Preferred Citation: Yeh, Wen-hsin, editor. Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c2000 2000.

Victory as Defeat


The second narrative, Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon, begins in Shanghai in the summer of 1937, immediately following the Japanese invasion.[18] Like Far Away Love, this account of the holocaust is particularly interesting because it dwells on the experiences of a young woman, this time a seventeen-year-old college student named Jiang Lingyu. Inspired by the patriotic appeals of actors who visit her campus, she wants to join a mobile drama troupe being put together by resistance organizers. She is both innocent and idealistic, and never asks how she can gain by actively supporting the war effort.[19]

Lingyu, a native of Jiangxi, lives in Shanghai with her aunt (her mother's sister), uncle, and two cousins (one is a female, a bit younger than Lingyu, and the other, Zhou Jiarong, a male, is older). The problem for Lingyu, played by the famous actress Bai Yang (1920–96), who spent the war doing cultural work in the interior, is that her relatives firmly oppose her plan to join the troupe and leave Shanghai. Lingyu's uncle expresses negative stereotypes of actors and stage people. He protests that it is immoral for young men and women to be thrown together in this fashion beyond the supervision of their families, and sternly warns that "good people will be transformed into bad people" in such circumstances. Lingyu's aunt asserts that the theater people have unacceptably low social and cultural status. Lingyu insists that they are people of "learning" (xuewen) and "standing" (diwei). Even her cousin, Jiarong, is opposed. He says the issue is not patriotism ("We are all patriotic"), but rather the illogic of running off with a bunch of "stars" (mingxing).


But the narrative strongly suggests that the issue is, in fact, patriotism. The choice seems to be between family and country, an extremely complicated choice for most people. In this blatantly manipulative account, as in Far Away Love, the characterizations of the family members are so uniformly negative that the choice is easy. The narrative applauds Lingyu, a teenage female, when, to the shock and dismay of her relatives, she sneaks out to run away with the troupe of actors, a group that is clearly linked to the Nationalist government and military. Indeed, during much of the story troupe members wear Nationalist military uniforms. They regard themselves as "cultural soldiers" (wenhua zhanshi).

The story follows the troupe as they move from Shanghai to Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, and Wuhan. Although the material living conditions of the troupe are austere, its sense of solidarity is great. In a word, the troupe is Lingyu's new family, a family born of wartime privation. The group tirelessly performs outdoor skits (including a fascinating production of Chen Liting's Lay Down Your Whip) to arouse the anti-Japanese indignation of the masses. They also do indoor patriotic plays for the enjoyment of infantry soldiers. Great pains are taken to show that the actors are not at all like the stereotypes imagined by Lingyu's relatives. They are cultured, disciplined, and selflessly dedicated to national salvation.

During the course of the struggle a love relationship develops between Lingyu and a classmate named Gao Libin, who also joined the drama troupe. It is a special love, born of war and sacrifice. Their bond is based on mutual respect and their united contributions to the resistance. As they move farther inland the couple experience every imaginable warrelated hardship. One time they see a member of their troupe shot dead by the enemy. Another time Lingyu falls ill and is cared for by Libin and the group.

After the troupe arrives in Chongqing, Lingyu receives a letter from her father in rural Jiangxi. In sharp contrast to the maternal relatives in Shanghai, her father writes approvingly of her patriotic activities and her relationship with Libin. He agrees that they should marry, but urges them to wait until the war is over. The couple accepts his view. "China's victory will be our victory!" they say. Libin, played by the popular actor Tao Jin (1916–86), who spent most of the war doing cultural work in Chongqing, fantasizes about what China will be like when victory is achieved. The country, he predicts, will be peaceful (heping), democratic (minzhu), and free (ziyou), and the people will be happy (xingf u). Filial to the core, they plan to invite her father to live with them, and to produce a grandson for his enjoyment.

Suddenly Lingyu's cousin, Jiarong, played by the young actor Gao Zheng, shows up in Chongqing.[20] He claims that he, too, is participating in the resistance, but it is clear from his comments that he is enriching himself by engaging in war profiteering. He even offers to supply Lingyu with coffee, powdered milk, candy, and other delicacies. Jiarong is shocked to find that Lingyu and Libin are not benefiting personally from the war. He cannot understand their selfless dedication. For her part, Lingyu is repulsed by Jiarong's animated description of Chongqing's lively (renao) dance and party scene. Interestingly, the growing gap between the two

cousins has pronounced "national" and cultural dimensions. The filmmakers take pains to show that Jiarong and his corrupted friends (like Professor Xiao and his cronies in Far Away Love) live, dress, and socialize in what is portrayed as the Western manner, while the members of the Nationalist drama troupe (like Yu Zhen's medical team in Far Away Love) live and work in ways that are shown to be consistent with essentialistic Chinese customs and morality.

As soon as Japan surrenders in August 1945, Lingyu and Libin get married in a ceremony attended by all their resistance-war comrades. Jiarong stumbles, uninvited, into the wedding party, dressed in a Western suit and tie. Disappointed to learn that Lingyu has married Libin, he invites Lingyu to join him on a special early flight back to liberated Shanghai, where new "postwar" business opportunities await. Needless to say, Lingyu declines.

