傳統與現代的衝突與兼容:三十年代香港電影的理想女性形象 The Conflict and Compatibility between Tradition and Modernity: The Images of the Ideal Woman in Hong Kong Cinema of the 1930s

Posted on 23 1 月 2022在〈傳統與現代的衝突與兼容:三十年代香港電影的理想女性形象 The Conflict and Compatibility between Tradition and Modernity: The Images of the Ideal Woman in Hong Kong Cinema of the 1930s〉中留言功能已關閉

作者:鄭浩茵  黃雋寧  陳浩森  曾倩美  鄭絲


三十年代的女性處境與香港電影

「理想女性」並非恆定不變的客觀形象,縱觀歷史,此概念會隨着時代、文化、社群的變化而轉換,難以一概定論。逐漸步入現代化的三十年代華人社會,大家對理想女性的構想更是百花齊放,既有呼籲女性重視傳統禮教的聲音,也有提倡女性跳出傳統婚姻與家庭框架的呼聲,雖兩者的立場不同,其觀念可能有所衝突,但同時也有能互相兼容共處的地方,重視傳統的不一定全然否定女性在當代社會的地位,甚至會認同在社會現代化的框架下,提出傳統思想在新時代的價值;推動女性反抗封建也非必然會否定某些傳統價值,甚至是認同某些傳統價值推崇的品德,期望女性能夠在社會或國家層面將之體現出來。

以上的現象反映了三十年代理想女性形象的複雜與多元,而其多元則來自變幻不定的社會。當時中國正面臨中西、新舊思潮激烈碰撞的局面,倡議改革的呼聲在政治、經濟、社會、學術、文化等界別此起彼落。帝制的覆亡未及半載,政治經濟教育等制度已幾乎全盤西化,再加上經過新文化運動的思想洗禮,社會上,尤其是知識分子對女性的期望變得現代化,女性權益開始備受關注,女性解放運動亦相繼冒起,越來越多女性追求教育、自由戀愛、經濟獨立,反抗傳統的壓迫,地位開始提升。[1]然而,大部分的平民百姓還未能接受西方思想的衝擊,始終認為生兒育女、相夫教子是女性的天職,甚至視解放運動為傷風敗德的行為,呼籲女性回歸傳統婦德。[2]再者,傳統封建社會對女性的壓迫沒有因帝制終結而消失,盲婚啞嫁、女性被賣為妹仔、妾侍等情況比比皆是。[3]可見,當時女性在追求獨立自主的路上仍有很多挑戰。在這樣複雜的社會背景下,大眾對理想女性的想像變得多元而難以統一,形成各種理想形象的構想並存於社會的現象,當時的電影亦充分反映這種多元的女性形象。

三十年代香港電影主要作用為教化人群、娛樂大眾,或是宣傳抗戰思想、鼓動愛國情緒等。由於當時社會普遍教育程度不高,知識分子對政治、社會、文化等方面的討論未能滲透平民階層,草根百姓多為民智未開。但電影就能突破文字的界限,以聲音、影像、故事來包裝道德教育或意識形態,以顯淺或娛樂的形式代替深奧的文字理論來教化基層百姓。於是,三十年代就有不少電影透過建構理想女性形象來達致教化大眾、宣傳政治的作用。隨着影片的故事、語境及意識的不同,其女性形象的理想投射亦隨之改變,從而充滿多元性。本文以社會倫理片及國防電影兩大類別,前者為以電影教化群眾,後者則是以電影宣傳意識形態,探討三十年代香港電影如何以多元的女性形象為媒介表現各種訊息,展現其形象與現實的關係,並審視這些形象的特徵、衝突以及兼容的地方。

 

社會倫理片中的女性形象:
保有傳統美德或勇於反抗封建困境的兩種女性

社會倫理片以傳遞「善有善報,惡有惡報」的警世訊息來導人向善、教化觀眾為重心。[4]這類電影並非三十年代獨有,事實上香港首部故事片《莊子試妻》已是一部倫理片。[5]這類影片是三十年代香港電影的主流類型,就算非社會倫理片也會多少滲透着教化意識,而導人向善的觀念「一直貫徹在六十年代前香港出產的電影中」。[6]社會倫理片中的女性往往面對着很多困境,可能是丈夫拋妻棄子,單身婦人獨力養家,或是面對來自夫兄輩、外家的欺壓等,而電影則透過描畫女性對這些處境的回應來塑造理想的女性形象,當中最典型的形象有二:在面對艱苦生活仍堅守傳統婦道的女性,和奮力打破父權壓迫以追求自主的新女性。下文主要就着這兩個面向加以分析。

