The Road Home (1999)




Director:  Yimou Zhang. 

Cast:  Ziyi Zhang (Zhao Di, Young), Honglei Sun (Luo Yusheng), Hao Zheng (Luo Changyu), Yulian Zhao (Zhao Di, Old), Bin Li (Grandmother), Guifa Chang (Mayor, Old), Wencheng Sung (Mayor), Qi Liu (Carpenter Xia, Old), Bo Ji (Carpenter Xia), Zhongxi Zhang (Crockery Repairman).

country girl  and a young teacher fall in love during the 1958 Anti-Rightist Movement reaction against the Hundred Flowers Campaign


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Yusheng's father has died suddenly.  The mayor called him with the news.  So now Yusheng is driving into the mountains to reach his childhood village of Sanhetun.  He says that he has been so busy at his work that he has not been home in years.  His father had been a school teacher.  Yusheng was an only child and the only child from his village to go to college.  He is now a bit worried about how his mother will take the death of her beloved husband. 

Yusheng reaches home.  His mother is at the old school house.  Yusheng sees the mayor and his Uncle Xia.  They talk to him about helping to rebuild the old school house.  Yusheng seems willing to help.  They tell Yusheng that his mother wants to follow the old tradition and carry her husband's body back rather than have it brought by motorized vehicle.  The old tradition includes shouting at the deceased "this is the road home" all the way back home.  Today, however, things are different.  All the young people have left the village for better jobs.  They have not followed the old ways since the Cultural Revolution.

One of the men goes to fetch his mother.  She is glad to see her son.  She uses the loom to make her husband a red cover to put over the coffin. 

Flashback.  Mother is 18 years old and father 20.  Dad arrives by horse-drawn cart.  His name is Luo Yusheng, while his mother's name is Di.  In passing, the two take notice of each other.  Di is very impressed.  She runs home to her blind mother.  She tells her that the new teacher will eat with a different family each day.  Di changes her clothes.  Her mother notices and asks "Seeing a teacher makes you change your clothes?"

Yusheng narrates that his mother was considered the most beautiful maiden in the village.  She had had many proposals of marriage, but was not interested in any of them.  When the school teacher arrives, the men of the village work to build a school house.  Di and the other young women make food for the men to eat at lunch time.  Di hopes that Yusheng will pick her meal.  As the prettiest maiden Di has the honor of making the red cloth that will be wrapped around a beam in the one-room classroom.   

When school begins many of the villagers listen to the lessons from outside the school.  Di comes every school day to listen.  And she would continue this practice for some 40 years. 

The day before it is Di's time to host the teacher for dinner, she reminds her mother of the event.  Her mother warns her that she best forget the teacher.  She says:  "He is out of our class."  The dinner goes well.  She asks teacher if he ate her food when he worked on building the school house.  He hesitates because he does not know which food dishes were hers.  When she shows him the pottery bowls, he pretends that he remembers and says the food was very good.  Di tells him to come back later and pick up the mushroom dumplings she will make for him. 

The school teacher is informed that he has to go back to the city to answer some questions from the authorities.  Yusheng must have criticized the government during the Hundred Flowers Campaign (that encouraged such criticism) and now in the Anti-Rightist Campaign he is regarded with suspicion as a government critic.  The teacher leaves in the morning.  Di puts the dumplings in her pottery bowls, wraps them up in cloth and then runs to catch up with the cart.  She takes a short-cut but just misses teacher.  She takes another shortcut, but still just misses him.  And, finally, she takes another short-cut, but this time she takes a tumble and breaks the pottery bowls.  She is very upset and cries.  Then she notices that she has lost her decorative clip, the one teacher had given her, while running.  She looks for it own her way back home.  And everyday for weeks she would go back and forth along her path that day to see if she could find the clip.   One day on her return she notices something orange and shiny by her home fence.  She leans down and finds her clip.  This, of course, makes her very happy. 

A wandering pottery repairman goes from door to door.  Di's mother asks him to fix her daughter's broken pottery bowl.  Mother then puts the bowl on the shelf in its normal location.  When Di finds it, she cries. 

One day Di hears a lot of children's voices.  She runs down to the school house to see the teacher.  But no, there is no one at the school.  She had just imagined the voices.  Later Di returns to the school and fixes and decorates the school windows.  She also washes the desks and benches and the blackboard.  Everything looks as if it were ready for the first day of school. 

