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“Eat Drink Man Woman”: Confucian Ethics and Traditional Chinese Family Life Essay (Movie Review)

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Introduction

Confucianism is a philosophical attribute used in China and which is based on the ethical values upheld by the Chinese community. The philosophy originated from the teachings of the K’ungu-fu-tzu also known as Confucius, a philosopher who has influenced the ethical system in Chinese society. It was first designed and centered on sociopolitical teachings but since then, it has shifted and it is now based on humanism (Sinaiko 12).

The concept which is a humanistic approach recognizes that human values are not stagnant and can be changed from one form to another. Three aspects are borne form this belief that people are teachable, improvable and perfectible as well. The ideology is focused on preserving the humane aspect of members of the society by employing different teachings based on different foundations.

There are three foundations that govern the act of Confucianism in the Chinese republic. These are ren, yi and li (Sinaiko 15). The three foundations touch on different aspects of the Chinese culture. For instance, the ren is the act of being humane to other people in the community and it is collectively known as altruism. (Xinzhong 24)

Yi on the other hand is the act of behaving in a morally upright manner. In this case, people are expected to do good things. The last aspect which is li requires that one be humble for the sake of the other person. In Chinese society, one opts to give up his or her life either passively or actively for ren and yi to be effectively achieved in the community (Xinzhong 25).

From this philosophical context, it is obvious why the movie “Eat Drink Man and Woman” was created in such a manner. The idea was to point out the ethical context of the Chinese people specifically those in Taiwan. This paper is a philosophical review of this movie. In the review, the author provides their reflections on the main ideas of the movie as well as on Confucian ethics in traditional Chinese family life. The connection between Confucian ideas on one hand and Chinese family life on the other hand in the movie will be addressed.

“Eat Drink Man and Woman” Movie Review: Plot Summary

The movie was released in 1994 by the Taiwan Film Records under the directorship of Ang Lee. He puts into context Confucianism by dramatizing the manners of the Taiwan community based on facts about life, love, and modernity. He uses food to explain the ideology of modern people in the community (Vick 3).

Synopsis

There are three daughters in the family who are not married. They live with their father who is a widower. It is noted that food is the main aspect in the film whereby the father cooks traditional foods and none of the daughter likes his dishes. They perceive it as too outdated but their father loves them so much such that he encourages them to eat the food. During Sunday dinners, he prepares for them traditional food and the relationship in the family seems to grow deeper and deeper (Vick 5).

The daughters are always afraid of him but in the film, the father can tell stories in different circumstances and this makes the daughters to have the urge to eat and have a deeper relationship with the father. Secretly, the middle sister loves the traditional food and aspires to be a cook in future even though the women are not encouraged to cook in the community (Vick 7).

“Eat Drink Man and Woman” reveals the sexual and love scenarios in the society as the unattached daughters try to get engaged to other men in the surroundings who come to upset the calm at home. The middle daughter, Jia Chien, works with the airline services and gets a boyfriend from the office where she works. This changes the family relationship especially with the father (Vick 5).

The first born daughter, Jia Jen, falls in love with a volleyball player and coach and she hunts for the man hysterically after realizing that she can be in love again on the basis of human desires. Initially, the older sister was so cynical about men. The youngest daughter, Jia Ning, is always in a constant sexual relationship and she eventually becomes pregnant while in college (Vick 9).

The director of the movie introduces different characters in the film to highlight the family relationship. He especially highlights the characters of those men who are attracted to the ladies. For example, Li Kai in the office is attracted to the second born daughter. The climax of the film is when Mr. Chu begins dating Jia –Ning. The gentleman tells her that he wants to end his addiction to love. He confesses that he is too weak to do so as he does not know how to approach the act of love (Vick 9).

The different characters change the family especially in the way they relate to one another. The family had a happy ending as each member clings to what they feel suits them better. The father marries a beautiful wife as all his daughters also get married elsewhere (Vick 13).

Philosophical Context of the Movie and Confucianism

Ethical Issues

The movie is a reflection of Chinese ethical values. For example, the generation gap is a vital reflection in this movie as portrayed by the three daughters refusing to eat the traditional food. But the second born daughter secretly likes the traditionally made food from his father’s house and aspires to be a chef even though the Chinese society does not allow women to be chefs (Xinzhong 8). From a philosophical perspective, it is the opinion of this author that this is a very backward trend in the society as portrayed in the movie.

