Monday, February 26, 2007

The damaging love

Is it true that every Chinese son is born to meet his parents’ requirements? Is it true that the tradition still holds that sons are part of the property of the family while the head of the family dictates their usage? For every Chinese gay man, how to bear with the notion that no descendant is No. 1 sin against filial respect?

Those are the questions that have arisen to me before I watched the movie “Sunflower”. Unfortunately, the movie makes these questions more imminent and relevant than ever, yet leaving them unsolved.

Zhang Yang has never tired of exploring father-son relationship. In “Shower”, such exploration serves as the footnote of fast-changing society; in his new movie “Sunflower”, the relationship comes to the center of the stage and the panorama of modernization provides the necessary elements for enduring conflicts and tensions between father and son.

It would be interesting to wonder how much his own experience has been woven into the film when the director, son of film director Zhang Huaxun, tells a story of a son who is taught to continue his father’s career as a painter, not without a struggle or even hatred. In fact, probably every Chinese at the age of late 20’s or early 30’s can easily collect some resemblance from their past: Those parents belong to the time when political disasters mashed their opportunities and trashed their youth. Through the next generation, they find the way to resume their dreams: For them, sons are what they were NOT but what they once wished to be. With fervent obsession they provide the most seemingly unselfish, sacrificing love to achieve the most selfish goal. The thirst for total control soon leads to consequent struggles between the relationships. They seldom win, or to some extent, they will never since sooner or later sons will break up the attachment to live by their own.

Such stories are no new. Back to the 18th century, with his incessant guidance Leopard Mozart brought a child prodigy to astonish the world, yet such a distorted relationship delayed the pace of mental growth of young Mozart and extended Wolfgang’s childhood well into his adult years. But unlike the western countries where young people are encouraged to live independently after eighteen years old, there is no specific time frame to end mental breastfeeding in China. Filial piety is tied with other virtues as the highest rank in an ethnic pyramid. Such filial piety is further transformed into filial obedience, so that no matter for what reason a son might rebel, what he faces is not just his father, but also the social standard against which arise the guilty feeling.

Luckily my growing pain was not as drastic as in the movie. I excelled in schools and made little trouble. My parents were only temporarily displeased when I chose not to become a physician. (“Who is going to read those medical books in the house” was their only comments.) But when I watched the father scolding his son vehemently and saying” Why can’t you have a child FOR US”, it immediately reminded me of those silent moments when my dad, on the other side of the earth, typed in the chat window: “Please find a girl friend, OK? I beg you!” There is no “for us” in the end of the sentence, but the word “beg”, like an edged blade, not only pieced their self-esteem apart, but also left me helpless drowning in my consciousness of filial disobedience guilt.

In Sunflower, there is not much as answered as the tension resolved. In the end, the father opens up to tell the grow-up story from his own point of view as if to deliver his last relay. Then he abruptly leaves the family, maybe he realizes that he succeeds and fails at the same time: He does see his unaccomplished mission fulfilled through his son’s hands, but at the price of being alienated and unforgiven.

Being invisible or at least being remote.

That’s the father’s final answer to keep the harmony within the family. Sadly, that’s what most of Chinese gay men’s strategy in response to family obligation. For them, life is somewhere else. Being away from where you grow up, whom you have known for long and what you have being used to is placebo for temporary relief, yet there is no cure in the end. For there is a famous Chinese saying: No one could ever return the same amount of love that he’s received from parents. That’s how the cruel reality differs from the movie. After year’s paternal love, whether unselfish or overwhelming, a father can leave his son without self-condemnation. Yet as a son, such internal struggles never cease, even at the end of the world.

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