 

體現傳統婦道的理想女性

在宣揚傳統婦道的影片裏,通常是借着女性的故事來教育觀眾重視家庭倫理。理想女性被塑造成賢妻良母,若外出工作也不是為實現自己,而是照顧家庭,是「以傳統標準塑造當代理想女性」[7],表現現代化社會裏傳統價值的重要性。以《廣州一婦人》為例,影片展現了傳統婦德要求女性需以家庭為首,應遵從三從四德,其人生實踐完全建立在家庭的完整性上。

圖一:《廣州一婦人》展現了傳統婦德要求女性需以家庭為首,應遵從三從四德,其人生實踐完全建立在家庭的完整性。(《工商日報》1936年3月4日)

同時,電影亦呈現女性的生活苦況,例如當丈夫背棄家庭、終日在外花天酒地時,女性便只能一力承擔家庭內外全部責任,不僅表現出刻苦耐勞的女性為家庭獻身的美德,同時也代女性發聲,使大眾同情她們。影片亦斥責沒有做好本份的丈夫,警惕男性有責任為家庭付出,不應讓妻子獨力承擔,由此引申男女皆有鞏固家庭秩序的責任。

社會倫理片常常以當時女性面對的困境突顯她們在逆境中的堅忍,以此勉勵現實的女性。影片借着表現命途坎坷的女性如何秉持着婦道精神來對抗困苦生活、最終苦盡甘來的故事,鼓勵現實中為生活所困的女性們,堅守傳統價值定能使她們迎來幸福的結局。現實中封建家庭及社會對女性的壓迫不計其數,女性往往需獨自面對,而這類影片則能作抒發的渠道,肯定傳統婦德在維持家庭倫理及塑造理想女性的價值。

女性能夠成為教化觀眾的媒介,在於她們為家庭的犧牲具有極大的感召力,「在中國傳統倫理道德規範中,女性為家庭而犧牲個人是最大的美德」。[9]觀眾解讀女性角色時容易附帶「柔弱無力」的刻板印象,當看到女性為了家庭對抗現實中的困難、努力改變悲慘命運,其徹底的獻身能打動觀眾,使他們深刻體會家庭倫理的重要性。於是,影片中的女性不僅僅投射出現實中女性對家庭應有的態度,更折射不同性別、階級的人都應重視家庭倫理的觀念。

對家庭倫理的重視、女性應輔助(甚至代替)男性鞏固家庭內部秩序的觀念,此為中國傳統儒家的孝道思想衍生的觀念。香港雖作為殖民地,但當時大眾仍對中國傳統觀念保持強烈認同,這種在日漸西化的社會裏高舉傳統價值的影片多能迎合普羅大眾,對重視家庭的感召更容易被理解和接受。另一方面社會大眾對日漸開放的兩性關係也非全然叫好,因此這種傳統的理想女性形象也能符合部分人對女性的想像。堅守傳統婦道的持家女性,便順理成章地成為了社會倫理片教化及鞏固大眾傳統家庭觀念的媒介。

 

 

勇於反抗封建壓迫的女性

社會倫理片呈現的另一種女性形象是以傳統封建家庭下的女性悲劇反襯當代女性勇於抵抗父權的控制與迫害,追求獨立自主,在社會上實踐自我。《女性之光》正是這類電影的佼佼者[10],塑造了不把婚姻視為人生最高目標,反而投身教育來增值自己,為社會貢獻的崇高女性形象。

這種理想形象有別於上述擁有傳統婦德的女性,反而支持當代女性爭取獨立自主,提倡女性價值不應局限於家庭與婚姻,批評男尊女卑的傳統父權社會裏女性必須從屬男性,作他們的附庸、傳宗接代的生育機器。影片透過刻劃當代女性對傳統社會的反抗與回應,推動觀眾反思封建制度的問題,意味着隨着時代變遷,人們應打破守舊過時的價值觀,開明地接受新思想,並勇於抵抗封建社會遺留下來的壓迫——不只是對女性的壓迫,也包括對基層百姓的欺壓。表面上指出家庭與婚姻不再是女性的唯一歸屬,鼓勵她們勇於尋求自己的人生,實際上是勉勵觀眾不要再被傳統迂腐的觀念局限人生實踐,勇敢活出自我。

