When going through and reading the book of To Live by Yu Hua there are a lot of events portrayed differently with different intentions. The events being compared throughout the essay are going to be the differences in the way the movie and book are portrayed, and the two contrasting endings and how their potential meanings were perceived.
Yu Hua’s book, To Live, is the story of Xu Fugui’s challenging life in the middle of three major historical events, China’s Civil War, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Fugui’s childness and bad habit of gambling quickly takes the Xu families fortune and loses it all. Either it was fate or karma, it can be said that this was the reason for all the years of misfortune that came in the form of various deaths and illnesses. Fugui appallingly loses both of his parents unfortunately early in the story due to illness. He is then dragged into the army during the Civil War, while his family loses everything during Great Leap Forward; Fugui and his wife, Jiazhen, attempt to contribute what they can to an improved China.
Through these valiant efforts their son Youqing dies, while Fengxia the daughter marries Erxi, a member of the Red Guards. Fengxia then dies due to hemorrhaging while having her child. Fugui then loses Jiazhen to disease. Erxi is dedicated to raising his son, Kugen, but after being involved in a construction accident is killed.
Even young Kugen passes by choking on a piece of meal. Fugui somehow outlives them all and has to continue on living while enduring hard labor in his old age with the only thing left with him being an ox. Moving on to Zhang Yimou’s film, he decided to spare the lives of Jiazhen, Erxi, andMantou, which was changed from Kugen. It provides the viewer with the impression of an optimistic future through family despite what happened in the past; however, this is a unreliable source of hope.
The plot is revealed in a very similar fashion to the book, except for that Mao has a much greater impression in the film; he has a very lively existence and could be contemplated as a force at play throughout. His presence has changed the people and land completely, with specific examples due to the Cultural Revolution’s fasle reliance upon, ignorant and inexperienced workers, exploitation of Fengxia’s muteness; predictable worsening of Jiazhen’s illness from overwork; Red Guards’ foolish accusations for “capitalist roaders” Fengxia’s death, and Jiazhen’s death. Incorporating Mao like the film did really shows how these people were influenced and forced to be apart of the movement which wasn’t as detailed in the book.
The film is much more optimistic when compared to the novel; when the characters who died in the novel continue to live in the film this provides hope for the future and how they will continue to prosper and have a better life. Overall, the ways in which the novel portrayed the characters dieing and how it could be linked to Fugui’s old foolish behavior as some sort of punishment is completely different than that of the films meaning behind keeping them alive. The film kept them alive to show optimism for the future and that even with a troubled past you can make something of your future. The movie in contrast however, completely ignores the starvation going on.
The film’s lack of coverage, could be associated with how the Chinese Communist Party approached the Great Famine, it was nothing more than a myth created by anti-socialist peasants pretending to be hungry. Lastly, when comparing the endings there are a lot of factors having to be accounted for leading up to why each one was portrayed in such different matters. In the movie, when Fugui explains the chicken-goose-sheep-ox anecdote to Mantou it provides a great sense of emphasis upon the film’s optimism and contradictory conclusion. As they continue talking, Fugui touches on the hope that the development of life will continue to improve and comments that Mantou’s way of transportation will be trains and airplanes instead of the ox. This is in sheer contradiction with how the novel’s pessimistic ending went. Fugui, miserably old and alone is still persevering through very hard labor. When he converses with the ox, he refers to the members of his family who have passed away, developing the idea of community in an attempt to discourage laziness, but a much more realistic explanation would reflect an objection or inability to properly deal with the dreadful amount of loss and grief, much like the rest of China unable to properly deal with its traumatic past.
The film being very optimistic concludes with an embodiment of a much more uplifting ending. Maybe as Fugui and Jiazhen realize, living is the gratitude associated with the ability to sit down and have a peaceful meal with family among a life of turmoil. Or perhaps, as Fugui discovers in the end of the movie when admiring Mantou and his chicks, what it means “to live” is the experience of a grueling lifetime only to be rewarded by the smallest gestures, such as the smile of a youngster who has not yet been corrupted by the world’s hardships.
The novel’s conclusion is a lot less cheerful but no less realistic. As Fugui and his ox are handling living alone, perhaps he realized that life is simply about persisting in spite of all the grievances. Or Yu Hua meant to illustrate that to live means to fill a peculiar obligation, or a particular feeling that one needs to continue to exist, even if they are not thriving. To conclude, Yu Hua’s novel and Zhang Yimou’s film both depicted and described to us a peculiar story of a man and his hardships. One depicted a life of constant hardships never getting any satisfaction while one kept the future of the characters very optimistic. Even though they were about the same person they provided the audience the ability to perceive two very different possible outcomes.