Artistic Discipline Vs. Obsession: China’s Most Influential Female Writer

Who exactly is this fascinating woman Xiao Hong?

Well, thanks to Hong Kong-based director Ann Hui ‘s feature length film, The Golden Era, we get to find out and gain insight into the struggle of this amazing woman’s world.

The Golden Era is an epic journey set in turbulent 1930’s China. It chronicles the obscure and radical life of Xiao Hong. She was one of the most influential female writers in 20th century China, renowned for her journalistic accounts of Japanese imperialism in China.

Golden Age poster (Image: NTD Television)

Xiao Hong: “I am doomed to a lifetime of loneliness.” Golden Age poster. (Image: NTD Television)

The film opens with the figure of Xiao announcing the dates of her birth and death direct to camera, and at times in the film the figures in the story turn briefly, commenting on the person they knew as if they were in a documentary.

Xiao, played by Tang Wei, had a life of turmoil and struggle. She ran away at 21 years of age to Beijing to escape an arranged marriage, narrowly avoided being sold to a brothel. She was left pregnant from her fiancé, she survived a war, was saved in a flood by newspaper editor, Xiao Jun played by Shaofeng Feng, who she then begins to be tormented by in their on and off relationship.

For five years, they share an intense, troubled relationship, becoming part of China’s leftist literary circles while being tossed with other refugees from city to city. The final split comes when Xiao Jun joins the fight against the Japanese, and Xiao Hong marries another writer, seeking only a haven:

‘All I want,’ she cries, ‘is to write in peace.’

On her deathbed, dying of tuberculosis at age 30, she finished writing the novel Tales of the Hulan River, her most successful novel, that was based on her childhood memories.

The film has been up for 15 nominations, and Ann Hui won best director for it at The Tapei Golden Horse Film Festival.

The beautifully designed film posters remind us that Xiao remained stubbornly committed to her art to the very end.

It makes you wonder how committed are you to your work? Is it obsession or discipline? And does the struggle add value?

Translation by Joseph Wu, research by Lulu

Golden Age poster (Image: NTD Television)

Through war and love she never gave up on her writing. Golden Era poster. (Image: NTD Television)

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