同樣地,影片不僅以女性為媒介來表達對女性議題的關心,更重要是藉以反思何謂「現代化」。[11]當時女性與中國社會同樣身處大時代的演變,面對西方思潮與傳統價值的劇烈碰撞,不少知識分子都對傳統儒家思想持批判態度,視之為國勢長年憊弱的根本原因,反對封建階級、皇權至上等觀念,追求民主與科學。女性處境在新舊交替的時代裏的變遷尤為激烈,她們在舊時代裏承受着最多的壓迫,由最為弱勢的一群變成享有經濟獨立及戀愛自由的新女性,當中需付出極大的力氣來推翻種種壓迫才能真正迎接新時代,其過程正好呼應了中國的變革之路。

故此,影片中女性的處境實為暗示與回應社會面臨的問題,在《女性之光》裏對女性的鼓勵,事實上是對全體國民的勉勵,指出在現代化進程裏,人們不能只是手段進步卻思想守舊(對應片中的男性一方面以自由戀愛為名追求女主,一方面又輕視女兒,將之送給女主角當「妹仔」),現代化的核心在於思想也要進化,例如片中認為以教育充實自我來貢獻社會是其中一種途徑。更重要的是,反抗的道路從來不易,亦無法保障未來的生活(就像電影結尾母女兩人為逃避富紳的迫婚出走遠方,漂泊在海上,遙望着彼岸,不知未來何去何從),惟人若堅守希望與信念,面對強權打壓沒有退縮,終有一日會成功。

 

圖二:《女性之光》塑造了不把婚姻視為人生最高目標,反而投身教育來增值自己,為社會貢獻的崇高女性形象。(《工商日報》1937年8月10日)

國防電影中的女性形象:獨立自強的愛國女性

國防電影以抗戰為主題,為日本侵華下冒起的片種。電影塑造戰爭裏敢於作戰的女性角色,有別於社會倫理片中或命途坎坷、或被父權壓迫的女性,她們不是需要被幫助的一群,是不畏死亡、受愛國之心感召毅然參戰。其不再隸屬於家庭而無法實現自我,不再被男人拋棄而過上艱苦的生活,而是能主宰自己的人生。國防電影裏的女性多為女間諜,以交際花等犧牲色相的手段換取情報,主導任務執行,甚至為國捐軀。以《夜光杯》[12]為例,影片以抗戰為背景,呈現了女性甘願犧牲愛情和性命來為國效力的理想形象。

這些女性形象反映了時代對女性想像的進步意識,而國防電影比起其他片種更有效塑造獨立自強的女性形象。由傳統花木蘭故事中女性需置入男性裝扮及身份才能上戰場,至當代女性終於能以女性的身份來投身戰爭,肯定她們本身的價值與能力,頌讚甘願以自己身體換取勝利的女性,有時甚至整部電影都以女性為本位,看她們如何拆解各種困難。在《民族女英雄》中女性地位更被提升到與男性平等地在戰線奮勇作戰,不再屈居戰爭後線,是為前所未見。亦因如此,當女性投身在以往為男性主導的戰場上,發揮出不下於男性的作用、甚至超越男性來主導戰場,十分有效地打破了傳統把她們局限在家庭裏的保守觀念,其獨立自強的氣概不但能震撼觀眾,更能把這種進步的女性意識向大眾傳播。

這種理想女性的投射以及進步意識為日本侵華下的時代產物。國難當頭,社會對女性的要求不再局限於鞏固家庭內部秩序,更期望她們在家庭之外為國貢獻,因此出現主動參戰、獨立自強的女性形象。影人藉女性形象來呼應時代,並宣傳民族主義的意識形態,以一反過往女性可憐與柔弱的刻板印象,一來顯示抗戰需要動員全體國民,包括女性,二來以女性影射在戰爭中處於弱勢的國家,暗示國家也能像她們故事般在戰爭中逆轉弱勢、擊敗敵軍,感召觀眾們不論男女一同保家衛國,學習她們在絕境中作戰的氣魄,傳達堅持下去才能取得最後勝利的訊息,激發愛國與民族情緒,鼓勵更多人投身抗戰行列,達到政治宣傳的效果。

