Raising a Thorny issue
Updated: 2011-09-30 09:19
By Zhai Qi (翟琦) (China Daily)
In the film, Under the Hawthorn Tree, the tale of Jingqiu and Laosan is the "cleanest love story in history". [Provided to China Daily]
A Chinese love story - no sex, little talk and a whole lot of heartache
The Chinese have a saying: 一切尽在不言中 (yíqiè jìn zài bù yán zhōng). The closest English translation is "silence is golden" but that doesn't really capture its implicit intimacy. Zhang Yimou's latest film, Under the Hawthorn Tree (《山楂树之恋》Shānzhāshù Zhī Liàn) tries its very best to do so.
In this film, a muted palette and sparse dialogue were used to pay homage to the love between "young intellectuals" (知青 zhīqīng) toward the end of "cultural revolution" (1966-76).
Jingqiu, a delicate dewdrop of a girl whose father is a "rightist", goes to be re-educated in a village homestay and falls in love at first sight with Laosan, a dashing member of a geology unit. But their love is forbidden yet because of Jingqiu's status: building a record
(档案 dàng'àn) beyond reproach and earning a full-time teaching job. Any misstep, even being seen with a boy, could jeopardize her future.
(Jingqiu's) mother: You promised me you'd behave well. The decision about your job as a teacher will be made soon. Many people are jealous. If there are problems at this critical moment, your career will be ruined, and your whole life too. It'll be on your record forever!
Ní dāyìng wǒ yào hǎohāor biǎoxiàn. Nǐ zài xuéxiào dǐngzhí de shìr kuài yào dìng le. Zhōuwéi hěnduō rén yǎnhóng ne. Yào guānjiàn shíkè chūle wèntí, biéshuō liúxiào, yóngyuǎn huì tái bù qǐ tóu lai. Dàng'àn huì gēn nǐ yíbèizi de.
And so, Laosan patiently waits … and waits … and waits. Little is said and done. The romance unfolds with a walk along a river, an interrupted bike ride and a stolen night together. The story lives up to its "clean" reputation. Much strife comes from her thinking Laosan has bailed after "having his way with her".
Jingqiu: Will I get pregnant too?
Nà wǒ huìbuhuì huáiyùn?
Weihong (a girl friend of Jingqiu): Didn't you let him succeed? Did you let him succeed or not? Tell me what happened that night. In detail.
Nǐ búshì ràng tā déshǒu le ma? Nǐ dàodǐ yǒu méiyǒu ràng tā déshǒu? Nǐ gěi wǒ shuō diǎnr jùtí qíngkuàng. Xiángxì diǎnr shuō.
Weihong: That's it? Just holding hands? Did you get naked?
Jiù zhèxiē? Jiù shǒu lā shǒu? Méi tuō yīfu?
This kind of sexual ignorance may seem unfathomable now, but elderly Chinese who lived through those days say, "That's just the way we were." After discovering the relationship, mother tests Jingqiu's virginity by running a finger down her nose.
Jingqiu: Mom, why were you touching my nose?
Mā, nín mō wǒ bízi gàn shénme?
Mother: Something I learned from your grandma, to check if you're still the same.
Wǒ gēn nǐ náinai xué de. Kànkan shìbushì yuánlái de nǐ.
Pervasive socio-political pressures shape the lovers' lives, but Zhang steers clear of stark pain. Instead, he focuses on the simplicity of love and the couple's placid happy moments.
Laosan: Let's wash your feet. Let me show you a magic trick. Close your eyes.
Lái, pàojiǎo ba. Wǒ gěi nǐ biàn ge móshù ba. Bì shàng yǎnjīng.
(He pulls out a new basin painted with hawthorn berries from under the plain basin)
Jingqiu: How'd you do that?
Ai, nǐ zěnme biàn de?
Laosan: I knew you'd like it.
Wǒ jiù zhīdào nǐ xǐhuan.
Jingqiu: I'm so happy to know you.
Rènshi nǐ zhēn hǎo.
As the characters cope with forces beyond their control, they repeat this mantra: "One day the policies may change."
Laosan: Maybe political policies will change.
Shuōbudìng nǎtiān zhèngcè jiù biàn le.
Jingqiu: What if I still can't be with you when I'm 25?
Yàoshì dàole èrshíwǔ suì yě bùxíng ne?
Laosan: Then I'll wait for you my whole life.
Nà wǒ jiù děng nǐ yíbèizi.
While Jingqiu and Laosan are busy contending with myriad manmade hurdles to their love, nature ultimately cuts their time short.
The movie may be not Zhang's best work, but it faithfully depicts a quintessentially Chinese romance.
Courtesy of The World of Chinese, www.theworldofchinese.com