Capitalism as the Disconnection from Culture

Matthew Wilder Kirk

The drive towards capitalism in China has become so strong that it has shattered the kind of thinking that was responsible in forming parts of "old society" culture. The switching and sometimes doubling of gender roles is one example of abandonment of old culture that aids in the criticism of capitalism in Zhou Xiaowen's film Ermo. In this story, Ermo, the wife and mother of a small rural family, is caught up in the capitalist fever of having a wealthy reputation. Ermo believes she can achieve this goal by buying the largest TV in the village store; one so expensive even the county-head could not afford. In order to earn the money for the TV, Ermo takes on the traditionally male role of finding work in the village in addition to performing the duties expected of her as a woman. In the end, Ermo is not satisfied with the product of her capitalist pursuits.

Ermo makes all of the money for her family. Her source of income comes from making noodles which she does as her husband sleeps. Usually this is the male's role while the female's role is to take care of the maintenance, food, and people of the household. Another way the gender roles are switched in Ermo's family is shown when Ermo, Blindman, and Ermo's husband "Chief" are loading baskets onto a truck. Ermo and Blindman are able to take a stack each, but Chief cannot lift the weight of a stack of baskets.
The nature of Ermo and Chief's conversation makes it obvious that Ermo is the head of her family. At one point in the film, Chief is talking to a contractor about renovating his home when Ermo returns from work. She tells her husband forcefully that there is no way they are renovating their house and that they are using their money to buy the TV. The husband then becomes submissive to Ermo��s demands, an uncommon occurrence in old society culture. Later, the Chief is helping wrap noodles when he accidentally knocks over a basket full of them. Ermo reprimands her husband mightily for his clumsiness in a way that shows the audience her control of their relationship. A final example of reversed gender roles is how Chief occasionally cooks meals for Ermo as she returns from work. This kind of a household would seem very irregular to traditional rural culture.

In addition to assuming the responsibility of the male of the household, Ermo has to keep her responsibilities as a woman too. The Chief, being impotent, takes medicine that Ermo always has to prepare for him. She also cares for his health by giving him a special kind of massage that is supposed to help his condition. As a result of their modified gender roles, Ermo has to both provide for and take care of her family single handedly. This puts all kinds of pressure on Ermo which is only relieved by making more money. Money makes Ermo feel better, but it only perpetuates the role reversal and level of responsibility, that she has to deal with that put her in this situation in the first place. Ermo's drive towards capitalism in effort to make her life better has actually makes it more difficult.

Without the growing desire for money and modernization in China, Ermo would be forced to live a different life. She would not be caught up in trying to acquire the largest TV set in the village, therefore, she would not have such an obsession with earning money, the source of her uncommon household. Because this obsession is real to Ermo, she must look to the village for means of earning money. One of the most prominent aspects of growing capitalism and modernization is the development of towns into larger villages. These villages are centers of commerce where it is much easier to find work as opposed to the smaller towns. She sells her basket and noodles in the village, she gets a job in a restaurant, and she is able to get paid for donating blood at the village hospital. This film depicts in a new way the consequences of capitalism on rural culture and families. Ermo's lifestyle would have been hard to comprehend from a traditional family cut off from the drive of capitalism and its power to change people's culture. Ermo asks the audience if a wealthy reputation is worth the cost of broken families and the disconnection from their culture.

Money: the Root of All Happiness

Joe Besl

The film Ermo represents one woman's quest for satisfaction amidst the technological age in China. Ermo, much like China itself, is driven entirely by the pursuit of financial success and commercialism. Ermo exemplifies the false belief that "the more you own, the happier you are" and she lusts for a television set so expensive that no one else in the village can afford it. She soon gets caught up in her obsession, hurting both her and all those around her, during her chase for the television she hopes will change her life. At the end of the movie and at the end of her mission, Ermo sits back and realizes all her hard work did not give her simple life the jolt of happiness that she expected. Ermo basically represents China and the emptiness of happiness. Modern China is currently on the road to being the next world superpower, but Ermo suggests that being the best does not come easy. Chinese society could quickly experience a technological burnout, much like Ermo, after completely bowing to the on-set of Western society.