但國防電影中的理想女性也並非全然是在家庭之外投身戰爭的勇悍形象,當中既有仍然主內、由替在外投身抗戰工作的丈夫照料家庭的持家女性,她們仍保持傳統理想女性的形象,默默地支持在外作戰的另一半,1935年的電影《生命線》為其中一例。[13]這類電影認為當男性在前線作戰時,女性的首要職責是為他處理家中的大小事務,照料其父母子女,待他從戰場歸來。雖這種意識與支持女性與男性一同在外參戰的理念不同,但足以反映社會對女性在戰爭中的角色有多元的構想。

 

總結:反映時代對理想女性的多元想像——衝突與兼容

以上例子均能反映不同電影當中理想女性形象的維度之大,社會倫理片中主要的兩種女性形象,展現由傳統到現代化的理想女性,及國防電影中以獨立自強的女性為軸心,由主內的持家婦女到主動參戰、甚至具有與男性平等地在沙場上奮勇殺敵的女性。足見處於變遷的時代下,社會出於不同目的和意識衍生出的多元理想女性想像,被當時的電影豐富地反映,不但傳遞了不同面向的女性意識,更以她們的故事與經歷為媒介,向大眾作倫理教化與宣傳意識形態。

這些形象既有衝突之處,但背後的精神為共通兼容。最傳統的理想女性必然依附家庭,而現代化的價值觀則認為理想女性要脫離這種規範,在社會乃至國家層面實現自我及愛國之心。惟當中的精神內核相同——不同的理想形象背後皆是要求女性要富有仁愛、重情義、願意犧牲奉獻的精神,電影往往藉着女性對某一對象的獻身呈現她們的高尚品格,只是對象由對家庭的愛推廣到對國家的愛,原先局限在家庭的人生實踐擴展至社會及國家的框架下實踐自我,使得女性能本着同樣的品格與精神來表現更多的可能性。

以上只是三十年代電影反映當時理想女性形象的冰山一角,事實上不同時期、背景、片種、製作人的電影當中表現的女性意識都各有異同,一部電影裏也未必只有一種女性形象,就如男電影人與女電影人對女性故事的視覺與切入點也大不相同,惟當時的女電影人較著名的就只有伍錦霞及尹海靈,而她們所留下的影像資料極少,難以在此作深入的對讀,故本文所選的電影皆為男影人的作品。三十年代香港電影中的女性形象的多元性實在難以窮盡,未能一一在此盡錄,但正是時代對於她們的多元想像,造就了如此豐富的女性形象與呈現。


參考資料

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趙衛防:《香港電影史:1897-2006》。北京:中國廣播電視社,2007。

周承人、李以莊:《早期香港電影史(1897-1945)》。香港:三聯書店,2005。

余慕雲:《香港電影史話(卷二):三十年代》。香港:次文化堂,1996。

郭靜寧編著:《香港影片大全(第一卷增訂本)一九一四至一九四一》。香港:香港電影資料館,2020。

游靜:〈現代(女)性之蜀道難〉,《尋存與啟迪——香港早期聲影遺珍》。香港:香港電影資料館,2015,頁4-11。

Chin, A. S. (2012). Bound to emancipate: Working women and urban citizenship in early Twentieth-century China and Hong Kong. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[1] Chin, A. S. (2012). Bound to emancipate: Working women and urban citizenship in early Twentieth-century China and Hong Kong. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[2] 大眾及媒體對當時新興的女性職業多有微言,詳見 Chin, A. S. (2012). Bound to emancipate: Working women and urban citizenship in early Twentieth-century China and Hong Kong. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[3] 葉漢明:《主體的追尋:中國婦女史硏究析論》。香港:香港教育圖書公司,1999,頁118。