In those days love by choice was something new to the village.  Village marriages had been arranged, not chosen.  Finally, the day on which the teacher said he would return arrives, the 27th.  Di gets up early.  She waits by the road for his arrival.  The teacher, however, does not come.  Di is sick from her standing so long in the cold and snow.  The talk in the village is that the teacher is in trouble and won't be back.  So, even though Di is still sick, she tells her mother she is going to walk to the city.  Her mother tries to stop her, but she can't.  On her journey, Di is so sick and weak that she faints by the road.  They bring her back home in a cart.  Di sleeps for two days. 

Di finally awakens and hears the great news that teacher is back.  Her mother tells her that teacher had even sat with her while she slept.   Mom adds:  "He came back for you!"  Di quickly gets up and runs to the school.  A lot of villagers are outside the school house listening to the lesson.  When Di arrives, someone shouts to the teacher:  "Di is here!"  Teacher comes out quickly to see her.  Later he tells Di that he wanted to return so badly that he sneaked away from the city.  (But teacher was punished by the authorities for his deed.  He was kept away from Di for two more years.)

Back to the present.  Yusheng says that the village road is part of his parents' love story.  He goes to see the mayor.  He tells him that he will pay for the 35-36 men who will be needed to carry the body back to the village.  The entire cost will be about 4,000 yuan.  Yusheng gives him 5,000 yuan. 

The day of the funeral arrives.  Di goes to see her husband's body.  The funeral procession is followed by 100 of his former students.  The mayor gives the 5,000 yuan back to Yusheng saying that no one will accept payment for carrying the teacher.  Teacher is buried next to the well where he can see the school downhill.  The school will be rebuilt.  Mom gives the mayor a lot of the money she saved to build the school. 

The school house is built.  All that is lacking now is a teacher.  Di tells Yusheng that he should not be so picky in selecting a woman to be his wife.  She urges Yusheng to pick one and then bring the woman home to meet her.  She asks her son if he could teach the first day of class in honor of his father.  Di says that his father would like that very much. 

On the first day of school, Di walks down to the school house.  She hears a powerful voice and discovers that it is her son speaking as the teacher.  Yusheng uses a book that his own father had wrote and used on his first day of class.  The teacher-for-a-day likes the job so much that he decides to stay in his home village and teach school as his career.  Mom is very happy indeed. 

Good movie.  My wife and I enjoyed the love story.  It was very touching.  The couple certainly had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to be together. But the story does not end there.  It then deals with the couple's son, who lives in the city, and his decisions about the rest of his life.  The politics in the movie are very subtle, but the effects are very noticeable.  Ziyi Zhang was great as the young Zhao Di. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1949  --  founding of the communist the People's Republic of China. 

early 1950s  --  the three-anti campaign and the five-anti campaigns ended private ownership of land.  Many who were regarded as landlords and capitalist were purged from the communist party. 

1956-1957  --   the Communist Party of China encouraged people to express a variety of views and solutions to ongoing problems in a program known as the Hundred Flowers Campaign.  The program was launched under the slogan: "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend."  The movement was meant to be a small campaign that would encouraged local bureaucratic officials to feel free to make policy suggestions about existing problems within the central government.

1956  --  the Hundred Flowers campaign was unsuccessful.  Few officials made any suggestions at all.  Therefore, the leader of the campaign, Zhou Enlai expanded the program to encourage intellectual to speak out of government policies.  Mao had liked the idea, at least at first. 

1956 (summer)  --  Mao still likes the idea and takes over command of the campaign.  This was the start of that part of the program known as the Hundred Flowers. 

1956 (late)  --  the publicity to the public begins. 

1957 (spring)  --  Mao starts to insist that intellectuals start turning in critical ideas. 

1957 (June 1 to July 17)  --  the Premier's Office and other offices received millions of letters with criticisms of the government and its policies.   The authorities were overwhelmed and the feeling arose that the campaign had gotten out of control.  And even worse, students at Peking University made a "Democratic Wall" posting criticisms of the communist government. 

1957 (July)  --  Mao stopped the campaign.  And now those who had criticized the government came under suspicion and were even rounded up.  So began the Anti-Rightist Campaign that lasted into the early 1960s.  . 

1957 (by the end of the year)  --  300,000 people had been labeled as rightists, including the writer Ding Ling.  Mainly intellectuals received informal criticism, forced labor or execution. 



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