For an example of the culture-killing commercialism, just look at the selection of Americanized trash the television store broadcasts. Chinese people are speaking English on talk shows and Americans are dubbed over with Chinese on soap operas. The Americanization of Chinese entertainment blatantly proves the Western influence of technology is quickly overtaking the culture and tradition of China. Everybody wants a slice of the good life, including Ermo, and material possessions will help get her there. Money is the necessary factor for life's luxuries, and Ermo will do anything to get more cash. She donates blood to an incredibly unhealthy level, she sacrifices sleep in favor of making more noodles, and she severely limits the time she spends at home with her young son Tiger and disabled husband Chief.

All this time spent away from home leaves Ermo plenty of opportunities to develop a relationship with her sexually unsatisfied car pool neighbor, Blindman. Just like Ermo demands power over money and power in the community (much like China itself), she also demands power in her relationships and she must always make the first move. Ermo attempts to dominate every aspect of their relationship. Her fascination with earning all the money by herself stems from her need to manipulate and be in control. Near the end of the movie, it becomes apparent that Chief is useless and Blindman is unfaithful, and that money will always be Ermo's first love. When Blindman tries to subsidize her wages as a favor, Ermo erupts at him and pays all the extra money back to Blindman in favor of earning her own cash.

In the film, an old farmer tells Blindman the main theme of the movie: it is better to earn money than to have money. Ermo's life revolves around the hard work and the large pay-checks that help her to upstage the neighbors, much like China is intently focused on getting other superpower nations to take notice of the once insignificant republic. Ermo works incredibly hard to get the television set, her dose of modern life, but life remains the same as always in the rural, backwards, and behind-the-times neighborhood she lives in. China is very similar: hard work improves quality of life but China will not be satisfied for years to come. One nation can not change into a modern superpower overnight.

The Destructive Power of the West in Rural China

Dana Bustamante

"Ermo" is a comment on the clash between Eastern and Western ideas, cultures, and economies. Ermo's desire to have the largest color television reflects a Western influence, deriving from ideals such as materialism, consumerism, capitalism, and competitiveness. In her quest, Ermo gradually moves away from traditional Chinese ideals and natural instincts towards these Westernized goals and modes of production and life. As the sole breadwinner in her family, she must support her impotent husband. This gender role-reversal is indicative of a transition in Chinese culture and society once again towards Westernization. Ermo's competitive side comes out in her fights with the woman next door, as well as her quest for the largest television. Her competitive behavior clashes with what would normally be expected of a rural woman, and also leads her to perform amoral actions, for example, poisoning the neighbor's pig. This competitive behavior is highly characteristic of Western culture.

Ermo's goal is not useful or practical. On the practical level, a smaller television would work just as well. Her desire for the largest one indicates a series of interconnected cultural and social constructs. The television is a replacement for the sexual lack caused by her impotent husband. It will restore the town's respect for her family, and bring her son (who often watches television in the neighbor's house) back into her home. Ermo's husband represents a more traditional set of ideals. He would rather build a new house with the money Ermo eventually spends on the television. A house would be much more practical and logical in a traditional rural Chinese environment, but Ermo opts instead for the luxury item which embodies Western ideals.

Behind all these Western influences on the Chinese, Zhou Xiaowen protrays an innocence, or perhaps even so much as an ignorance, in the Chinese people. Although they have these capitalistic, Westernized desires, they do not understand their desires. Zhou Xiaowen hints at this innocence in several scenes. When everyone in the town is watching football on Ermo's new television, they wonder why the "foreigners are fighting". Then someone explains that they are playing a ballgame "called basketball". The Chinese people's reaction to the television programs throughout the film is one of innocent fascination. They stare tirelessly at the screen, seemingly indifferent to what they are watching. Zhou Xiaowen portrays the negative impact of Western culture on the unprepared Chinese. In watching the television, they become mindless and unproductive, and lose their humanity be becoming lost in the Western culture.

Zhou Xiaowen makes the further comment the capitalism provides no real meaning to life. In the film, Ermo seeks meaning and validation of her life by working to buy the television. Upon reaching her goal, she has nothing more to live for until she begins another materialistic quest. In a capitalist structure, the meaning is in the pursuit of goals, and thus satisfaction becomes impossible. Rather than simply enjoying the ownership of the television, Ermo in a way comes to be owned by her new possession. She, along with her family and the townsfolk, are captivated by it and unable to look away. In the final scene, Ermo's family is shown sleeping in front of the television. It replaces their lives, particularly in the areas of family, sexual interaction and livelihood, symbolized by its placement on their bed, as well as the use of the noodle strainer for the antenna. This absolute conquest symbolizes the takeover by Western culture and ideals of China, which was (and still is) very relevant to the time in which the film was made. The film pits traditional Chinese ideals and systems, represented as pure and uncorrupt, against Western ones. In the end, the West "wins" in overtaking China due to the innocence and purity of the Chinese.

