Humanity Gone Missing

Leda Rodis

Zhang Yimou's film, Story of Qiu Ju, tells the story of willful Ju, wife of Wan Qinglai who (because of his request to extend his property) suffers an injury to his groin, rendering him impotent. Ju, outraged by the dishonor this injury caused her husband, tries to sue his offender for an apology. As Ju's appeal is continuously rejected throughout the film, we see the determination and strength of this rural and seemingly "naive" woman. While Ju's determination may seem to some as rather silly and insignificant in the face of the "all-important" judicial system, it is quickly shown that this system is not without faults. Indeed, while it is a system that seems to be modeled after the western idea of "democracy, it is one devoid of any humanity or recognition of the individual. In this system Ju finds her old way of life (based on individualistic, "an eye for an eye" sort of ideals) slipping away, lost to a modernity that has no place for human compassion.

It becomes quickly apparent to the audience that Ju finds herself lost in a world where the individual integrity of herself and her husband is almost completely disregarded. Asking only for an apology, Ju stumbles into a system that thinks money good enough retribution for dishonor. When she first goes to the Chief (the offender of her husband) he refuses to formally apologize, instead taking out a stack of bills and throwing them at Ju's feet. While we (the audience) see the disgrace implanted in these actions, as Ju takes her case to court we quickly realize that the system offers her the same sort of "compensation," thinking that money will erase her dishonor. Revealed to us is a system that passes judgment without the individual's well being in mind, but rather with thoughts only for keeping the laws of the system intact.

In this system (clearly fashioned to emulate western society), a system so lost in bureaucratic procedures that it looses any human empathy, Ju watches as not only her own integrity, but her whole way of life is threatened. With the abandonment of "small town" ideals and expectations, Ju's life (illustrating the life of China as a whole) is given up to a far off and unfeeling administration. Through Ju's plight, we see illustrated the concerns of director Zhang Yimou, regarding China's path towards modernity. China, fearful of being permanently labeled a country with "small-town," rural ideals, is introducing a more western, more capitalistic idea of society. However, the creation of a society around bureaucracy and wealth (though perhaps not so "old world" as the society of Ju's little village) is a society concerned far more with process than with personhood. Exemplified by Ju's struggle for personal recognition, we see a China whose individuality, whose humanity has gone missing.

Qiu Ju's lost Justice

Lee Stablein

Story of Qiu Ju is about justice, pure and simple. Zhang Yimou comes right out and says it, over and over again, through Qiu Ju: "I want justice." For Zhang Yimou, that means that he wants to see what justice really is.

The basic premise of the film - in an argument, Wan Qinglai insults Chief Wang Shantang, and is kicked in the groin for it, thus starting Qiu Ju's quest for "justice" - seems like something that should be easily dismissed or resolved. However, it sets the stage for a comparison of agrarian and urban society, using justice as a focal point. Qiu Ju simply wants an apology for the chief, but she doesn't understand the nature of justice as administered by government.

The first attempt at reconciling her case results in mediation, through which Qiu Ju is awarded 200 yuan. She refuses to take the money and goes to the district seat. We see at this point a frame that is replayed again in the film as Qiu Ju continues her appeals; she and her sister-in-law Meizi going around a bend in the road with a cart full of chillies. The repetition of this shot emphasizes the nature of administrative justice; it is repetitive, and uniform, and objective, and is so out of necessity, especially in urban areas. However, Qiu Ju is oblivious to this, and she goes to successively higher levels of the system to try and get her apology.

In "The City," the misguided - even perverted - nature of Qiu Ju's view of justice is refined for us through a series of events. First, Qiu Ju is introduced to perspective by the innkeeper, who tells her that while her case may seem like a big deal to her, it's nothing to the city authorities, and she might as well go home. Then, Qiu Ju and Meizi buy gifts for Director Yan of the city PSB, "so that every time he looks at them, he'll remember [their] case."

Finally, she is ripped off by a tricycle-cab driver, and when she spots him later, Meizi chases him to try and get the money back; she doesn't catch him, of course, and in the process breaks the painting they��ve purchased as a gift for the city PSB director. This incident is a microcosm of the film, really - for a trivial crime, we see a member of this family running into the unknown, much like a headless chicken, in a vain, misguided attempt to have justice served, and in the end more harm than good is done.

