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Love in a Changing Society of the Past Half a Century: Suzhou River as a Historical Allegory

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Suzhou River, a 2000 film directed by Lou Ye, explores several tragic love stories set in Shanghai around the transitional period of 1980s and 1990s. Many critics have praised its technical excellence, yet generally they have not paid sufficient attention to its subject matter. This paper departs from previous interpretations of the film, which have tended to be premised on superficial readings of the plotline, and contends that the work constitutes a poignant socio-political critique, which is conveyed through the construction of differing love stories set against a changing socio-cultural landscape. The past and the present incarnations of the cardinal female protagonist—who can be understood as a symbol for the average Chinese (woman)—suggest the fact that the society has transformed dramatically across the three disparate eras of the past half a century; accordingly, the identity of the Chinese also shifts tremendously. In this way, Lou Ye in effect constructs a diachronic re-presentation of the changing social mores and varied cultural ethos in a synchronic structure, which is subject to be read as an ingenious historical allegory.


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