A Psychoanalytical Reading of Ermo

David Yontz

Zhou Xiaowen's 1994 film Ermo, which details an ambitious rural woman's relentless quest to buy a television, is laden with elements of Jungian psychology. This is exemplified through the zealous female protagonist of the film's namesake, who in the movie becomes obsessed with achieving material wealth. Ermo's obsessive quest for money to buy a television may be interpreted as stemming from her intense sexual frustrations, and therefore in accordance with Jungian concepts of symbols.

Both Freud and Jung defined symbols as manifestations of displaced biological urges. For instance, dancing, with its use gyrating bodily motions, may be seen as a sexual symbol; a substitute for the act of sex itself. According to Freud, the original instinctual urge that is repressed can be given expression through what is called sublimation when repressed desires are released through art or politics, thus driving the person who is sexually frustrated to continue pursuing his or her desire feverishly but in ways society deems appropriate and worthy. In the case of Ermo, we see a woman who, because of being married to a weak and impotent husband, is sexually dissatisfied and therefore subconsciously chooses to divert her unfulfilled sexual energy into an inexorable pursuit of wealth. In the Freudian and Jungian sense, money and capitalism become symbolic substitutions to Ermo for sexual gratification, and she thus grows fanatical in her desire to make as much money as possible.

Evidence of money being a representation of Ermo's sexual urges appears in various scenes of the film. For instance, in an early scene Ermo is seen lying in bed with her impotent husband, "Chief", who has just taken medication that will allegedly cure his impotency. After trying unsuccessfully to copulate for several minutes, an aggravated Ermo abandons the bed and begins slavishly making noodles, which she sells in the city to make money. It is thus strongly implied that Ermo's sexual frustration, brought about by her husband's failure to satisfy her, is the impetus behind her fanatic noodle-making.

In addition to this, a reoccurring image in the film is that of Ermo lying on her bed, legs open, with piles of money between her legs as she counts bills meticulously. The placing of the money between Ermo's opened legs, suggestive of sexual intercourse, is clearly an intentional move on Zhou Xiaowen's behalf to illustrate the idea that money has supplanted sex in Ermo's life. Having cleverly established this theme of capitalism as a outlet for venting Ermo's sexual energy, Zhou Xiaowen concludes the film with an important message which pokes fun at capitalism and simultaneously illustrates the Jungian idea that substitutes of instinctual energy fail to satisfy the original biological urges from which they originate, leading people to continue endlessly in their pursuit of them. This idea is expressed in the final scene of the film, in which Ermo lies sleeping in front of the TV she worked so arduously to attain, and hears in her mind the phrase that she constantly shouted while she sat selling her noodles on the streets of the city: "twisty noodles!" By ending the movie in this fashion it is implied that although she has bought a large TV, Ermo is still not satisfied, and soon she will return to the streets again, selling noodles to earn more money in an endless capitalistic cycle, fueled by her ongoing sexual frustration. Zhou Xiaowen is likely making a statement about the addictive, obsessive nature of highly capitalistic individuals, and warning his audience against falling prey to such an ultimately unsatisfying life style. He accomplishes this masterfully through a captivating film resonating with Jungian undertones.

The Onset of Western Culture on Eastern Culture

Tamutenda Chidawanyika

In Ermo Zhou Xiaowen manages to create an atmosphere which shows the contrasts between Western and Eastern cultural traditions and values. In order to expose the ridges between these different cultures, Zhou Xiaowen uses Ermo and Xiazi (Blindman) who represent Western culture, while Chief (Ermo's husband) and Xiazi's wife represent traditional Chinese culture. Since Ermo and Xiazi are both very motivated and focused when they want to accrue money, they can be compared to capitalist Western society. Ermo will stop at nothing to get the largest television; she drives herself to the point of exhaustion at work and even donates her blood at the hospital more times than she is supposed to in order to get some money. When Ermo and Xiazi go to lunch regularly and eat large meals in an extravagant manner while their families eat simple meals at home, Ermo and Xiazi are seen to be consumerist and individualist. This is a Western influence since Eastern culture encourages sharing with family members and other people and it also discourages over consumption. Ermo and Xiazi expose Western cultural traits when they are unhappy and dissatisfied with the status quo and with their respective spouses.

