Raise the red lantern (1991) is a Chinese film whose main theme is sexual enslavement. The protagonist in the film lives life in a closed system where the long established customs that rule demand no escape. The protagonist in the film is a nineteen year old girl who drops out of college in the event of her father’s death. The girl is condemned into a life of a concubine of a wealthy man, alongside four others, because her mother denied her support after the demise of her father. The movie in itself is an anthropological lesson because it enlightens on the nature of humans in the early twentieth century China. More specifically, it teaches on the variations in humankind and the customs and cultural practices by which man’s society was made, as taught in cultural anthropology.
The photography of the film offers a preview of the art and architecture that was present in the ancient Chinese culture. The house in which the wealthy man abides is symbolic of the grandeur that characterized Chinese art and architecture. It is amply constructed and decorated with beaming primary cultures. It is evident that culture can withstand the test of time. This is because traditional Chinese culture is still vibrant in the contemporary China.
More precisely, women are so not bothered by the feminism in some of the customs that they desire to participate in the social institutions created by such sexist customs. For instance, after her arrival, Solingan learns of the competition among the concubines to be chosen to host the master for the night. Those women who are not entwined by the chains of concubinary actually desire them. Solingan learns this when it is evident that the servants desire to be the master’s concubines in future. This shows how the predicament of the women as dictated by culture and customs has shaped them.
Sex in the conventional sense is absent from the film. However, I think that is a deliberate move by the producers to not focus on sex, but in the institutions that allocate value and regulate sex. The film depicts women as economic captives in a male dominated culture where sex is used to remind them of their place in the society and the duties that come with that place. It is apparent that the master does not visit the women in their rooms in pursuit of pleasure. On the contrary, he does so in order to condemn the enslaved women in their place.
Radical feminists can argue that this is institutionalized rape. However, it can also be seen that men are pawns in the web created by long standing customs; that even those that might think otherwise are still weighed down by the expectations bestowed upon them by the customs. The man is entrapped in a system in which he is expected to support the woman is whatever economic system she belongs, whether the poor or the affluent. The fact that these are just suppositions notwithstanding, the film Raise the red lantern (1991) gives a vital lesson in anthropology.
Hsiao-hsien, H., Fu-sheng, C.,Wenze, Z. (Producers). Yimou, Z. (Director). (1991). Raise the red lantern [Motion picture] China, Taiwan, Hong Kong. Orion Classics