Zhang Yimou’s film To Live is an adaption of Yu Hua’s novel of the same name. It is a film full of political implications under the description of the life of Fugui. In the film, Fugui, the main character, experiences ups and downs in life and suffers the loss of his family mansion, parents, son, and daughter in the erratic era from 1940s to 1970s in China. Fugui lives his life through various historical periods with strong political influences, including the Chinese Civil War, battle against the landowner, the Great Leap Forward, and Cultural Revolution. We could certainly learn a lot from the persistence and courage of Fugui to live on as the film shows. However, beneath those difficulties and adversaries Fugui and his family face and their subsequent reactions, it suggests that Fugui’s family is a miniature of the common people involved in the turbulence of political movements. Thus, the film shows an irony that political authority attempts to strengthen the national power and to improve living conditions of common people but fail the people and even made it worse.
The infrastructure of social system that used to rule the country was buried and lead to huge unrest and the belief of common people are distorted to aim to be as poor as others. After the Communist Party took power in the Chinese Civil War, Fugui returns home and reunites with Jiazhen and their children. The communist government helps Jiazhen find a job to serve boiled water, when Fugui is conscripted to the KMT army. Under the leadership of the Chinese communist government, it seems the people start making a good living. However, after Fugui witnesses Long’er being executed because he was accused to be a landlord and refused to give out the mansion and burned it, which he won from Fugui by gambling, he is so scared that this could happen to him someday because he used to be the real landlord. When the head of the town says that the wood of Fugui’s family mansion is so good that the fire last for three days, and Fugui replies quickly and nervously that it’s not the wood of his family but the wood of anti-revolutionists, trying to decline any connections to the class of landlords. Jiazhen also hangs up Fugui’s certificate of participating in the revolution, hoping it could protect them, even though he has never truly fought for the revolution willingly. For Long’er and Fugui, their social classes are decided by their gamble. Fugui loses his family mansion in gambling and becomes poor peasant, and keeps his head above ground in the battle against landowner. Due to good luck, Long’er wins and gets Fugui’s family mansion. However, Long’er is considered as a landowner and shot by the communist government. Poor people are safe, while the rich people should die.
The Great Leap Forward aims to establish a developed and equal society with strong fantasy of communistic society, but finally disrupts and aggravates people’s living conditions. Fugui has been hardworking and responsible man, totally different from the dandy he used to be. Responding to the call of the communist government, Fugui is active in contributing his own efforts to the country as he takes out all iron-made tools in his family. Besides Fugui, every family donates anything containing iron. Without pots and pans, people enter the People’s Commune and enjoy the equalitarianism in the first few years. Mr. Niu tells Fugui and Jiazhen that the communist government cooks for them and they can have a full stomach every day. The equalitarianism emphasizes the average distribution between every people but neglects the facts that there is no absolute equality in the world. Fugui and other town people pay a heavy price for the equalitarianism. They are required to make steel day and night to reach the goal of 10.7 million tones steel production per year, which is impossible in 1950s of China. Everyone is so tired, including Youqing, the son of Fugui. He orders sleepy Youqing to participate the welcome ceremony of the district governor at school because he is afraid of being left behind if Youqing is absent. In the school, sleep-deprived Youqing continues to sleep on the side of a wall and forgets eating the dumplings. On the other side of the wall, the district governor, Chunsheng, drives into the wall due to fatigue. Youqing is crushed under the wall and becomes the sacrifice of the Great Leap Revolution.
Under the banner of emancipating minds, Cultural Revolution manipulates people’s minds and persecutes intellectuals and scholars, which indirectly leads to Fengxia’s death. In the film, the shadow puppet kit becomes an inappropriate subject, which could bring Fugui and his family trouble. To follow Chairman Mao’s words, and to keep themselves safe, Fugui asks his daughter, Fengxia, to burn those puppets representing emperors and queens in the past, who are considered as reactionary. The shadow puppets save Fugui’s life several times and mean a great deal for Fugui. Fugui has the ability to cheer people up with shadow puppets, which implies that shadow puppets play an important role in people’s spiritual life. Nevertheless, the communist government regards this tradition as disaster and persuades people to believe solely in Mao’s words. Burning the shadow puppet aims to control people’s minds and imprison the people invisibly. Furthermore, in Fengxia’s wedding, people cannot find festive red, but Chair Mao. The wedding gifts are Mao’s words, Mao’s badges, and Mao’s photos. Fengxia and Er’xi are in green army uniforms and the wedding music is replaced by revolutionary songs. The communist government restricts people’s behaviors to strengthen the influence of Mao’s thoughts. The persecution of intellectuals pushes Mao’s thoughts to the extreme. When Fengxia gives birth in the hospital, the hospital is occupied by the Red Guards, who are inexperience nurses. The seasoned doctors are imprisoned in the cowshed, where they are oppressed physically and spiritually. Faced with Fengxia’s postpartum bleed, the nurses can do nothing to help Fengxia. Although Doctor Wang has professional knowledge, he has no ability to save Fengxia at that time because he is tormented seriously by the Red Guards and becomes numb. The Cultural Revolution kills Fengxia, the only child of Fugui and Jiazhen. It is ridiculous that Erxi belongs to a member of the Red Guards. The death of Fengxia is the last blow for Fugui and Jiazhen. They have nothing to lose, because they have lost everything in the political movement.
In To Live, Zhang Yimou takes use of Fugui’s life to encourage people to live on under severe unexpected circumstances and stay positive to find a way to live. But to think deeper of the underlined transcripts in the film, it is silent complaint about the absurd policies of the communist government. When the political power tries to interfere with the normal life of common people, it often causes a worse result. The Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China aims to bring new and better life to Chinese people. While a series of political movements only disrupt the peaceful life and obstruct of social development. In the battle against the landowner, the communist government decides people’s social classes on the rich and poor, which leads to the advocating of poverty and people’s miserable life. The Great Leap Revolution evaluates the productive power of China mistakenly, worsens people’s living condition, and causes the death of Youqing. The communist leaders attempt to control the people’s minds through getting rid of the tradition, and imprisoning the intellectuals in the Cultural Revolution. Fengxia could be saved if there is no Cultural Revolution. The life of Fugui could be better without the strong political interference.