Again and again, Qiu Ju is offered justice in terms of monetary compensation, and even loses her first lawsuit. When she has serious complications during childbirth and is saved (as well as her child) by the Chief, the issue of the kick seems to be resolved, but Qiu Ju's blind zeal has set things in motion which cannot be stopped. Thus, we have the arrest of Chief Wang, and the shot of the village with nothing but that one piercing siren to be heard. That siren is crying to Qiu Ju; it says "look what you have done. Because you couldn't understand the way justice works in civil society, and because you refused to accept the attempts at justice that were offered, you have done something horrible." The final frame, in which Qiu Ju's face occupies the whole screen shows that she finally understands this somewhat. She is distraught and confused by the arrest of the chief, because her provincial concept of justice is too subjective to be even district rule, and the laws in place are necessarily devoid of human element.

Zhang Yimou poses many questions about justice in this film, but the core of those questions involves what our notions are, and what they entail. He throws into question the idea of an objective judicial process, and shows us why that is necessary, as well as why the kind of justice Qiu Ju sought was and is impossible to enforce through government.

A Time to Let Go: Personal Values as well as Community Beliefs

Tamutenda Chidawanyika

In The Story of Qiu Ju, Zhang Yimou manages to raise many questions about the importance and the pursuit of justice. When Qiu Ju's husband, Wan, is kicked in the groin by the village chief, Wang, Qiu Ju decides to pursue this matter until she gets an apology from the chief. When the chief obstinately refuses to apologize for his actions and instead offers Qiu Ju and her husband money in order to appease them, Qiu Ju refuses to take the money adamantly because all she wants is a verbal apology. Qiu Ju refuses to sacrifice her beliefs and to some extent her dignity when she rejects the chief's implications that money can correct the unjust wrong he has inflicted on Wan. By creating this scenario, Zhang Yimou shows how the simple things such as an apology and maintenance of personal dignity, self-value and pride can be more important than money. Through this technique, he manages to captivate his audience since the dilemma of being torn between money and doing what maintains your dignity and self-value in today's society is a reality of life and therefore, any human being can relate to what Qiu Ju is battling with to a certain degree.

Zhang Yimou also questions about when it is valid to fight for a specific cause or when it is time to surrender to defeat. This is shown in Qiu Ju's plight to ensure that what she believes to be justice is enforced. Even though everyone in the village, including Qiu Ju's husband, insists that Qiu Ju should just take money from the chief as an apology, she declines his offer. She continues to try to seek a verbal apology from the chief for such a long period of time that she seems to forget that the chief assaulted her husband and not her specifically. At the beginning of the movie, she feels that what the chief did was a personal attack against her when she states that he cannot kick her husband in the groin because she would like to have more than one child. As her pursuit for justice progresses in the movie, Qiu Ju transforms the entire situation into a personal vendetta against herself and therefore, she loses sight of what she is searching justice for. Through this example, Zhang Yimou captures the audience by showing that it is a fine line that separates searching for justice for the right reasons and searching for it for reasons for one's own personal gain. This yet again is another issue to which human beings have problems developing a balance approach and therefore, watching Qiu Ju going through this ordeal, without realizing it until the end of the movie, attracts the audience.

In The Story of Qiu Ju, Zhang Yimou also exposes many aspects of Chinese culture. When Wan states that Wang can do nothing more than raise "hens", meaning that Wang is a worthless man because he has no son and Wang reacts in a violent manner, Zhang Yimou expresses the importance of the male child in Chinese culture. When Qiu Ju goes to Wang's house seeking appeasement and she takes her new-born son with her, Wang is so happy to see the little boy that he more easily forgives her. The entire family is happy to see the new born baby boy and this does not only reiterate the importance of the boy child, but it also shows how Chinese people celebrate each other's joy as a community achievement. Another aspect of Chinese culture which is exposed is that of submissiveness. When Qiu Ju pursues the incident which happened between Wan and Wang, the entire village including her husband, advise her to let everything pass. When she continues to pursue it, she seems to become an outcast from the society since people do not appreciate her questioning of the chief's authority and her desire to disrupt the organization and peace of the village. By exposing these aspects of the culture and showing how they caused immense problems in a society, Zhang Yimou shows how there is a need to make exceptions for certain aspects of the Chinese culture. For instance, if the boy child were not so heavily emphasized, Wang would not have been so offended and would not have beaten up Wan, therefore, none of the problems which arose from this issue would have surfaced.

Justice for all does not mean justice for the individual

Hernan Amaya

Zhang Yimou tries to tell us how unpleasing the modern legal system is. Nobody can get the kind of justice they want. The individual is inefficient and the system sees us as statistics instead of human beings.

The primitive Chinese legal system was communal, and personal. It focused on delivering individual justice. Justice the individual sees fit. People could talk to the officials making the decisions on their case. The people knew the mediators personally. The mediators where [were] willing to go beyond the call of duty to keep the peace. Qiu Ju is a representation of the primitive Chinese legal system. When she visits the town chief the chief's daughters call her auntie. Officer Li spends his own money buying Qiu Ju food to try to settle the conflict. These moments show exactly how close the community is.