Xiaowen also uses the situation with Ermo's husband's (chief's) impotence to show how Western culture has had a bad effect on the survival of Eastern culture. For Chief, his impotence is a sign of a lack of manhood and family wealth in the sense that he cannot satisfy his wife. His desire to become more sexually active is for his wife's sake and this represents the collectivistic society which Eastern culture encourages. Ermo on the other hand, is frustrated that her husband cannot satisfy her and therefore, she releases this sexual frustration on Xiazi. This action is indicative of individualism since she does not think about how her actions may affect her family or that of Xiazi. She is only concerned about her immediate gratification and this is definitely a Western influence. This desire for instant gratification can be seen in Ermo's character again when she poisons Xiazi's pig. She does not think about how this action may affect Xiazi's family, she only thinks about avenging herself and this is an act to satisfy the individual ego, characteristic of Western culture.

For the cake of money, Ermo is willing to compromise one of the most important features of Eastern culture, the family. When she leaves home and goes to work in the city, she leaves her husband and son unattended, thus rendering her womanhood problematic as understood in traditional China which values a woman, not as an independent, but as "virtuous wives and good mothers." Zhou Xiaowen uses this example to show how traditional Chinese values are compromised when people practice Western cultural values.
Once Ermo achieves her goal and buys a television, she is momentarily satisfied and then she loses interest since she has conquered her conquest. Zhou Xiaowen uses Ermo's character to critique the West always in pursuit of greener grass on the other side of the hill. People in Western societies are never satisfied with what they have and this is successfully shown in Ermo's character.
Even though Zhou Xiaowen exposes many conflicting principles in Western and Eastern culture, he ends the movie in a twist when Ermo and Xiazi return to their respective home and spouses, therefore a return to Eastern cultural traditions. Zhou Xiaowen shows that two different cultures are capable of survival because people evolve as they learn to adapt to new values and therefore, Western and Eastern civilizations can develop into an amalgam for everyone.

The Material Girl

Lucy Zhang

Communist China was once full of rhetoric on unity, teamwork, and equality; it used to pride itself in being a traditional and conservative society and culture. The old values are still there but the nation has progressed into a new era. In a way, some of the people are stuck within the old form of society while others see opportunity out there and decide to go in search for it. Money or wealth has moved into the picture; the more money a person has, the more respect, power, and resources that person has. In a small rural area, a small village, the people that live there do not have much. Farming and selling what they produce is all they can do to bring in money as a form wealth. The villages work as a whole, everyone is equal, and everyone has the same amount of valuables or resources. But in the movie Ermo, some of the houses in the village have television sets, which are status symbols representing the transition of China from the communist world to a capitalist world, or a more technological dependent world, a society in which the amount money or valuables a person has directly translates into the amount of respect that person has. Ermo was in need of that power. With her husband becoming more and more non responsive to her sexual needs and with the fact that her neighbor, being cursed with daughters, has a television, Ermo feels the need to purchase a television on her own by selling her homemade twisty noodles. She believes that with her great efforts, she will prevail and that the villagers would respect her as an important as well has powerful individual. So the need for material wealth is the goal for Ermo and the need for community as well as unity is slowly fading in her mind.

Nothing can stop her drive to succeed. She is constantly making her noodles in order to sell them to make a profit. She pushed herself to the point of risking her health and life when she sold her blood for cash repeatedly. She got to the point where she had to drink bowls of salt water before she gave blood in order to make herself sustainable to give even more blood. She was willing to give up a part of her own body in order to purchase a simple television set for her family. She would get up at night to make the twisty noodles in order to sell them in the morning. In a way, it seemed like that she had to prove something to the people around her. She had a husband that was unable to give her sexual attention, her neighbor who had a daughter owns a television set that her son watches regularly and she was selling the twisty noodles without any great deal of success. Ermo was a social zero, powerless as well as undesirable even as a woman. The people around her didn't value her existence, which sets her into overdrive as she set herself on a quest for power and success. Capitalism (consumerism) engulfed her and the acquisition of material wealth has become her mindset. If the television set is bought and put in her household, others will view her as an authoritative figure, the weaknesses that she has will disappear and she will be viewed as a powerful woman.

