fighting a civil war since the 1920s along with a full-scale war with the Japanese from 1937 to 1945. Nearly 20 years of fighting had left China with many problems. The country had little industry left, money had little to no value, many were unemployed, and most people were collectively facing food shortages. This time period is reflected in the story, as besides a few red flags, the decor of the time is virtually nonexistent. The neighborhood is in a battered and decrepit state, much like the people of the neighborhood trying to get by. As time passes on and Mao’s reign begins to truly show its reform, we see the neighborhood go from a decrepit state to one that is full of new innovations and materials. After 1950, Mao passes the land reform laws to grant peasants landlordless land and by 1951, the land revolution ended. Cities also began to change, cares, foreigners, and foreign businesses disappeared; radio stations are taken over by the state.. By fixing wages and prices, the government was able to control inflation; private banks were shut down and the state bank was established.

In 1950, China became involved in the Korean War. By 1958 Chairman Mao has set in place the country’s Great Leap Forward. This movement towards communism emphasized the importance as China as a society banding together to advance the country. Villages now have “team leaders”, all families are to work in collective fields, and all meals are taken in the “communal dining hall”. It is enforced that even children are to work. All families are also made to “smelt iron” and report the iron that they produce. Parents like Fugui and Jiazhen begin sending their child to work instead of school. A communal mentality of being “overworked for the good of the people” is adopted and enforced. We can see this sudden strong sense of community in the decor of the neighborhood at the time. Walls of the village are covered in posters that say 福福 (blessing). Though he sense of community is great, it does not conceal the hardships that are faced. Fugui and Jiazhen’s young son is killed at work from being overtired. The community bands together to comfort their loss, but there is still no change in this mentality for work. They continue to live as they are instructed. By the 1960s, the neighborhood is shown as brighter and more bustling. The walls are plastered in posters of writing on the wall and people are biking around. Even Fugui and Jiazhen’s place have more pictures on the wall, the most notable one being the picture of Chairman Mao.

Chairman Moa’s picture is not only in the homes of the people, but murals of the Chairman can also be seen on the walls of the neighborhood; he is depicted with a bright smile, much like the people of the time. The sense of community in the neighborhood has seemed to intensify, this much can be seen at the wedding of Fugui’s daughter. Before the wedding, the people of the town gift the family with a mural of Chairman Mao. After the wedding, the people of the town make sure to make the family take a picture in front of the mural The town is bustling with excitement and there is a sense of content in the community. It is clear that Chairman Mao’s influence has had its full effect on the neighborhood. In 1968, Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution begins. He shuts down the nation’s school and calls for youth mobilization to challenge current party leaders and their (embracement of bourgois values and lack of revolutionary spirit). Students quickly formed groups called the Red Guards and began to attack and round up China’s elderely intellectual population.

The consequences of such a revolution can be seen in the movie. When Jiazhen and Fugui’s daughter is to have their baby, they arrive at the hospital to learn that all doctors have been taken away, and in their stead, the hospital is being run by nurses. Fugui and Jiazhen’s daughter faces complication with birth and due to the lack of doctors with sufficient expertise, after giving birth to her child she passes away. So though the town is riddled with the communist decor, and seems to hold much-revolutionized hope, this does not stop the hardships that many families end of facing due to the revolution. Later the town is depicted as more subdued. Gone are the writings littering the walls and posters showing communist propaganda. The murals of Chairman Mao has even begun to fade away and become distorted. This shows the passing of time after the excitement of the Cultural Revolution. The family has made it through many wars and much change in the country, starting with the Chinese Civil War, all the way to the end of the Cultural Revolution. The most remarkable and notable aspect of Fugui and his family is that they have accepeted everything that came their war.

“To Live” show how families’ lives can be entangled with the political strife of the era and the hardships that they are forced to endure in the wake of these “enlightening revolutions”. It is clear that Zhang Yimou uses setting to advance the plot because as each time period of the story begins after the transitions, it is clear how the town has changed. Another example of modern Chinese authors using setting to advance the plot and can be seen in Jin Yong in his book entitled Lengends of the Condors Heroes 1: A Hero Born. Jin Yong uses setting to show the passage of time as well as show the developments in his character. A Hero Born is set from 1199 A.D. to 1227 A.D. during the Jin-Song Wars. and chronicles the adventures of Guo Jing. The Song empire has just been invaded by its Jurchen neighbors from the north. Guo Jing is the son of a murdered Song patriot and grows up under the care of Genghis Khan and his army in the Mongolian Empire. He is taught martial arts by the “Seven Heroes of the South” and Ma Yu of the Quanzhen School as they prepare him to face his destiny of fighting the Jurchen, Yang Kang. Setting plays an important role in Guo Jing’s life.

Though who grows up with the Mongols, he defines his home as the Song Dynasty, the land of his father. He feels most at home when hearing the Chinese of these lands. Much of Guo Jing’s development can be tied to different settings in the story. The north (the Mongolian lands) can be described as the place in which he gathered the basics he needed to come into his own. There is where he shot two eagles with a single arrow as a child; from then on, his path to being a hero was forged as he was trained diligently by the Seven Freaks, and eventually by Ma Yu. Guo Jing is surrounded by people egging him on to become better at the craft of martial arts. Another important event in his devolpment that truly showed the birth of his hero’s journey is the battle with Temujin versus traitors Ong Kan and Senggum. Not only does he follow his gut and convince Temujin of their treachery, but he also plays an important role in the turn of the battle. Guo Jing is able to fend off more than one opponent at once, using the skills given by the “Seven Freaks” and Ma Yu. Guo Jing’s skillful assistance in battle granted him the favor of Temujin and showed his skill in martial arts; because of this the “Seven Freaks” trust him to go to the South by his lonesome.

This is why the north can be described as the birth of his hero’s journey. The South represents Guo Jing coming into his own, without the help of his mentors. Guo Jing’s journey to the south, he faces many new experiences and learns to problem solve on his own. Déanna Clarke Campbell LC470: Professor Li The setting is also important in A Hero Born because it plays a large role in the identity of each character. The characters of the book identify themselves by their origins. This much can be seen in the different martial arts schools and factions: the Seven Freaks of the South, the Taoist of the Quanzhen Sect, the Yellow River faction, and the Five Greats. The five greats are split by Easter, West, South, North, and Central regions of the land. Many of the martial arts forms are representative of the origins. This can be seen when Guo Jing fights the Prince who immediately after starting the fights demands, “Who is your shifu?” This is an valuable piece of information because by knowing where one’s mentor is from, others can guess what martial arts moves will be exhibited during a fight.

This is also seen when Lotus encounters the Five Greats on her own. Surprised by her martial arts expertise the Five Greats are immediately suspicious and begin to question her as to who her shifu could possibly be. The characters of A Hero Born where their homeland origins on their sleeves with pride and will go to war to defend their lands. Setting can be seen as a source of pride throughout the novel and provokes people as such. This can be seen in Guo Jing’s pride in his homelands, though he grew up far away. It also explains the warring faction of the Jin and Song. Jin Yong uses setting to advance the plot by using it to show the passage of time in Guo Jing’s development and also the pride it invokes and how that pride permeates the book as a whole.

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Moderen Chinese Authors Usage of Setting and Time. (2021, Oct 05). Retrieved from

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