In contrast, the modern legal system, embodied by the lawyer and city itself, is individualistic. The modern legal system focuses on justice that is suited for all. Money, jail time are the only types of justice that exist. The system ignores the individuals justice. When Wang Shantang saves the life of Qiu Ju, Qiu Ju feels that justice has been done. However, the modern legal system didn't take that act into consideration. They went to his house and toke him off to jail. In the city the people don't know the mediators are and only see them the day of the trial. In the city Qiu Ju finds herself not as an individual but simply as a statistic. In a city of one million people her complaint is just another number on the list of complaints and nuisances thus losing her identity.

Many people may watch this movie and get frustrated with Qiu Ju. Going to such extremities for a simple apology seems foolish. However, we must take into consideration our personal biases. Most in this country are accustomed to the idea of money, jail time, and community service as a form of justice. However, Zhang Yimou reflects on a system when an apology was worth more than money. A time when people knew their neighbors personally. He might be telling us that there was a better system than the one we live in today. That we shouldn't forget the good qualities of the old system.

The Story of Qiu Ju? Or a story of Ambiguity?

Nelson Canario

The Story of Qiu Ju is, in short, about a woman who wants an apology, but doesn't get it. She goes to great lengths, and in the end never gets what she's after. The thing that annoyed me the most about this film is the fact that Qiu Ju never actually says that she wants an apology (except for the first time to the chief, and he refuses) to any of the people who are supposed to help her.

The Chief kicked her husband (Wan Qinglai) in the groin for pointing out that he didn't have a son. Wan Qinglai was injured and (as you find out later) had a broken rib, from being punched by the chief. Qiu Ju then sets out on a personal quest to obtain an apology from the chief. The first thing she does is go to the local police officer (officer Li) and asks him to look at her case. He looks and decides that the chief should pay for damages and they should continue on as before. When Qiu Ju goes to collect the money, the chief refuses to apologize, and she refuses to take his money. When officer Li asks Qiu Ju if she's happy with [the fairness of] his decision, she said "No" (because she didn't get her apology) but never tells officer Li why she is unhappy. So then he informs her that it is her right to appeal, and take the case to the district police. She does so, with exactly the same result. When she goes in for the interview with the district police it is revealed that Qiu Ju is largely illiterate and seems to be very simple-minded (evidenced by the fact that she won't accept the chief's money, but only wants an apology he won't give). At this point in the story Qiu Ju seems to break away from what we have seen so far and what we may expect. If she follows the logical train of thought, she will complain to the police that she didn't get the apology that she wanted; instead, she just continues to say that she is unhappy, without specifying why. She goes through the district police, and appeals to the city police. When she continues to be ambiguously unhappy (at which point, I feel that one of the many people she has been dealing with should have asked her why she is unhappy) she goes on to hire a lawyer and sue the police. When she loses the lawsuit, she appeals again to a higher court.

While the case is being reviewed she goes into labor. When she had complications the chief helped her get to a hospital (if she hadn't made it she might have died). It finally seems that Qiu Ju has gotten over her problem with the chief and insists that he attend the party they are throwing a month after the birth of the baby. On the day of the party, it seems that all is forgiven and as the chief prepares to come to the party, the police come and arrest him for attacking Wan Qinglai and breaking one of his ribs. And the film ends with Qiu Ju looking down the road just after the chief is taken away.

Throughout the entire film Qiu Ju is very vague about what she wants, she doesn't come out and say "I want an apology." And that annoys me because someone like Qiu Ju should fixate on the one thing that they want and go after it. (which she does, without telling anyone) Another thing that bothers me is that, Officer Li is supposed to solve the problem, but he clearly doesn't know what Qiu Ju wants because otherwise he just would have told the Chief to apologize and be done with it. It is much the same with everyone else who tries to help Qiu Ju; they are all supposed to be professionals and have experience dealing with problems. If you are trying to fix a problem, it's easiest to find out exactly what's wrong and then address that. No one asked her to say why she was continuously unhappy, they were content to let the issue remain unclear. And that is unacceptable in people who are supposed to be solving problems.

Man Gets Kicked in the Crotch, Nobody Laughs

David Mar

The Story of Qiu Ju is a bit of an enigma as a movie. Due to the combination of it being billed as a comedy and a summary/premise worthy of a slapstick film, it could easily be mistaken as a conventional comedy out of context. However, nothing about its presentation suggests anything less than a serious drama. This film is bizarre due to its depictions of the absurdities of life in the most somber of forms.

