A report documenting early 20th century Chinese history using the movie "Farewell My Concubine" and Peking Opera as a reference point of how the arts were affected by the cultural revolution.

Essay by judomilkshakeUniversity, Bachelor's November 2006

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The movie "Farewell, My Concubine" is the story of two Chinese opera actors from the same theatre troupe whose lives are dramatically affected by the sweeping cultural changes that occurred in China during the early 20th century. The movie follows the lives of two actors, Duan Xiaolou and Cheng Dieyi, from the time they enter the troupe as child apprentices to the time of their reunion in 1977 and manages to tell the entire story of 20th century Chinese history through them.

Cheng and Duan become friends as children in a Beijing opera troupe. When Cheng's mother, a prostitute, begs their future master to take her young son the master makes a comment about how "actors and prostitutes are equally despised by society," probably because they are both professions that are removed from the harsh reality that normal Chinese people were facing during the beginning of the 20th century.

It is hard to imagine how one could have the kind of dedication that the children in the troupe show if it is common knowledge that the profession is not respected. The training the children undergo is a brutal mix of acrobatic training, physical conditioning, and reciting or singing lines from operas. All of this is accompanied by regular beatings using either the flat side of a sword to the bottom, a beating of the inside of their mouths with a metal weight, or a series of blows to the palms of their hands which usually results in bleeding. Survival seems to be a key theme of this story, and the two children band together in the troupe to lessen the weight the master puts on their back. It turns out that the hard work and suffering is not in vain as the two boys become famous playing the...