Body, Space, and Power: Reading the Cultural Images
of Concubines in the Works of Su Tong and Zhang Yimou

By Hsiu-Chuang Deppman

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 121-153

This essay contrasts Su Tong’s Wives and Concubines (1990) with Zhang Yimou’s film adaptation Raise the Red Lantern (1991). It begins with a comparative overview of the literary and cinematic traditions from which Su and Zhang emerge: experimental modernism and fifth-generation cinema. Close readings of the visual metaphors in both works reveal very different power dynamics between the female body and feudal space. Ultimately, Su’s experimental aesthetic offers his female characters the potential to negotiate a certain transgressive ideological independence, while Zhang’s cirtical-realist approach emphasizes the limits of feminine rebellion..