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The Goddess: Tensions Between Tradition And Modernity (Essay Sample)


Q4. “Wu Yonggang allows us to understand The Goddess in two ways. On the one hand, his narrative appears to fulfil Confucian conventions and patriarchal codes: it affirms the maternal aspirations of this sympathetic female protagonist and enacts a final punishment for the fallen woman. But on the other hand, key visual cues in the film (especially sets, lighting, and camera angles) imply that social convention is not always reliable or just” (Harris 2008, 134). Discuss how and why The Goddess explores the tensions between tradition and modernity through the figure of the actress Ruan Lingyu.


Student's Name
Institutional Affiliation
The Goddess
In the early 20tth century, the wave of modernization was sweeping across the world and China was not exceptional. Everything was getting modernized including changes in social, economic, and political aspects. The changes that occurred conflicted with the conservatives who thought that life was already at its best and westernization was destroying the good old order. Some of these changes were communicated through art and literature, which plays a role in educating and informing the society. By 1920s and 1930s, China cinematography started experiencing westernization of its film industry. By this time, China had just come out of war and the new government had done little to address the social issues that were affecting the society. Wu Yonggang's film The Goddess is a silent film of 1934 starring the actress Ruan Lingyu, a single mother who is a good mother during the day her son and a night street-walker working as a prostitute to secure her son education and also make a living out of selling her body (Harris, K, n.d, p. 16). The title of the movie is a euphemism to prostitution, even though it may as well imply that the woman is a goddess to her son. The Goddess explores tensions between tradition and modernity through a woman to show how the society has failed to help women and instead of helping them, it goes ahead to oppress them. Wu Yonggang is mocking the society and the government as the wave of modernization is approaching to show that tradition might not survive the upcoming modernization.
Wu Yonggang was a leftist and was opposed to the traditional approaches that limited social progress (Rick, 2016). When Wu Yonggang produced this film, his goal was to attack and criticize Confucian government whose social conventions were ridicule to the welfare of the society. It is clear that by 1920s, Shanghai was already experiencing modernization as evidenced through cinematic styles in the film. At night, the street appears lit even though some areas appear dark. The twisting of the camera shows the woman finding her way through the busy street trying to find a client for the day. All she wants is to get something for food and secure education for her son. There are lights in the street but the lights appear flickering, symbolizing the conflict between traditions and modernization. Everything in the film is magnified in the image of this single mother whose fortune depends on the number of clients she serves at night. It is not clear whether the traditions (darkness) will win or modernization (lights) will win but from the start of the film, one can comfortably foretell that traditions do not have a future.
Wu Yonggang's cinematic artistry is evident in the way he used the camera to compare the street-life of the woman and the house she lives in. The neon-lit street is the place she spends her night and the house is where she spends her day as a devoted mother. Wu Yonggang wants the audience to see through this picture that there is a difference between what the woman does in the streets and what she does at home. For instance, in minute 3.19, the woman is seen smoking and puffing smoke in the street as she awaits a client to come by. This is not the kind of woman that Wu Yonggang introduced the viewer to in the house. While in the house, the woman has managed to separate street life to that of a parent. She is a good mother at home and her house is filled with makeups and perfume, elegant dresses, a child's toy and food, and a crib. Before she leaves the house for work, she makes sure that everything is okay so that the child can just wake up and take the meals. She is a devoted and loving mother to her son. She keeps everything secret and...

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