The idea that Chinese society is transforming into a more liberal and capitalist state is called into question in the movie. The viewer sees personal wealth overriding the needs of the community and the equality among people. Something as simple as a television set is being worshipped as a religious icon and status symbol. If one wants to fit into the modern world, one must own a television set, or a car, or even a computer. Whatever technology produces equals the next goal in which a person can gain respect and fit into society. Once a communist state, China is quickly moving towards a more liberal, or capitalist society.

Ermo: Consumed by Consumerism

Chen Zhao

Ermo is a film that revolves around a self-assertive peasant woman named Ermo, who is sexually frustrated because of her impotent husband. Ermo feels unwanted and becomes passionate about money, which becomes the substitution of her sexual needs. Frustrated by her neighbor's privileged status as the only one who owns a 27-inch TV in the village, Ermo becomes obsessed with buying a 29-inch TV. Driven by her desire, Ermo transforms from a rural woman who sells twisted noodles in a local market to a consumer of Western cultural products such as TV programs. At the end the film, Ermo validates her life's worth with the 29-inch colored TV, a television so big and expensive that even the head of the county cannot afford. However, the void in Ermo's soul is left unfilled after she worked so hard and spent all her money on the TV. The big TV does not bring her happiness in the end. The film ends with an ironic scene where Ermo goes back to the local market and starts to make her living as a seller of twisted noodles again. The film director uses Ermo's quest for a TV set to show the inevitable cultural disruptions and the struggle of the individual in a consumer society, which are caused by China's modernization under its economic reform during the early 1990s. The film director uses one woman's pursuit of "televisuality" as a social commentary on China's collective national agenda of modernization and globalization under Deng Xiaoping. The film criticizes the capitalistic consumer culture, where everybody is struggling for material goods and become obsessed with money.

When Ermo goes to the hospital to donate blood for the first time, she keeps telling the nurse that she is afraid and asks her to stop. However, when Ermo finds out she could receive a fair amount of money compensation for her blood, her fear disappears immediately. She goes back to ask the same nurse take more of her blood. After failing to do so, driven by her strong desire to make some "fast blood money," Ermo starts to constantly donate her blood to each nurse as they switch their shifts. This scene shows that, in the consumer culture under China's economic reform, everything is measured by money, including human blood. Influenced by this capital-accumulation economy, people become obsessed with money. They do whatever it takes to make money, including selling one's blood.

In China's economic reform, people start adapting to the consumer culture of capitalism. The symbol of consumer culture is shown clearly in the film, when Ermo visits her family for the first time after she worked in the city. Ermo bought two matching western-styled shirts for both her son and husband from the city. This scene shows that Ermo, who represents China in the film, gains knowledge and power from the purchase and exposure to consumer goods, and starts to truly embrace capitalism, along with its consumer culture. During China's economic reform in Deng's era, there were many people like Ermo, consumed by the consumer culture of the west and spending money until they are spent and exhausted. The film showed me how the capitalistic consumer culture could change a person life dramatically. However, it is very sad to see how human behaviors, with their desires for money and material goods, have caused tragedies in own their life.

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Derick Florian

In Ermo's town, the economy is a far cry from the modern city's economy. Ermo's family derives their economic sustenance from Ermo's home-made noodles. Also, the most advanced device in the town, the television, is more than an endangered species; there is only one mentioned in the movie. The rest of the town is also not particularly advanced. Xiazi's pig indicates a primarily farm-based economy. When the pig is poisoned by Ermo, the way of life led by the villagers also symbolically dies. Ermo throughout the movie serves as a destructive force, uprooting the ways of the old, not solely economically, as the movie progresses.

Primarily, Ermo involves herself in the upheaval of social tradition. Her husband, former village head, "Chief" can no longer provide for his family, and relied on Ermo for providing the family's money. She uses this power throughout the movie as leverage for breaking the chains of traditional social roles. This manifests itself in the battle over the way Ermo's wages should be spent. "Chief" asserts that Ermo's choice acquisition, the largest television in the county, is merely an egg whereas his plan to build a bigger house is a chicken. Ermo also defies her husband again by leaving for the city and temporarily abandoning her family. She derived her independence from her visits to the modern world and projected the television-like ideals of the modern world onto her home life. Therefore, this change in fiscal power rewrote the roles of male and female in society.

