[CGS SS 201] - Midterm Exam Guide - Comprehensive Notes for the exam (55 pages long!)

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CGS SS 201
MIDTERM EXAM
STUDY GUIDE
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To Live Movie Summary
Viewers enter the realm of 1940s China through the lives of Fugui and his wife Jiazhen.
Although viewers may recall that the 1940s were rife with warfare in China, the film makes no
immediate reference to the rampant war engulfing China during that decade. Instead, it draws us
into a more private set of battles, those between gambling men, where the stakes may or may not
be life itself.
Against the backdrop of the opening scene in the gambling house, local players perform a
shadow puppet show. As we watch the more savvy gambling house owners manipulate the
unwitting and debt-crazed Fugui, we recognize that like the players on that other stage, these
men pull Fugui's strings, as though he is a puppet. Yet they too are the subjects of forces larger
than themselves. This motif recurs throughout the film.
Master Fugui is a gambler and a drunk. His wife, Jiazhen, pregnant and angry, warns him to quit
gambling. At their family home, we meet Fugui's father, who scolds his son and calls him "Big
Idiot Ox." We also meet Fugui's daughter, Fengxia.
Despite his wife's warning, Fugui goes back to the game and is winning when his wife comes to
retrieve him. Fugui sends his wife away, scolding her for embarrassing him. He continues to
lose, and finally he loses everything, including his property and home. The audience is aware, as
he is not, that Long'er and the others have set him up by nursing his ego and pride in order to
draw him to this position. Fugui offers to bet his life, but the others respond that it is worth
nothing, now that he has lost his property. Fugui's wife awaits him outside the gambling house to
tell him that she is leaving and taking Fengxia with her. She tells him that if the baby is a boy she
will not allow him to grow up like his father.
The Xu family home is given over to Long'er. Fugui's father acknowledges that a debt is a debt,
and both sides sign the document. The father proclaims that he had thought to live his final days
in that house. He becomes hysterical and dies. Long'er agrees that Fugui can leave his sick
mother there for a few days while Fugui sets up a business. Fugui makes an attempt at selling
needles and thread.
Time passes, and the scene opens on a street scene in which Jiazhen is searching for Fugui. He is
living in an old, rundown shack with his mother. We learn that Fugui has used his mother's
jewelry to pay the rent. Jiazhen has had a son. She tells her husband that she named him "Don't
Gamble Xu," but in fact she has called him Yongqing.
Fugui goes back to Long'er to borrow money in order to set up a shop and to reunite his family.
Long'er will not lend him money but gives him the puppet show instead, complete with puppets
and a carrying box, so that he can earn a living. Fugui learns to perform with the puppets, but
during a performance is interrupted by Nationalist (GMD) soldiers. They force Fugui and others
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to join them in order to fight the communists. The GMD soldiers tell Fugui that he will be shot if
he tries to escape. He makes friends with Chengsheng and Lao Quan, an old man from the same
town who looks after and advises these younger men.
Fugui and his friends are cowering near a battleground as the next scene opens. Fugui says that
he just wants to live, and expresses the lament that there is nothing like family while Chengsheng
takes coats off corpses. They find the whole place deserted and believe that the other soldiers
have run off. All kinds of military equipment has been left behind, including trucks, cannons,
jeeps. The friends assume the "reds must be on attack." Lao tells them if they run they will be
shot, so instead they should to wait and become prisoners of war. He puts up his hands,
exclaiming that the Reds treat POWs well, and will give them food and tickets home.
In fact, the GMD troops have not left; they have been massacred, presumably by Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) troops. The friends make a pact to make it back to their community to
tell the families of the dead what has happened. Lao Quan is fatally shot while looking among
the corpses for his brother. As the Chinese Communists near the scene, the two friends run,
carrying with them the box of puppets. They are captured and the scene closes on the box and
puppets scattered in the snow. It reopens to Fugui performing a shadow show for the
Communists.
As Fugui returns to his village, the camera fixes upon a little girl collecting money under water
thermoses. She is his daughter, Fengxia. His wife enters the street with their son strapped to her
back. We learn that his mother died the day Fugui sang for the communist People's Liberation
Army. The new government paid for his mother's funeral and gave his wife a job delivering
water. We discover that Fengxia does not talk because she lost her voice after a fever.
Mr. Niu is the town leader and Fugui tells him that he served in the Liberation. As part of the
new China, landlords are put on trial during the land reform effort. Long'er is on trial as a
landlord and counterrevolutionary. Fugui recognizes that it would have been him in this place if
Long'er had not taken his property. Long'er is sentenced to death and, while moving through the
street, sees Fugui in the crowd. They exchange a meaningful look. Long'er is shot. Fugui is
frightened by the knowledge that it could have been he who died. He fears what might happen to
his family. Jaizhen argues that they are ordinary townspeople. They work to carefully piece
together the military service document that she mistakenly washed.
The scene moves to the 1958 during the Great Leap Forward. The cadres come for the family's
donation of iron, which is carried to backyard furnaces for the smelting process. Yongqing, the
son, pulls out the puppet box and shows the cadre the metal nails in it. The cadre praises the son
for being more patriotic than his father. Fugui tells the cadre that he sang for the Liberation
Army and promises to entertain the younger cadres. They agree not to take his puppets.
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