[4] 趙衛防:《香港電影史:1897-2006》。北京:中國廣播電視社,2007,頁50。

[5] 周承人、李以莊:《早期香港電影史(1897-1945)》。香港:三聯書店,2005,頁37。

[6] 余慕雲:《香港電影史話(卷二):三十年代》。香港:次文化堂,1996,頁126。

[7] 趙衛防:《香港電影史:1897-2006》。北京:中國廣播電視社,2007,頁52。

[8] 影片講述女主角在丈夫拋棄家庭後,代替男性成為家庭的主導角色,肩負起維持家庭秩序的任務,且為破碎家庭重歸完整的核心推手,令丈夫回頭是岸,詳見郭靜寧編著:《香港影片大全(第一卷增訂本)一九一四至一九四一》。香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁27。

[9] 趙衛防:《香港電影史:1897-2006》。北京:中國廣播電視社,2007,頁52。

[10] 影片講述女主角先被哥哥強逼下嫁富翁而出走,後被重婚而性格無能的富家公子追求後,認清婚姻的不可靠,堅決投身教育事業,苦心經營,幫助受壓迫的女性,詳見郭靜寧編著:《香港影片大全(第一卷增訂本)一九一四至一九四一》。香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁62。

[11] 游靜:〈現代(女)性之蜀道難〉,《尋存與啟迪——香港早期聲影遺珍》。香港:香港電影資料館,

2015,頁6。

[12] 故事講述女主角欲借假離婚接近已成為漢奸的舊愛,在色誘過程中趁機把他殺死。事情由她策劃,一開始面對丈夫的質疑時表示縱使自己是女人,也能為國出力,過程中犧牲色相接近漢奸及其手下,最後更因身份暴露而與對方同歸於盡,詳見郭靜寧編:《香港影片大全(第一卷增訂本)一九一四至一九四一》。香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁113。

[13] 故事講述男主角盼以興建鐵路救國,其妻子默默在其背後支持他,照料兒子 和其母,見郭靜寧編:《香港影片大全(第一卷增訂本)一九一四至一九四一》。香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁20。

 

Author: Cheng Ho-Yan  Wong Tsun-Ling  Chan Ho-Sum  Tsang Sin-Mei  Cheng Si

Women’s Situation in the 1930s and Hong Kong Cinema

The “ideal woman” is not a permanent and objective image. Throughout history, this concept has transformed according to the changes over time, culture and community, and thus can hardly be generalised. As the Chinese society of the 1930s began to modernise, there was a great variety of ideas about the ideal woman. While there were voices urging women to value traditional customs, others advocated that women should break away from the traditional framework of marriage and family. Although the two hold different positions and may have conflicting concepts, they can also be compatible and coexist. Those who valued tradition may not necessarily deny women’s social status at the time and may even recognise the value of traditional concepts in a new era within the framework of social modernisation; those who encouraged women to fight against the feudal system may not necessarily reject some of the traditional values, and may even support certain virtues promoted by the traditional values, in the hope that women will be able to embody them in society or at the national level.

The above phenomena reflect the complexity and diversity of the image of the ideal woman in the 1930s, and this diversity indeed came from an ever-changing society. At the time, China was experiencing an intense clash of ideologies between the East and the West, between the old and the new. Calls for reforms were coming and going in the political, economic, social, academic, cultural and other sectors. Not even a half century after the collapse of the monarchy, the political, economic, educational and other systems were almost entirely westernised. With the intellectual influence of the New Culture Movement, society, particularly the intellectuals, began to have more modernised expectations for women. Women’s rights also began to receive more attention, and women’s liberation movements emerged one after another. More and more women were seeking education, freedom to love and financial independence, and resisting traditional oppression. Their status gradually increased.[1] However, the majority of ordinary people had not yet acknowledged the impact of Western thinking. They still believed that it was a woman’s natural duty to bear and raise children and that her place was in the home. They even regarded the liberation movements as immoral and urged women to return to traditional female virtues.[2] Furthermore, the oppression imposed on women in the traditional feudal society did not end with the abolition of the monarchy. Arranged marriages and women being trafficked as maids and concubines were rife.[3] It is evident that women still had many challenges in their journey to independence and autonomy. In such a complex social background, the public’s imagination of the ideal woman had become diverse and inconsistent, resulting in the coexistence of various conceptions of the ideal image in society, and the films of the time also adequately reflected this diversity of public imagination on female.

