Lives of people are conditioned by numerous reasons and factors that are very often beyond their control. What is the most terrible in this situation is that people become the tools of crime and struggle between the political leaders who finally decide everything between themselves and make people to blame for all the misfortunes of the country. This is the case with the hardships that people have to live through during revolutions that occur rather often in the human society. Revolution, as it is obvious from the very term, is the great stress for al the institutions of the human society. Due to this fact, it is difficult to find out those who are to blame for the hardships of people, and revolutionary times are as a rule the most difficult for ordinary people. The most important institution of the society which is affected by revolutionary changes and difficulties is the institution of family which is the reflection of the human society as a whole.
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Thus, the major focus of this paper will be the significance of the institution of family for the existence of the human society in times of revolutionary changes. This paper will also aim at considering the reflections of the topic of family in the book by She Lao “Rickshaw” and in the movie by Regis Wargnier “Indochina”. We are going to consider the hardships through which their characters had to go and trace the changes, if any, that happened in their ideas about family and its importance for human beings.
To begin with, the book by She Lao “Rickshaw” should be analyzed. As it is evident from the context, the setting of the revolutionary events that are to be analyzed in the present paper is Asia in which revolutions and stresses has always been connected with especially difficult situations in lives of ordinary people, and the current book reflects this statement with the perfect brilliance. On the whole, this book is the story of life of one of the rickshaws in the capital of China. The story which is told by the author takes place in the early 20th century, to be more exact in the 1920s. This was the time of the collapse of the Chinese Empire which was substituted by the Communist Republic of China with the Communist Party ahead of it. Needless to say that this substitution could not be smooth and willful from the side of the monarchical powers which resulted in the bloody and difficult revolution. During this process, Chinese society was on the edge of its decline because the political struggle left no time and means for caring for citizens of the country (Lao, 1979).
The politicians and statesmen were busy with the fighting for power and authority, while ordinary Chinese people were left on their own. They had to work for less than nothing having only one aim. This aim was to feed their families and children, and to achieve it, Chinese people had to agree for any kind of work, which was often dangerous for health or even life and was paid for rather poorly: “Very few of those under twenty – and some start work at eleven or twelve – become handsome rickshaw men when older. It is very difficult for them to grow up healthy and strong because of the deprivations they suffer as children” (Lao, 2).
All these factors are reflected in the book by She Lao through the depiction of the life story of one ordinary Beijing rickshaw Hsiang Tzu and his family. On the whole, family is the central metaphor of the revolution in this and many other works dedicated to the same topic, i. e. depiction of the life of people during revolutions especially in Asia (Lao, 1979). Thus, the family of Hsiang Tzu is the only value for him in the life which lost all other values. He is disappointed in the authorities of his state and has no hope that they will improve the conditions of living for him and his family. Thus, being a man he decides to save his family by all means and takes up the work that is far from prestigious let alone profitable in the Chinese society – he becomes a rickshaw. The work is bringing little money to the family but it is better than nothing. Nevertheless, Hsiang Tzu is an unlucky person and life seems to play tricks on him. He lost his wealth as a result of revolution, and after becoming a rickshaw his misfortunes do not stop (Lao, 1979). Soon after buying the rickshaw, he travels to the dangerous part of Beijing where he gets captured by the revolutionary military forces. Having spent days and days as a slave, Hsiang Tzu manages to escape and even benefit from his capturers by selling their camels that he stole while escaping. Thus, for the sake of his family, Hsiang Tzu becomes the embodiment of courage and strength that a person must have in order to be one of “all those who, due to their physical conditions, are lacking in vigor when they run, or…all those who, because of their families, do not dare waste one day.” (Lao, 1).
However, the metaphor of family, used by artists to reflect the revolutionary reality, has other sides and one of them is revealed by the movie directed by Regis Wargnier. Revolution brought harm not only to already established families but also ruined the attempts of people to build new families. The impossibility to make plans based on the uncertainty of the situation in the country, and the struggle of opposing political powers in the country affected largely the lives of young people. Special difficulty of the situation was observed for those who wanted to build international families, i. e. families with foreigners whose countries did not support communism (Indochina, 1992).
The setting for the movie is the French Indochina which was later transformed into the independent country of Vietnam. However, till the independence is not obtained by the country, its citizens carry out the revolutionary struggle for it and the story of Camille takes place within the context of this struggle. As a French colony, Indochina was a rather significant area of influence of France in Asia and in the international arena on the whole. Numerous trading paths, natural riches and favorable geopolitical location of the territory provided for the special attention with which the French government considered all the uprisings in Indochina. Namely in this context the love story of Camille, who was brought up in Indochina, and the French officer of Navy Jean-Baptiste took place. These two people had to runaway from the French rule in Indochina under the guidance of the communist party that guaranteed their transference to the communist China of that time (Indochina, 1992). However, their escape was unsuccessful – Jean-Baptiste was captured and killed by the French troops as the person accused of treason, while Camille was at first imprisoned in Indochina and then became a fierce fighter for the rights of ordinary people in the country she was brought up in – Indochina which later, due to her efforts as well, acquired independence as North and South Vietnam (Indochina, 1992).
In all the situations of the difficult life of the movie characters, they viewed family as the basis for their own lives and for the life of the human society as a single whole. Camille and Jean-Baptiste managed to get married while being free on one of the islands controlled by communists and had a baby there named Etienne. Their aim was to build a strong family and by their example to show the people of Indochina that happiness is possible even under the circumstances of the permanent political rivalry (Indochina, 1992). Another focus of the couple was to create the basis for the developed society and family was the major embodiment of their ideal of society for that moment. As a result, numerous broken families were natural effects of the collapse of the country that country which could be observed in the early 20th century. Thus, the movie reflects the major idea of the progressive people of the epoch of revolutions in Asia which was the construction and maintenance of the strong independent society (Indochina, 1992).
So, to make a logical conclusion of this paper, it is necessary to state that in times of revolutionary events and drastic changes of the social ways of living, the institution of family becomes a central point that keeps the society firm and saves it from the absolute collapse. Family, as the reflection of larger social institutions and of the whole society, has always been of great importance in Asian countries, and the sources used for this research prove this statement. In China, poor people were ready to work as rickshaws and have little income instead of being choosy and condemning their families to starvation and death. Family values made people go through numerous hardships in Indochina as well. For the sake of building family which could be the basis for the sound independent society they were ready to sacrifice everything they had, and sometimes even had to put their lives for the bright future of their descendants.
Lao, She. Rickshaw: The Novel Lo-t’o Hsiang Tzu. University of Hawaii Press, 1979.
Indochina. Dir. Régis Wargnier. With Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Perez, Jean Yanne, Linh-Dan Pham, Dominique Blanc. Sony Pictures Classics (USA). 1992.