December 17, 2004

The Lin Family Shop-A Chinese Melodrama

In order to respond to The Girl of Golden West, I am going to introduce a Chinese melodrama film “The Lin Family Shop”: A Chinese Melodrama of Capitalist Existentialism.

The Lin Family Shop was a production of the Mainland Chinese film industry under the Maoist regime, which had long subjected the content and style of films to political rather than artistic imperatives. The source of the film was a 1932 novel by Mao Dun.
The story itself is set in 1931, against the backdrop of a nation-wide anti-Japanese boycott following Japan's invasion of Manchuria. It is the season leading to the Chinese New Year, a time when debts are paid and money is on everybody's minds. Mr. Lin (Xie Tian) is a local shopkeeper in a small town in Zhejiang Province, comes under pressure to pay a bribe to the local official so that he can continue to sell Japanese goods by concealing them under Chinese brand names. In order to raise funds to pay the bribe and to settle his own debts, Mr. Lin undercuts his fellow business competitors and misuses the funds entrusted to him by small investors seeking to earn interest on their savings, so that he could keep running his shop.

The theme of the movie is that of the corrupting influence of money on the small businessmen in China at the point in its history when the country was under the triple oppression of imperialism, feudalism and capitalism”. The story depicted a society where “the big fish eats the small fish, and the small fish eats the shrimps”. Under the Maoist regime, the movie was supposed to impart the message that the Communist Party had redeemed China from the triple oppression and that the country would no longer experience the same kind of widespread economic crisis that abate the old society.
The basis of the drama in The Lin Family Shop is that of a class conflict between the small and big businessmen, a conflict that portrayed unambiguously the moral decay of capitalism. The form and style of the film is certainly much more sophisticated than that of the 1930s melodramas. As critics addressing the theme of “existential crisis” is the kind of nationalism in the 1930s – but the existential crisis addressed in The Lin Family Shop is the crisis of the failure of capitalism in China.

Here is a link to the story:

Posted by HuiLin at December 17, 2004 03:08 AM

In the 1930s, a number of American dramatists wrote political plays, some of them in support of communism. Twenty years later, when the cold war had accelerated, many of these playrights (and actors and other creative professionals) were blacklisted -- that is, the studios wouldn't hire them to work, on the fear that the American public (which was very anti-Communist by this time) wouldn't want to go see a show that was tainted by someone with a communist past.

I'd be curious to know how this early political film is considered by modern Chinese. Thanks for calling it to my attention.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at December 19, 2004 09:56 PM
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