Accordingly, Ermo redefined sexual roles via fiscal power. Xiazi, enamored in capital accumulation as much as Ermo was, became increasingly attracted to Ermo as the movie progressed. In this instance, Ermo flaunted her fiscal independence. Xiazi always offered to help Ermo out with money, even going so far as to subsidize her wages at a restaurant where she produced noodles. When she uncovers this scheme, she turns a cold shoulder to Xiazi insisting that "she is not a whore.". This rejection of the idea of the male as provider shocks Xiazi and ironically does not loosen his pursuit of Ermo. Money represents sexual identity in this instance, and Ermo, by her determination to remain fiscally autonomous emasculates Xiazi. She takes the reigns of capital; therefore, she takes the reigns of society.

Ermo's conquest of the male order in a way, represent the ushering in of a new way of life. Old China, the rural China, is portrayed as out-dated and incapable, literally in the case of "Chief," of meeting the population's needs. Ermo, the liberated women, steps in to fill the gap and to assume the wage-gathering responsibility. With this new power, however, many old traditions and roles are dismantled. "Chief" finds himself unable to provide for his family and the villagers constantly remind him of his heyday as village head; Ermo wins the battle of purchasing by concentrating the family's money towards the purchase of a television; and Xiazi uses money as a tool to capture Ermo but is eluded by her persistence. Ermo marks China's embarkation on a journey to modern Western society, causing people to forsake tradition in favor of capital accumulation and material wealth. Such an abrupt departure from a firmly established way of life begs the viewer to ask: What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Excellence Requires Monetary Offerings

Greg DeCarolis

If Ermo was the first movie that we watched, and I hadn't learned anything about China's recent history, I could have been convinced that it was just a story about a woman and her greed. It would have made a pretty decent film as it was; it had all the goods: sex, lies, violence, etc. But, as was said in class, no movie has just one meaning; every film is really about something else. Indeed, once you start to think about it, Ermo is highly symbolic of China's move into a capitalist economic system and the dilemmas brought about by such a move.

The main couple in the film represents the clash of two different schools of thought in China. "Chief" is supposed to represent the Maoist system in China, an image fleshed out by several of his characteristics. First, his nickname of "Chief" is a reference to his former position in the village under the old system. This may be intended to convey that there are many remnants of Maoism in China today. Second, he is far more practical with money than his wife, Ermo. This is undoubtedly a reference to the extravagance enjoyed by some capitalists and conversely, the relatively humble means of most Maoists. Lastly, and most importantly, he is impotent. He is unable to fulfill the needs of his wife, who represents capitalism in China.

Ermo's characterization as a capitalist has a few different levels. She is perceived as greedy and selfish because she will stop at nothing to get the 29' TV, which is just to show up her neighbor. Undeniably, this quality represents capitalistic excess; she is intent on buying something she doesn't need at all. However, she is also shown to be quite independent and determined. We see her independence and determination in many of her actions, such as getting up at dawn to make noodles, and abusing the blood bank. However, these qualities are played up by the fact that Chief is too weak to work, making her the sole breadwinner in the household. Ermo takes on this role willingly, but sometimes it goes to her head.

The most interesting part about this movie is the unspoken critique of each system. One might expect the film to come out on one side or another, but surprisingly it remains objective. Maoism is criticized for its inability to keep up with the desires of the Chinese people, but also lauded for its sensibility and morals. Capitalism is celebrated for the individualism it affords, but looked down upon for the greed that accompanies that individualism. One explanation of this is that director Zhou Xiaowen himself is caught between these two ideologies. I expected the film to follow in the modernist style, lamenting the rise of capitalism and the bourgeoisie, and to some extent it does. However, it does not exactly provide a shining picture of Maoism either.