The story begins with the crudest, yet tried and true, comedy device of all time, a man getting kicked in the nuts. The rest of the story follows a pregnant woman as she attempts to seek legal retribution for her husband, who is now impotent. However, she does not want money, all she asks for is an apology. The kicker, who is also the village chief, refuses, and she is forced to seek the help of a higher level of government. Finding no help, she continually seeks help of higher officials until she accidentally gets Wang Shantang, the village chief, convicted of assault. Despite this ridiculous premise, the movie remains a serious drama, characterized by the crushing depression of bureaucracy and the sting of failure. The more the movie progresses, the less absurd the situation seems, as Qui Ju, who has spent her life in the country and cannot read, tries to struggle her way through the complex world of politics and government. The film takes on a repetitive tone as she tries again and again to prevail in what is essentially a fool's errand. She is offered money to cover the medical bills, but she does not want money, she wants an apology. Unfortunately, a government cannot really force someone to apologize. So in a sense, her entire quest is doomed from the beginning.

Though it is clear that the ridiculousness of the situation and all the little ironies are intentional, it is also apparent that the serious tone is as well. Unfortunately, this stark contrast does not serve too much purpose. In fact it slows down and dilutes any sort of comedic value it might have and spoils the viewer's ability to take it seriously as a drama. Additionally, it feels like you have seen the same movie three times as Qiu Ju visits three different officials to hear her case. The movie's ending, though ironic, is unsatisfying, proving only that her actions have brought only negative results. The main character is difficult to like or sympathize with as her single minded quest for justice comes off more as stubbornness than actual determination. This is most clear when she is speaking to her lawyer and despite his attempts to explain the situation to her, she childishly repeats her wish over and over until the defendant actually steps in and convinces her to continue.

This movie inspired quite a diverse array of emotions in me, starting with amusement at the prospective plot, to confusion at the actual movie, to disappointment upon completion. Though I will repeat the premise many times, I will also be forced to tell people not to bother seeing it. It should not be hard to make a film either funny, interesting, or engaging when your premise is a man gets kicked in the crotch and his wife sues, and yet The Story of Qiu Ju fails at all three.

Chinese version of Justice

Mike Marshall

When people in America go to court in order to gather some type of redemption from another person, money is always the main cause. In the Story of Qiu Ju, directed by Zhang Yimou, the title character is a woman who is hell bent on not worrying about getting money in return for her husband's injury, but simply wants Wang Shantang to apologize for his assault. Any city person in that situation goes to court in order to attain money for hospital bills and damages that they have suffered, but Qiu Ju feels as though money is not something that she will be happy with, and an apology is the only way to settle the score. A village chief, Wang Shantang refuses to apologize because he wants to "save face" in front of the people he watches over, which sends Qiu Ju on a quest for justice.

Qiu Ju goes to extraordinary lengths in order to get an apology from Wang Shantang. She first goes to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB), then talks to the city PSB chief, and lastly the municipal court. Each branch of the legal system tells her the same thing which is that Wang Shantang should pay her and her husband two-hundred Yuan (the city PSB chief raises the fine to two-hundred fifty Yuan) for the damages and medical bills, but she refuses to accept it every time Wang Shantang tries to give it to her. The first time Mr. Wang tries to pay Qiu Ju he gives her the two-hundred Yuan in twenty ten Yuan bills, and says "that way you will have to bow your head to me twenty times while you pick it up." Qiu Ju sees this as a slap in the face to her because she knows that he was the one who has done her wrong. A city person in that situation would be glad to take the money on the spot because city folk know how valuable money is. If a city person would go to court to appeal the first sentence, they would be more than glad to accept more money from the defendant. Unlike the city folk, Qiu Ju goes through her legal system to not get more money from Wang Shantang, but to get the court to tell him to apologize to her husband for the assault that Wang Shantang did to him. Qiu Ju is passionate and fixated on getting the courts to rule for an apology to her husband, unlike the city dweller who always understands everything in terms of their monetary value.

Saving face is extremely important to Chinese views because they know if the village head would apologize to an ordinary citizen, his respect would plummet from the views of others. To a modern person, apologizing to another is but a civic and almost meaningless ritual that we do on a daily basis, no matter what we've done. Whether you're a government official or you're a student in elementary school, we're taught to apologize if we were wrong with our actions. To Wang Shantang, respect from the villagers is very important just like it is important that Wan Qinglai's private parts (manhood) should not be kicked. That is why an apology is both sought and not granted.

