Discuss the Ways in Which the Chinese Community Depicted in Shun Li and the Poet Functions as a State within a State
Shun Li and the Poet is an Italian film officially released in 2011. The film was written and directed by Andrea Segre, one of the seasoned directors in Italy. According to media and news agency interview sessions with Andrea Segre, his foundations in the filmmaking industry was derived from writing and directing documentary films, which he was particularly known for. This is why for those who were able to watch the film, it is highly likely for them to see some features and characteristics that are unique to or prevalent in documentaries.
A good example of which would be the fewer use of words and more use of motion pictures. The film was a relatively silent one, especially if we start to compare the volume of words that the actors used in the film with that of mainstream Hollywood drama movies. Shun Li and the Poet is a movie that revolves around the lives of two people, the first one being Shun Li, a Chinese immigrant who came to Italy to work so that she can provide for herself and so that she can finally bring her son in from mainland China and give him a better life; and the second one being Bepi, an Eastern European exile who, for some reason, came across and found a decent job in the same small Italian waterfront town where Shun Li was assigned to work in. Bepi was the Poet being referred to in the film and quite obviously, these two people’s lives have changed during their stay in the Chioggia. The objective of this paper is to discuss the different ways by which the movie Shun Li and the Poet depicted how a typical Chinese community often functions as a state within a state.
In order for us to know how the film Shun Li and the Poet depicted Chinese communities’ function as a state within a state, it would be beneficial to understand how a typical Chinese structure works, how a typical Chinese behaves when he or she is at the mainland China and when living in a remote community such as in Shun Li’s case wherein she was forced to find a higher paying job in Italy to provide for herself and make an attempt to escape poverty. Because of the richness and complexity of the Chinese culture, it would certainly take several hundred pages to comprehensively explain how a typical Chinese social structure and style of living works and how they behave and perhaps practice their culture in certain situations.
So for this paper, the author will try to explain how remote (when we say remote Chinese communities, we are referring to Chinese communities not connected to the mainland) Chinese communities work. Notice how there is always a Chinatown in almost every major city in the planet. There is a Chinatown in almost every country’s major cities in Europe, Asia, North America, and South America.
Now, the question is why there are a lot of Chinatowns in almost every continent or even country if you will. Why do we not have France-towns, Germany-towns, and United States-towns just like how the Chinese people have Chinatowns in a lot of places? The answer is simple and this answer also kind of explains the question why a typical Chinese community is often referred to by non-Chinese people as a state within a state.
The number one reason behind the prevalence of Chinatowns is the fact that Chinese people take their culture, their home, and their relative and family ties so seriously and preciously ; so serious that even when the Chinese people leave their country for various reasons (which in Shun Li’s case was to look for a greener pasture), they take their country, its cultures and traditions, and even family members with them. This is how a typical remote Chinese community works. Aside from the theory we just mentioned, there are of course other alternative theories as to why people from the West often perceive a typical remote Chinese community as a state within a state. In the film, it can be seen that even though Shun Li has been forced to leave her mother country, she has not forgotten how to behave like a typical mainland Chinese.
In fact, in most parts of the movie, it was as if she was still living in China, except that her surroundings and the way how the people around her looked and behaved have changed. In the film, however, he was not particularly working in a Chinese-owned establishment located in the heart of a Chinese town, which is the typical scenario in Chinatowns. She was hired by a scrupulous employment agency. Initially, she was told she would be assigned to work in a business establishment located in Italy’s capital city, Rome. However, due to some lapses, she was forced to work in Chioggia which is one of the poverty-stricken outskirts of Rome where she met his would be friend, The Poet, Bepi.
Based on this, it can be inferred that Andrea Segre’s main objective was not to depict the richness of Chinese culture in his film but rather to mix Chinese culture with Italian Culture because if that was the case, he would have seized the opportunity to have Shun Li work in a Chinese establishment located in a Chinese community somewhere in Europe because this is the way how the Chinese social and employment system in remote communities work. Owners of establishments in remote Chinese communities often prioritize helping their family members and other fellow Chinese before they even consider the option of hiring foreign nationals .
Shun Li was not particularly aggressive or hypocritical whenever she interacts with other people, and not just with Italians, in the film. She showed how particularly important the Chinese culture is for her; however, since she is an immigrant from China, situations wherein she has to adjust could never be prevented. Over time, Shun Li and Bepi developed a deeper form of friendship. They became very close. Some may even argue that Shun Li and Bepi became more than friends at some point. This is what the Italians living in their community did not like. For them, the presence of something more meaningful than a simple form of friendship between Bepi and Shun Li is something that is unacceptable.