 

In the 1930s, Hong Kong films were mainly used for purposes such as to edify and entertain the public or to promote the idea of war resistance and encourage patriotic sentiments, etc. As the society at the time was generally not well-educated, the intellectuals’ discussions on politics, society and culture and other aspects could not reach the ordinary classes, and the grassroots were mostly ignorant. However, films could transcend the boundaries of words by means of sound, image and stories, convey moral teachings or ideologies, and replace complex textual theories with simplistic or entertaining forms to educate the grassroots. Thus, in the 1930s, many films were made to construct the ideal female image in order to educate the public and promote politics. With different stories, contexts and mentalities in the films, the projection of the female ideal changed accordingly, thus creating diversity. Based on the two major categories, social ethics film and national security film, in which the former serves to educate the public and the latter to promote ideologies, this article will explore how Hong Kong films of the 1930s made use of the diverse female images as a medium to express various messages, followed by demonstrating the link between these images and the reality and examining the characteristics, conflicts and compatibility of these images.

The Female Images in Social Ethics Films:

The Two Types of Women: Those Who Preserve Traditional Virtues or Those Who Resist the Feudal Oppression

The social ethics films aimed to convey the moral message that “the good will be rewarded and the bad will be punished” in order to guide people towards goodness and educate the audience.[4] This type of film was not exclusive to the 1930s. In fact, the first Hong Kong drama film, Zhuang Zi Tests His Wife (1914), was precisely a social ethics film.[5] This type of film was the mainstream in Hong Kong cinema in the 1930s, but even films of other types were more or less imbued with a sense of edification, and the concept of guiding people towards goodness was “always present in the films produced in Hong Kong before the 1960s”.[6] Women in social ethics films often encounter many difficulties, such as being abandoned by husbands and left alone with their children, single mothers trying to support their families alone, or facing oppression from fathers, brothers and their husbands’ families. The films portrayed the images of the ideal woman by depicting women’s reactions to these situations. The two most typical images are: the traditional woman who adheres to traditional female values while facing a tough life; and the new woman who fights to overcome patriarchal oppression to seek autonomy. In the following, we will focus on the analysis of these two aspects.

The Ideal Woman Who Embodies Traditional Female Values

In films promoting traditional female values, it is often through women’s stories that the audience is educated about the importance of family ethics. The ideal woman is portrayed as a virtuous wife and mother, and if she is to work, it is not to fulfil her own ambition but to care for her family. In other words, it “portrays the ideal woman of the time out of the traditional standards”[7], thus demonstrating the importance of traditional values in a modernised society. For example, in A Lady of Canton (aka A Woman of Guangzhou, 1936), the film shows that traditional female virtues demand women to put family first, follow the Three Obediences and Four Virtues, and that family integrity is their ultimate life plan.[8]

Figure 1: A Lady of Canton, shows that traditional female virtues demand women to put family first, follow the Three Obediences and Four Virtues, and that family integrity is their ultimate life plan (The Industrial & Commercial Daily Press, 4 March 1936).

Meanwhile, the film also reveals women’s plight, for example, when their husbands abandon their families and spend the day out drinking and cheating, women are left to take on all the responsibilities, both internal and external. Not only does it show the virtues of hard-working women dedicating themselves to their families, but it also gives women a voice and draws sympathy from the public. The film also condemns husbands who fail to perform their duties and gives men a warning that they are responsible for contributing to their families and should not let their wives bear all the burden alone, thus implying that man and woman are both responsible for maintaining their family order.

Social ethics films often use the difficulties faced by the women at the time to highlight their resilience during times of difficulty, thereby inspiring women in the real world. By showing how women with such difficult lives cope with and eventually overcome all the difficulties through the spirit of female values, the film encourages women in the real world to uphold traditional values that will lead them toward a happy ending. In reality, the oppression of women by feudal families and society was never-ending, and women very often had to deal with them by themselves. This kind of film can serve as a channel to express and recognise the value of traditional female virtues in maintaining family ethics and shaping the ideal woman.

