To Live (1994)

Brief Intro

“To Live,” directed by Zhang Yimou, is a poignant Chinese drama released in 1994. Based on Yu Hua’s novel, the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of Fugui and his family through decades of socio-political upheaval in China. It is a heart-wrenching tale of resilience, survival, and the human spirit.

Literary Devices Used in To Live


Movie SceneDevice Example
The Shadow Puppet PerformanceThe puppets symbolize the transient nature of life and control.
The Sewing MachineRepresents modernity and changing times.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Fugui losing his family fortuneHints at the future struggles and hardships.
Jiazhen’s worries about their son’s safetyPrepares the audience for future tragedies.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Fugui’s transition from a rich man to a poor oneHis wealth leads to his downfall and his poverty eventually brings a certain peace.
The arrival of the CommunistsThey promise equality but bring more suffering to the family.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Fugui reminiscing about his days of wealthHighlights the drastic changes in his life.
Jiazhen recalling their son’s birthEmphasizes the passage of time and lost innocence.


Movie SceneDevice Example
The dice gameLife as a game of chance.
The puppet stringsControl and manipulation by external forces.


Movie SceneDevice Example
The barren village landscapeConveys desolation and hardship.
The vibrant colors during the puppet showsContrasts with the grim realities of life.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Wealthy past vs. impoverished presentHighlights the dramatic change in circumstances.
Traditional rituals vs. modern political meetingsShows the clash between old and new China.


Movie SceneDevice Example
The shadow puppetsRepresent different characters and their fates.
The sewing machineSeen as a lifeline for the family.


Movie SceneDevice Example
References to historical eventsGround the personal story in a broader context.
Fugui’s stories about the pastConnect personal struggles with national history.


Movie SceneDevice Example
The entire filmAn allegory for the resilience of the Chinese people.
Fugui’s journeyRepresents the journey of China through turmoil.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices


SymbolismFugui’s gambling addiction symbolizes his initial irresponsibility and later transformation.
IronyHis journey from wealth to poverty ironically brings him closer to his family and true happiness.


ImageryDescriptions of Jiazhen’s physical and emotional endurance highlight her strength.
ForeshadowingHer constant worries about her family’s future foreshadow the coming hardships.

Character Dynamics

The relationship between Fugui and Jiazhen evolves from one of distance and resentment to one of deep mutual respect and support. Literary devices such as dialogue and irony are used to show how their bond strengthens in the face of adversity. The contrasting personalities of their children, Youqing and Fengxia, illustrate the diverse impacts of political turmoil on the younger generation.

Thematic Analysis


SymbolismThe recurring puppet shows symbolize resilience amidst chaos.
MetaphorThe family’s journey as a metaphor for endurance through adversity.


FlashbackFugui’s reflections on his past highlight his personal transformation.
JuxtapositionThe contrast between past and present emphasizes the changes in the characters’ lives.


IronyDespite losing material wealth, Fugui and Jiazhen gain a stronger family bond.
ForeshadowingEarly hints about family struggles set the stage for the film’s focus on familial resilience.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismVisual symbolismUse of recurring images like the shadow puppets to reinforce themes.
ImageryCinematographyStunning visuals that depict the stark reality of rural China.
IronyEditingJuxtaposition of scenes to highlight ironic twists in the narrative.
MetaphorSound designThe use of traditional Chinese music to underscore metaphorical elements.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene 1: The Shadow Puppet Performance

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This scene uses shadow puppetry to symbolize Fugui’s loss of control over his life. The puppets, manipulated by unseen hands, represent the characters’ struggles against larger socio-political forces.

Scene 2: The Arrival of the Communists

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This scene employs irony as the Communists’ arrival, promising liberation, brings new forms of suffering for the family. The visual contrast between the jubilant soldiers and the fearful villagers enhances the ironic undertone.

Scene 3: The Sewing Machine

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The sewing machine symbolizes hope and modernization. This scene uses close-up shots and ambient sound to emphasize its importance to the family’s survival.


To test your understanding of the literary devices used in “To Live,” take this interactive quiz!

Interactive Quiz

1. What does the shadow puppet symbolize in the film?

  • A) Wealth
  • B) Control and manipulation
  • C) Love

2. Which literary device is primarily used to highlight Fugui’s transformation?

3. How does the film use irony with the arrival of the Communists?

  • A) They bring immediate wealth
  • B) They promise equality but cause suffering
  • C) They provide new puppets for Fugui

4. What does the sewing machine represent?

  • A) Family bonds
  • B) Traditional values
  • C) Hope and modernization