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Kaplan, E.A. (1994). Farewell My Concubine. Psychoanal. Rev., 81(2):323-328.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Review, 81(2):323-328

Farewell My Concubine

E. Ann Kaplan

The title of this powerful film, “Farewell My Concubine,” repeats that of the ancient Chinese opera, set in 200 B.C., whose story Chen Kaige bril-liandy reworks to comment on contemporary China. The tide resonates across the many passionate yearnings, unitings, and severings in this epic film, which covers 50 years of Chinese history (1927-1977): The story moves from the war lord era of the 1920s to the invasion of imperial Japan in 1937; from Chiang Kai-Shek's democratic rebellion to Mao Zedong's defeat of him in 1949 to the 1966 cultural revolution. The film's power comes from the enmeshment of private and public spheres—of inner psychic life and the level of politics, the social. But dirough evoking ancient Chinese opera—not only its specific story but also the fetish that traditional Chinese culture made of opera—Chen comments on art's mediation of these spheres—a mediation his own film ironically exemplifies dirough the negative treatment it received in mainland China.

In the old story, the love between the king of Chu and his Concubine Yu must end because the king is surrounded by his enemies. Chu begs his lover to flee for safety; instead, she takes his sword (phallus) and cuts her diroat. This violent, personal act, signifying a vision of pure love till death, cannot be separated from the political/economic issues of power, audiority, and territory (the king's actions producing the war), or from gender hierarchies (Yu only functions within the sphere of sex and love —around the phallus—while affairs of state belong to the king).

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