Women became a medium for edifying the audience because their sacrifices for the family had great inspirational power. “In traditional Chinese ethics and moral principles, it is the greatest virtue for a woman to sacrifice herself for her family.”[9] The audience was prone to the stereotype of “feeble and weak” while interpreting the role of women. When they saw women fighting to overcome the difficulties in reality and working hard to alter their tragic fate for the sake of their families, their total devotion to the cause would move the audience and give them a deep understanding of the importance of family ethics. Therefore, the women in the film reflect not only the attitude towards the family that women should have in reality but also the idea that people of all genders and classes should also value family ethics.

The value attached to family ethics and the idea that women should assist (or even replace) men in maintaining the internal order of the family are notions derived from the traditional Chinese Confucian concept of filial piety. Although Hong Kong was a colony, the public at the time was still very much attached to Chinese tradition. This type of film which celebrated traditional values in an increasingly westernised society, appealed to the general public and was more likely to be understood and accepted as a call for the importance of family. On the other hand, since society was not all in favour of the increasingly open relations between the two sexes, this traditional image of the ideal woman also matched the imagination of certain people about women. The family woman, who firmly adheres to traditional female values, naturally became the medium for social ethics films to edify the public and strengthen the concept of traditional family values in society.

The Woman Who Resists Feudal Oppression

Another type of woman is presented in social ethics films through women’s tragedies in traditional feudal families as a contrast to highlight the courage of the women of that time to resist patriarchal control and repression, gain independence and autonomy, and fulfil themselves in society. The Light of Women (1937) is the perfect example of this type of film[10], portraying a noble woman who does not regard marriage as her ultimate life goal but devotes herself to education to enrich herself and contribute to society.

This image of the ideal differs from that of the woman with traditional female virtues, as mentioned above. Instead, it supported women of the time to fight for their independence and autonomy, advocated that women’s values should not be confined to only family and marriage, and criticised the traditional patriarchal society where women were considered inferior to men and should serve as their subordinates and birth-giving machines to carry on the family line. By depicting women’s resistance and reactions to the traditional society at the time, the film encourages the audience to reflect on the problems of the feudal system, implying that with the change of time, people should break away from the outdated values, be more open to accepting new ideas and take the courage to resist the oppression left behind by the feudal society – not only the oppression of women but also the oppression of the grassroots. While on the surface, the film points out that family and marriage are no longer women’s only sources of fulfilment and encourages them to explore their own lives, it urges the audience to stop being limited by conventional stereotypes and to truly live their own lives.

Similarly, the film uses women not only as a medium to express concerns for female issues but, more importantly, as a way to reflect on the meaning of “modernisation”.[11] At that time, both women and Chinese society were experiencing a massive change of era. Facing the dramatic clashes between Western ideologies and the traditional values, many intellectuals were critical of traditional Confucianism and regarded it as the root cause of the long-standing weakness of the country. They opposed ideas such as the feudal hierarchy and the supremacy of monarchs, embracing democracy and science. The changes in women’s circumstances were particularly radical at a time when the old meets the new. They suffered the most oppression in the old days, from being the most disadvantaged group, transformed into the new women who enjoyed economic independence and freedom to love. The process would require a great deal of effort to overthrow all kinds of oppression to truly embrace the new era, one that perfectly echoes the China’s path of transformation.

Therefore, the situation of the women in the film is indeed an allusion and a response to the problems faced by society. The encouragement for the women in The Light of Women was in fact an encouragement for all citizens, pointing out that in the course of modernisation, people cannot just progress in their methods but remain outdated in their thinking (correspond to the male character in the film who woos the female protagonist under the pretext of free love, but at the same time despises his daughter and offers to give her to the female protagonist as a ‘maid’). At the core of modernisation is the evolution of thinking. For instance, the film suggests that one way to contribute to society is to enrich oneself through education. More importantly, the path of resistance is never easy, and the future is never guaranteed (just like the mother and daughter who run away to escape the forced marriage imposed by the rich gentleman at the end of the film, they are adrift at sea, distantly looking at the other side of the shore, not knowing what the future holds). Yet if one holds on to hope and faith and refuses to give in to oppression, they shall succeed one day.

Figure 2: The Light of Women portrays a noble woman who does not regard marriage as her ultimate life goal but instead devotes herself to education to enrich herself and contribute to society (The Industrial & Commercial Daily Press, 10 August 1937).

