Author: Jing Yang, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China
Citation: Yang, j. (2017). American Cinematic Discourses of Women’s Oppression in Old China: From The Good Earth to Pavilion of Women. IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies, 2(2). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijcs.2.2.02
Discourses of women’s oppression in old China have helped to establish the dichotomization between the “progressive” West and the “passive” China. The description of O Lan’s submission to the Confucian patriarchy in Pearl S. Buck’s bestseller The Good Earth (1931) and its Hollywood version in 1937 has appealed to Western imagination across decades. More than half a century later the submissive O Lan was transformed into a rebellious Madame Wu in a US-Sino co-production The Pavilion of Women (2001) which was loosely adapted from Buck’s 1946 bestseller with the same title. The film describes Madame Wu’s pursuit of subjectivity with American assistance and ends with a promising communist future. The interwoven narrative strands of women’s individual pursuit, American cultural superiority and China’s revolutionary transformation render the film a key site to examine contemporary American perceptions of China. By comparing the production and reception of The Good Earth and The Pavilion of Women against their cultural and historical contexts, the essay argues that the filmic narrative of women’s empowerment re-writes the role of the West in China’s project of modernization.
American cinematic discourses, women’s oppression, Chinese modernization