But the end of the war brings nothing but difficulties for the newlyweds. First, dressed in simple Nationalist military uniforms, they travel to Jiangxi to see Lingyu's father. The couple is shocked to discover that Lingyu's father is dead and the family property has been sold. Morale in her native village is low.

Later, in Shanghai, they visit her aunt and uncle, who now live with Lingyu's cousins in a splendid foreign-style house that Jiarong got from a German national whom he protected just after the war. The reunion does not go well. Jiarong is now dressed in a fancy Western-style military uniform that suggests he is an officer involved in the postwar government takeover of Shanghai. His new girlfriend, shallow and stupid, spends most of her time applying makeup. Lingyu's female cousin has married a well-dressed businessman.

Lingyu and Libin are embarrassed by the comments of their relatives. During a majiang game, Lingyu's aunt asks how much money they made during the war performing plays. Jiarong says that people like them who got nothing for "serving the people" (wei renmin fuwu) were fools. The uncle adds that many people who lived in the interior (houfang) made money. The couple missed one golden opportunity during the war, he points out, but they should not miss another one in postwar Shanghai. Jobless and without the means to secure housing of their own, Lingyu and Libin are forced to live with their relatives for a time, but their relations with the family steadily decline.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is its perspective on the lives of people who remained in Japanese-occupied areas during the war. With the important exception of Lingyu's relatives and their circle of friends, the portrayal of those who lived under the occupation is surprisingly sympathetic. For instance, Lingyu and Libin are thrilled when they reestablish contact with a group of former classmates who remained in Shanghai during the war. A number of them now work as respected journalists and teachers. Indeed, their close relations with this group of people who suffered under the occupation reminds one of the intimate collectivistic bonds that united resistance activists in the interior. In the end, Lingyu takes a job as a journalist and Libin works as a primary school teacher. (See figure 11.2.)


Figure 11.2. Lingyu (center right) and Libin (center left) are among disillusioned youth who experience hopelessness in postwar Shanghai, in Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon (d. Shi Dongshan, Kunlun Film Studio, 1947). Courtesy of the Film Archive of China, Beijing.

In an especially graphic episode, Lingyu shows great compassion for a desperate widow whose home and property have been confiscated by Lingyu's cousin, Jiarong, in the postwar takeover. Because the widow's husband died at the end of the war, she is now easy prey for people like Jiarong, who use any excuse to charge that people who lived in Shanghai during the occupation are traitors (hanjian) who deserve punishment. The homeless widow insists that her husband was not a collaborator. "You think that anyone who remained in Shanghai must have been a traitor!" she cries. Jiarong responds that the old man sold goods to Japanese consumers in his shop and rented rooms to Japanese tenants. The issue in the narrative is not so much the innocence or guilt of the accused traitor's family, but the perspective that the audience is being encouraged to accept. The morally upright Lingyu and Libin show compassion for the plight of the woman. They seem to be saying that ordinary people who remained in Shanghai and who encountered the Japanese every day ought to be viewed sympathetically, while those like Jiarong who pretended to "participate in the resistance" in the interior deserve to be scorned.[21]

Lingyu and Libin decide to move from their relative's luxurious home to a dilapidated one-room flat. Still, their postwar difficulties mount. Lingyu's work as a

journalist gets her involved in the effort to expose people like Jiarong and, thus, intensifies family conflict. At one point she confronts her cousin: "Even though you are a relative, I'll write about all your activities unless you return the things you took." Libin works hard as a teacher, but, weakened by years of wartime hardship and postwar scarcity, he contracts tuberculosis.

Toward the end of the narrative Lingyu discovers she is pregnant. Normally this would be a joyous way to begin postwar life. But given the unexpected circumstances, she wonders whether it is a good thing. For a time, their spirits are buoyed by the return to Shanghai of the rest of their comrades in the drama troupe.

The narrative ends months later when Lingyu, alone at night, collapses on a rain-soaked street. Libin panics when she fails to return, and mobilizes the wartime veterans, most of whom are still wearing rough military garb, to fan out through the city to find her. They finally locate her and bring her to a hospital. The cost for her care and the delivery of the baby is five hundred thousand yuan. The leader of the troupe has two hundred thousand yuan, and the rest of the members contribute the remainder. Libin finally arrives at the hospital as a healthy baby is born. But the story closes on a highly ambiguous note. It is not at all clear that Lingyu will survive. The doctor says her only hope is to rest for a year in "a place where the air is clean." The group resolves to care for the baby. "This child is our child," they pledge. Still, the final image is a huge question mark on an otherwise blank screen, followed by a text that invites the audience to participate in the resolution of the problem. It asserts that the actions of the audience will determine whether people like Lingyu live or die.

Victory as Defeat

Preferred Citation: Yeh, Wen-hsin, editor. Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c2000 2000.