After watching the Story of Qiu Ju, I realized just how different the rural and urban cultures are from one another. Urbanites value money so much that if there is money involved, they are usually always willing to accept it no matter what the circumstances. To Qiu Ju, an apology is the only thing she would be willing to accept, and no amount of money is worth it. Wang Shantang refuses to apologize because he is worried about "saving face." An apology (face) and money signify two different attitudes to life that I noticed while watching the Story of Qui Ju, but I'm sure there are many more.

View of Justice in the Story of Qiu Ju

Rob Romeo

In this movie by Zhang Yimou we watch as a woman, Qiu Ju, seeks out justice for what her village chief, Wang Shantang, did to her husband. Her husband had started an argument with the chief over the placement of a shack on the land to hold chili they grew, which was against the law. However during the argument things became heated and resulted in the husband got kicked in the crotch and had a rib broken, not found out till later.

This sets up the premise for the story. The rest of the movie follows Qiu Ju as she seeks out justice for what was done to her husband. She goes from one source to the next, from the village to the city and finally the courts. She does get compensation for what was done, and an admittance that what the chief did was wrong but what she is after is something different. She wants the chief to actually admit that what he did was wrong. This addresses a wider issue of what is justice to different people in China.

To the people from the city or those that work for it, like officer Li, the way to settle the issue is mediation between the two parties by having one pay the money as a fine. Their idea of justice centers around placating the injured party, which almost always requires the offender to pay some sort of monetary compensation to cover broken objects, medical bills, or lost pay what have you. This idea of justice works fine for most people, especially in a city. The parties are more then likely not going to see each other again, at least not often or voluntarily. Also this form of justice is very quick and easy to dispense, from deciding what needs to be done, and forcing that party to do it. Whether that be making them pay money, or taking them to jail.

However in the movie we view Qiu Ju, who is not from the city but a relatively poor (in our sense of the word) Chinese chili farmer. She and her husband have to live with the chief every day of their lives, their children will grow up together, and if they do not get along reasonably well it will cause problems in the village. To both parties throughout the movie money is seen as rather lacking in the village, even in the city Qiu Ju is free with her spending when buying presents. Ultimately making Wang Shantang pay her money was useless. She and her husband did not really need it, what she wanted was an apology, for him to admit he was wrong and then for everyone to forget it.

This concept is foreign to the people handling the case though, from the officers to the lawyer. When she keeps pressing for the right thing to be done, to her this being for Wang Shantang to be forced to admit he was wrong, she finally has it pressed far enough that with new evidence of the broken rib he is detained for 15 days, the exact opposite of what she wanted. Also a good lesson from this movie would be to know what you are asking for, she was somewhat ignorant of the laws, and by pressing them had someone she had nothing truly against, his daughters even called her aunt, thrown in jail on the day of her newborn Son's month old celebration. This could be construed as a bad omen as Wang was the one who saved the child's life the day he was born.

Justice is in the Eye of Beholder

Sara Stinemetz

The Story of Qiu Ju is the tale of one woman's search for justice for the wrong doing against her husband. This movie is about doing what is thought to be right even if those around do not agree.

Qiu Ju wanted an apology from her Village Chief, Wang Shantang, for kicking her husband in an argument. Wang Shantang will not apologize because he is a very proud man. Qiu Ju then goes to Officer Li, who is the head officer of the local city, and he mediates the problem by having Wang Shantang pay two hundred dollars to cover the cost of medical bills and time off. Although this seems as suitable compensation it is not the justice that Qiu Ju wants. So she then goes to the city and officials higher up.

Once she is in the city the audience sees how different people's ideas are from rural life to city life. In the city people are and become very materialistic and seem to only care about money and material items. An example of this is when the taxi driver over charges Qiu Ju and her sister-in-law to take them to a hotel. An example of people becoming materialistic is when Qiu Ju buys the chief of Public Safety a painting and fruit so that he will remember their case.

As Qiu Ju fights for her husband she shows moral strength. She is almost nine months pregnant at the time and when most women would rest at home she travels to and from the city searching for justice.

Qiu Ju learns the hard way that she and the government do not share the same ideals and that it is not easy to get what you want especially from the government. All the government sees involving her case is sections of the law to abide by. To them the case does not become important until after her husband has the x-ray and there is proof of a broken rib. Then the case becomes an assault and the government sees that they can do something. In this case they arrest him which to Qiu Ju is the worst thing they could have done. Qiu Ju received her apology when Wang Shantang saved her and her baby's lives by taking them to the city hospital and she is letting go of the issues between them.

This movie is classified as a "comedy" of which it is not. At best this movie is a dark comedy that is only slightly amusing because of the absurd irony. It would be more accurately classified as a Socio Drama because it deals with issues pertaining to personal problems becoming society's problems in the sense that it would be bad if village leaders went about assaulting their villagers.

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