Wife, Mother, and Woman

Qingqing Zou

The film "Ermo" directed by Zhou Xiaowen is a story about a woman named Ermo who lives in the countryside. She is a beautiful middle-aged wife and mother who undertakes an obsessive struggle to earn enough money to buy her family a television.
This is a story about a wife and a mother. Ermo's husband, who used to be the chief of the village, is lazy, whiny, and incompetent. He spends most of his time drinking medicine to restore his virility. Whenever someone calls him "chief," he feels awkward. The two phrases "Haven't been 'chief' for years" and "I am no longer the chief" are almost all he says every day. He is spineless and has no confidence. Facing a husband like this, Ermo has to be tough; she has to sustain her family. As the wife of her husband and as the mother of her son, she manages and even controls everything in her family. In the scene of Ermo dressing her husband and her son, the two naked men stand in front of her and she sits in the bed and dresses both the old man and young man in the shirts she bought for them. This scene shows that she is the leader of her family even though she is the only female. She earns money for her family. She can decide everything of her family including using all the money to buy the biggest television in the town and not build a house.

This is also a story about womanhood. As the wife and mother, Ermo is tough and industrious. After all, she is a woman. She has her own pride and hope as a woman. She spends most of her money on the biggest television in the town. The first fight with her neighbor who has a television is the cause of her determination to buy the biggest television in the town. At night, when she is a sexually frustrated woman, her neighbors are enjoying the TV programs. She feels a shamed because of her neighbor and her husband. It seems like she is working hard to buy a television for her son. In fact she is trying to buy her pride, the envy of others in her village, especially her neighbors. She makes noodles at night instead of sleeping; she sells her blood as much as she can; everything she does is to earn money to buy the biggest television. But she doesn't want to sell her pride. When her lover Blindman shows he is not serious about marrying her, Ermo gives back all the money he gave her and tells Blindman she is not this cheap. After that, the biggest television is her only hope. Finally, she buys the biggest television in the town. She gains the spot of honor and the pride she wants, she sit in bed, relying on the big television. She is tired. She is exhausted. She even cannot think about what she gets after she spends all her money.

Ermo's attitude is that she cannot choose her husband, her life. She even has no evaluation of her life. Even so, she still is eager. The biggest television is her only control of her own life, not her family. She reposes her pride, confidence, and her persistence in that television. When she achieves that goal, she spends all of her savings and exhausts her energy. She is weary and she does not know what she finally gets. The television seems to mean nothing in her life. Her son gets a television eventually. Her husband finally smiles; he gets his pride as the ex-chief. These are their fun.
At last, while Ermo is sleeping, the actor and the actress say on TV: "I want to have more fun. We are not having fun anymore. You want fun? Let's begin now." But what is Ermo's fun? What is the fun of women of that attitude? After buying the television, her life has to go on. The next day, the voice of peddling��"Twisty noodles"��still resounds in the way that Ermo goes to sell the noodles.

Ermo: China's Capitalism and Move Toward Modernity

Julie Blodgett

Simply stated, the story of Ermo recalls one woman's quest to acquire the biggest television in the county. However, there is much more to it than that. China's current political and economic modernization mirrors the characters and their faults. Ermo, the movie's main character, is a middle aged married woman with a son, Tiger. After a visit to town with her neighbor, Blindman, to sell baskets and twisty noodles, she eyes a 29�� television set, one that not even the county head can afford. Her dream is to purchase this TV in an effort to win a long battle between herself and Blindman's wife, Fat Woman. Every night Tiger leaves his home to watch the foreign shows and Ermo feels inadequate. Ermo spends the rest of the time she can dedicated to making money. She works herself like a horse, making noodles, selling noodles, and giving blood to gain her desired capital. At night, she pours over her earnings, carefully counting the bills between her thighs, spitting and licking the money, greed filling her eyes. This somewhat sexual act is paired with her nightly noodle-making ritual to release her sexual frustration due to her husband's impotence. Her greed leads to other sins as well, for after advances from Blindman (the richest man in her village), she starts an affair with him. Ermo is turned on by money and is successful, but she faces an inevitable downfall. By the end of the film, she is exhausted, unable to do much other than stare at the snow accumulating on the screen of her new, huge, and expensive television, meant to replace her husband's. The lust, greed, hard work and eventual exhaustion reflect notions of capitalism and are starkly contrasted to that of the old society as embodied by "the chief."

Chief represents the old society. He is old, impotent, and is too weak to make money for the family. He is emasculated in every way by his wife, the main breadwinner, the one with the sexual appetite, who can physically do much more than her husband. His nickname is his daily reminder of his old glory days and of simpler times when his wife was "acting like a woman." Though this film shows a new, capitalist China, it also reflects a worldwide change in women's roles. This film displays a strong, beautiful, passionate, determined, independent woman who "steps up" to take on the workload when her husband falls ill. Ermo also strives to please her son, as well as participate in capitalist activities of competition and demand. Any person, including a man, would covet her qualities.