Food takes center stage in this movie as portrayed by the effects it has on the relationship between the father and his daughters. Love follows second as reflected in the other characters that become an obstacle in the normal family relationship. From the three foundations discussed by the writer earlier in this paper, these two themes clearly reflect modernity as far as generation gap is concerned. This is in regard to how people from different generations relate to one another.

Traditions seem to frighten the daughters away but the father seems to understand it. He convinces the daughters and succeeds in making one of them like the traditional meals (Vick 23). Confucianism is reflected here as the father shows humanity and patience when dealing with the daughters.

The three foundations the writer explained earlier and which includes li demands that each individual sacrifice his or her life to accommodate other individuals. This is clearly seen in the second born daughter who secretly loves the traditional food. Here, loyalty is paramount to adhere to the cultural values which lack in the other daughters.

Relationships

As far as Confucian philosophy is concerned, the movie also reflects the kind of relationships that revolves around Chinese families. Relationship mounts to different levels which finally crescendos to the unexpected ending in the film.

The Chinese culture provides that relationship is the centre of the Confucius ideology. In this case, it requires duties to be carried out in certain manners by certain individuals. This includes different relationships from different individuals. For instance, the relationship between parents and children as well as relationship among the children, juniors, and seniors as well (Xinzhong 24).

The relationship in the film is reflected in the three daughters and the father. Some of the daughters are not aware of the place they occupy in the social order. This is clearly seen as the last born daughter behaves contrary to the Chinese norms. The Confucius requires young people to love their parents, when married to love the partner and so forth. All these are seen to recede in the background as modernism has taken root in the Chinese culture with fathers becoming cooks and daughters aspiring to become cooks too (Sinaiko 31).

Women in Confucian Thought

The film is revolves around the three daughters of a father who is widowed. The Confucian philosophy requires women to adhere to moral integrity. According to the philosophy, women are supposed to posses three qualities as far as a virtuous woman is concerned. First, they should be subordinate to the father before they get a husband. The woman is also supposed to be subordinate to the man she gets married to. Finally, the Chinese culture requires that the woman be subordinate to the son after the husband passes on. All these makes up the Chinese woman as far as chastity is concerned (Xinzhong 26).

Men on the other hand are supposed to remarry whenever they want and this is clearly evident in the movie as all of the daughters get married and the father also gets himself a beautiful wife hence the happy ending. However, the generation gap denies the characters in the film the opportunity to be virtuous women. This is seen as two of the daughters disregard the idea of the traditional food and start engaging in promiscuity (Xinzhong 29).

Promiscuity is seen in the younger daughter who gets pregnant while in college. The first born daughter has also tested love which led to a painful experience for her and that is why she is cynical about men. But at the end of it all she resolves to get engaged to a coach (Vick 19).

Parting Shot

The movie has portrays different cultural aspects of the Chinese society specifically in Taiwan. The director’s idea in the movie was to point out the moral loss in the current Chinese cultural practices. The traditional foods seem ridiculous to the current generation but it is the only way to make sure that the traditional norms are passed from one generation to the other by a father. Love and life norms are also some of the director’s view in the film where Confucianism clearly illustrates the importance of adhering to the cultural values.

Works Cited

Sinaiko, Herman. Reclaiming the Canon: Essays on Philosophy, Poetry, and History. New York: Yale University Press, 2010. Print.

Vick, Tom. Asian Cinema: A Field Guide. New York: Harper Perennial, 2008. Print.

Xinzhong, Yao. An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, July 20). “Eat Drink Man Woman”: Confucian Ethics and Traditional Chinese Family Life. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/eat-drink-man-woman-movie-review-confucian-ethics-and-traditional-chinese-family-life/

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"“Eat Drink Man Woman”: Confucian Ethics and Traditional Chinese Family Life." IvyPanda, 20 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/eat-drink-man-woman-movie-review-confucian-ethics-and-traditional-chinese-family-life/.

1. IvyPanda. "“Eat Drink Man Woman”: Confucian Ethics and Traditional Chinese Family Life." July 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/eat-drink-man-woman-movie-review-confucian-ethics-and-traditional-chinese-family-life/.


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IvyPanda. "“Eat Drink Man Woman”: Confucian Ethics and Traditional Chinese Family Life." July 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/eat-drink-man-woman-movie-review-confucian-ethics-and-traditional-chinese-family-life/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "“Eat Drink Man Woman”: Confucian Ethics and Traditional Chinese Family Life." July 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/eat-drink-man-woman-movie-review-confucian-ethics-and-traditional-chinese-family-life/.

References

IvyPanda. (2020) '“Eat Drink Man Woman”: Confucian Ethics and Traditional Chinese Family Life'. 20 July.

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