Elegy of the Middle Kingdom is a 16-minute, 4-chapter animation made using the medium of oil painting. The film juxtaposes figures from Chinese history and folklore with contemporary social commentary, creating a panoramic insight into the chaotic transformations that have ravaged Chinese society for the past three decades.
The first chapter is called Gate of Heavenly Peace, an English translation of "Tiananmen." The segment takes its name from the site in Beijing where the 1989 massacre took place. By combining personal memories of the night's upheaval with the images of various political martyrs from the broader scheme of Chinese history, the artist reveals that the violent crackdown laid a foundation for the preposterous status quo of contemporary China. [Video Duration: 3'35"]
The second chapter, Three Gorges, focuses on namesake engineering project: the Three Gorges Dam. The totalitarian Communist government executed the colossal construction in complete disregard for the severe negative recoil that came with the undertaking. The artists position four characters against scenes from the various stages of the dam's building process, each character being a symbol of rebellion in Chinese culture. Such imagery reflects upon the devastating impact that the Three Gorges Dam has had on the environment and cultural heritage of China. [Video Duration: 4'57"]
The third chapter, Magpie Bridge, takes inspiration in a piece of traditional folklore. The original tale revolves around a tragic romance: two mythical lovers are split apart and only allowed to reunite once a year on a bridge formed by a gathering of magpies. The animation tells this story of the past in the context of China's present- the timeless narrative is presented against contemporary themes such as the economic boom, the Olympic celebrations, and the Sichuan earthquake. Through such juxtaposition, the chapter reveals the privation of China's 250 million migrant workers. These laborers are only able to see their family for a few days a year, resulting in both miserable personal existence and the destruction of society's fabric itself.[Video Duration: 3'00"]
The last chapter borrows its imagery from the Chinese drama Peony Pavilion. In the narrative of the traditional piece, a young woman dies in despair after searching in vain for a lover in an empty garden. The artist's rendition takes its setting in one of the many glittering shopping centers in China, representing the country's soulless, money-worshiping society. Just as the woman searches for romance in the original lore, she seeks for a cure to her spiritual void in this contemporary adaptation. Her search comes to an end when she dies in the despair of failure as she did in the drama. The petals on her body are reminiscent of the bloodshed shown at the beginning of the animation- the artist once again stresses that the violence of the crackdown is the ultimate origin of all the environmental, societal, and humane tragedies that are elaborated upon in the film.
[Video Duration: 4'33"]
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