Who Is the Chief?

Akhil Banthia

Zhou Xiaowen's Ermo (1994) is a film that is superficially hilarious, but beneath the humor director Zhou weaves a poignant tale of modern China in the grip of modernization. Zhou scathingly criticizes the various governing institutions that have existed in China's past. And this impotency of the government to satisfy the people's needs is the central theme of the movie. The symbolism associated with the TV set is another key factor in the interpretation of this movie.

The principle character Ermo, is the epitome of western values and ideals. An extremely ambitious and successful woman, Ermo crosses all the barriers of gender and tradition. She gives up her role as mother and wife (even though she does carry them out involuntarily), deriving pleasure only from the competition she encounters as the breadwinner of the family. From a psychoanalytical point of view her impotent husband who is no longer the "chief" lacks power, and she compensates for this by completely immersing herself into her work, and channeling all of her sexual energy into earning money and power. This relationship between Ermo and her work is an allegory for the relationship between capitalism and wealth which the director sees as erotic. Her husband, the chief represents the old system. His lack of virility and his inability to satisfy her symbolizes the failure of the feudal [socialism, communism?] system to satisfy the people. Blindman it seems symbolizes the Chinese people. Sandwiched between rural and urban life Blindman is "blind" to what he has, always looking somewhere else for satisfaction. Dissatisfied with the lifestyle of the village he works in the city to provide his family with all the modern conveniences (TV). Discontented with his wife he looks to Ermo for love. In fact, at one point he comments that he has been blind most of his life, the sad truth of human existence.

Ermo's main goal in the movie was to purchase the biggest TV possible (reflective of the capitalistic attitude) and she does manage to acquire it by the end. However, she is too exhausted to actually enjoy the fruit of her labor. In fact, at one point Ermo's hunger for money reaches such an unhealthy level, that she starts selling her blood for money. The TV represents the comfort and convenience that modernization brings; it is a symbol for the sexual climax of capitalism. However, even possessing the biggest TV in the county does not satisfy Ermo. Director Zhou ends the movie expressing his views on China's present political condition. The camera zooms into the TV (also symbolic of the future) and into the snow. He doesn't know where China is headed to, but wherever it is, it doesn't seem good.

Devotion or Greed: A mother's Quest

Chase Zavakos

Greed something we all share as humans; it drives all of us to be competitive with our fellow man. In the film Ermo greed and competition are the two main themes in this film. The basic story outline is a sexually frustrated mother named Ermo who feels that it is necessary to have the biggest T.V. on her block, the only problem is that she doesn't have the money for a T.V. so she does the only thing she can think of to make the money and that is by selling home made noodles in town along with the competition other noodle sellers.

When she is making the noodles, it is kind of a sexual reference that she gets pleasure that she lacks in the bed from her impotent husband named called "Chief." At one point in the movie her competitiveness and will to do whatever it takes to show up her neighbors and starts to sell her blood and waits tell the nurse's switch sifts to go sell more of her blood. This film really gets the point through that Ermo is going to do whatever it takes to get the pride she desperately feels she needs in order to satisfy her greed.
This film gives off the feeling that Ermo gets a sense of sexual pleasure when she counts the money that she makes by selling her noodles and blood. There are even sexual references to the box she keeps her money, an example of this is when she is counting her money and she puts the box in between her legs. Even when Ermo is making her noodles to sell it also references to her sex life in this film.

Another big theme in this film is the fact that she [the] gender rolls have been switched from the normal movies. Ermo takes the place of her husband Chief in the working roll. Blind Man is like the wife in the relationship in the sense that he doesn't work and provide for his family forcing Ermo to step up and take the roll of her handicap husband. Based on the other films we have watched in this class that is a big change because normally the man works and the woman stays home.
Toward the end of this film after Ermo has got her T.V. she lost her competitive attitude and just became numb and cold towards the things in her life. A theory that I have about this is that one [once] she got her T.V. it symbolizes that she is starting a new life and the life she has lived before she achieved her T.V. goal is useless and therefore she kills her old way of living. All in all I think the over all message of this film is that greed will consume you if you give in to it.

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