To live

To Live, dir. by Yimou Zhang, 1993 China
Xu, Fu-gui, son of a wealthy landlord; falls from grace when he loses everything, including his father’s house, to gambling; forced by his misfortune to become a puppeteer; enlisted in both the National Army and the People’s Liberation Army led by the Communist Party; because of his misfortune, classified in the communist Land reform (1946-9) as “urban proletariat” which makes him a respected citizen in socialist “new” China; lives to witness the deaths of both his son and daughter in the ensuing social and political upheavals; left with joy and sorrow in life whose twists and turns are as unpredictable as the dice that is cast
Jia-zhen, wife of Xu Fu-gui and mother of two children; stereotypical “virtuous wife and good mother” who follows her husband through good times and bad; her steadfast dedication is perhaps the only thing that remains unchanged in her husband’s life full of ups and downs; never gives up on life
Long-er, one of the patrons at a Beijing teahouse and a former puppeteer; cunning and calculating, becomes the new owner of Xu Fu-gui’s house as payment for gambling debts; executed in the land reform because he burns down the house which he is supposed to turn it over to the triumphant communists; his passion for the house leads to his downfall; what he won also causes him to lose later on when the wheel of fortune turns;
Chun-sheng, a fellow native of Fu-gui and a waiter in the teahouse; travels with Fu-gui as they perform puppet shows; drafted first into the National Army and later the People’s Liberation Army; obsessed with automobiles (“I’d die to be a driver.”); accidentally kills Fugui’s son with his jeep; becomes a communist cadre in charge of the county in which Fu-gui’s family live; attempts to commit suicide during the Cultural evolution (1966-76) when he is labeled a “capitalist roader”
You-qing, son of Fu-gui; life cut short in 1958 during the “Great Leap Forward” campaign (1958), killed when a jeep, driven by non other than Chun-sheng, his father’s good friend, knocks down a stretch of wall under which he is fast asleep
Feng-xia, daughter of Xu Fu-gui; a dumb person because childhood illness; married to Er-xi; dies while giving birth to her son;
Wan, Er-xi, husband of Feng-Xia; a crippled machinist, a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution; gifted in mural paintings
Town-Chief Niua staunch communist party hack in charge of the town in which Fu-gui lives; labeled a “capitalist-roader” during the Cultural Revolution but still not disillusioned about the Party’s ideology with which he has been brain-washed and with which he tries to rationalize everything
Man-tou, son of Er-xi and Feng-Xia; grandson of Fu-gui, often called “little bun,” a name which Jiazhen likes because king of the underworld has no way of summoning those who do not have a regular human name