One of the assumptions that may be derived from the film may suggest that the Italians are not particularly interested with establishing more serious forms of relationship with the Chinese. This mindset is actually present among people living in different European countries. The reputation that the Chinese people have made for themselves is quite bad. This may be due to the fact that the Chinese practice of migrating into faraway places that have bigger working and earning opportunities can be traced back to as far as 300 years ago. Within this long a period of time, a lot of Chinese inevitable became rich. However, according to reports, most, and definitely not all, Chinese who became prominently rich in the places where they migrated became rich because of illegal and unconstitutional acts such as drug trafficking, prostitution, human trafficking, and money laundering, among others .
News about the connections of Chinese immigrants on criminal and other illegal activities continued to be present in different publications. Obviously, the presence of such news significantly affected the people’s perception on Chinese immigrants. This allegedly continued on for years until people from different countries where there is a prominent presence of Chinese communities have begun stereotyping Chinese immigrants as individuals who are most likely tied to or involved in a criminal or illegal activity . This may be one of the reasons why the Italians behaved the way they did towards Shun Li in the movie.
There has to be a reason or a rationale for every behavior. It cannot really be said that the people from the small Italian riverfront village where Shun Li worked showed how they despised and rejected Shun Li at some point for no reason or just because they wanted to do so. There has to be a reason behind such behaviors.
Shun Li was of course forced to adjust. As far as rights as an Italian citizen are concerned, she is just an immigrant from China. She is a foreigner in a foreign land. therefore she has to be the one who should adjust. Nonetheless, the treatment and the prejudice that she received from the natives could simply be considered as mere manifestations of the type of perception that people in Italy has developed for Chinese immigrants like Shun Li, which of course is unfair because generalizing and stereotyping are often considered as culturally incompetent practices .
Now, let us go back to the topic about how the Chinese community in the film functioned as a state within a state. Whenever a person (this person does not necessarily have to be a person from China) visits another country for whatever reason he may have (e.g. to visit as a tourist, or as an immigrant), he should expect the need to make adjustments if he wants to smoothly adhere to the new surroundings and to the behavior of the people, how they react, and how they treat foreigners. This may be the case for most people; but this is certainly not the case for most Chinese immigrants. It is not surprising to know that there is a huge difference between the Chinese culture and European, particularly Italian, culture. So, in an event that a Chinese immigrant decides or become required to work in Italy or any other western country, he is often confronted with a lot of changes. At some point, Chinese immigrants who are about to live in a country where the culture and lifestyle is dramatically different may be susceptible to being culturally shocked. In the film, Shun Li was able to overcome this challenge because she knew she went to Europe for a reason and that is so she can provider for herself and her son.
At some point, it can also be argued that she was left with no other practical choice. She could either choose to bear with the adjustments, hard labor, and the negative behavior that some of the natives and even fellow Chinese immigrants were showing towards her, or plunge herself and her son into poverty. The only sensible choice among the two was the former and it was a good thing that Shun Li stuck with that choice.
Perseverance is a common trait among Chinese people who really want to succeed and there is no doubt that this trait was well featured in the film. This is why it is unfair for the Europeans and people from other country to generalize all Chinese immigrants as people who go to other countries to get involved in criminal and other illegal activities that lead to the easy creation of money. This is definitely not true in all cases.
The toll of having to work in a foreign land and to continuously adjust to a set of culture and practice that you are not used to can be heavy. One thing that most Chinese immigrants do to counter this consequence is they bring their country, its culture, its people, and its traditions with them. They may be in a totally different place physically but by bringing their country, its culture, its people, and its traditions with them, it would certainly feel like they have not moved an inch away from their home. This is the idea behind the creation of Chinatowns in a lot of major cities in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. The creation of Chinatowns or simply, Chinese communities, symbolizes the Chinese’s strong foundation of Chinese culture. What a non-Chinese person can usually see in an overseas Chinese town are often the same things that another person can see in a real Chinese community in mainland China. In most cases, an overseas Chinese town may even be considered as replicas of real Chinese communities in the mainland. The food, the people manning the stores and establishments, the people walking around, the ambiance, the atmosphere, the furniture and buildings, the music, and language, everything has a hint of Chinese culture in it. Now, Chinatowns may not be present in all countries but the idea remains the same. The Chinese possess the ability to systematically create new communities out of nothing. Such communities are so complex and complete that they possess the same functions with a state, hence the term state within the state.
Every Chinese community is so well structured on the model of their original country that wherever the people go, those people become able to create a state within a state. Additionally, such communities rapidly spread into other places, so rapid to the point that it oppresses its own citizens. In the film, there can be many symbols that may help in explaining why most Chinese communities become able to function as a state within another state. However, looking at the way how the Chinese people prefer to preserve their culture with only a small degree of assimilation and adaptation of other culture may only be the direct answer to the question why and how Chinese communities contract the ability to function as a state within another state.
In the movie, this has been clearly shown by Shun Li’s highly adaptive abilities, and her high regards for Chinese culture and tradition. She knew exactly how to interact with the natives and with her fellow Chinese living in nearby areas, even it at times it is these very people that show oppressive behavior towards her. It is these qualities that enable members of Chinese communities to function as a state within a state.
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