The Female Image in National Security Films: The Patriotic Woman of Independence and Self-Reliance

National security films are based on war resistance, a genre developed under the Japanese invasion of China. Unlike the women in social ethics films who live difficult lives or are oppressed by patriarchal authority, the film portrays female characters who dare to fight in the war. They are not the ones who need help but the ones who are inspired by patriotism to join the war and are not afraid to die. They are no longer tied to their families and prevented from fulfilling themselves, they are no longer abandoned by men and living a tough life, but instead, they are in control of their own lives. The women in national security films are mostly female spies who give sexual favours in exchange for secret information, lead missions, and even sacrifice their lives for their country. For example, The Shining Cup (aka The Luminescent Cup, 1939)[12] is a film based on war resistance, which presents the ideal image of women willing to sacrifice love and their lives to serve their country.

These female images reflected the progressive awareness about how women were imagined at the time. More than any other genre, national security films were particularly effective in portraying women as independent and self-reliant. From the traditional story of Mulan, in which women dress up as men to go to war, to a time when women can finally go to war as women, their values and abilities are recognised with the very identity of “woman” itself. Women willing to give their bodies in exchange for victory are praised. Sometimes even the entire film is dedicated to women, demonstrating how they overcome all kinds of difficulties. In The Heroine (aka National Heroine, 1937), women are even raised to a position equal to men on the war front and are no longer relegated to the rear of the battlefield, which is unprecedented. When women join the traditionally male-dominated battlefield and play a role as important as men, or even outperform them, dominating the battlefield, can effectively break the traditional conservative concept that their place is in the home. Not only does such an independent and self-reliant spirit impress the audience, but it also serves to convey to the public this growing female consciousness.

This kind of projection of ideal womanhood and growing consciousness was the product of the times under the Japanese invasion. In the midst of a national crisis, society no longer restricted women to the role of maintaining family order but expected women to contribute to the country outside of the family, thus creating images of independent and self-reliant women volunteering to fight in the war. The filmmakers used women’s images as an echo of the times to promote the ideology of nationalism, in contrast to the old stereotype of women being miserable and vulnerable. On the one hand, it showed that the war required the mobilisation of all citizens, including women, and on the other, it implied that the country could turn the tide of battle and defeat its enemies in the war, just like the women in the stories completing their mission at all costs, thus inspiring the audience to defend their country together regardless of their gender and emulate the spirit of the women fighting against the odds, conveying the message that only perseverance can lead to the final victory, promoting patriotism and national sentiment, encouraging more people to join the war effort, and thus serving the purpose of political propaganda.

However, the image of the ideal woman in national security films is not just the brave and courageous woman engaging in the war away from home. Still, some women are homemakers, taking care of the family while their husbands fight in the war. They still maintain the traditional image of the ideal woman who would stand behind her other half without a doubt while he is away fighting in the war. The film Lifeline released in 1935, is an example of this.[13] This type of film suggests that when the man is at war, the woman’s primary role is to take care of all domestic matters for him and to look after his parents and children until he returns from the battlefield. Although this differs from the idea of supporting women to fight alongside men in the war, it still reflects the diversity of social perceptions of women’s role in the war.

Conclusion: Reflection of the Times on the Diverse Images of the Ideal Woman – Conflict and Compatibility

The above examples all reflect a great diversity in the images of the ideal woman in different films. In social ethics films, the two main types of female images are the traditional and the modern ideal woman. In the national security films, the independent and self-empowered woman is the main focus, transforming from the family woman to the woman who voluntarily takes part in the war and even fights on the battlefield as an equal to men. Therefore it is evident that in a time of change, the diverse images of the ideal woman derived from the different aims and consciousnesses in society were reflected abundantly in cinema at the time, not only conveying different aspects of female consciousness but also using their stories and experiences as a medium to educate the public on ethics and promote the ideology.

These images have conflicting aspects, but deep down, they share a compatible spirit. Whereas the most traditional ideal woman is inevitably attached to her family, the modernised values suggest that the ideal woman must break away from such norms, fulfil herself, and be patriotic on a social and national level. But the core of the spirit is the same – behind the different ideal images are demands for women to be caring, loyal and willing to sacrifice. The films often present women’s noble characters through their devotion to a particular target, but the target extends from love for the family to love for the country, and women’s life planning, originally limited to the family, extends to the fulfilment of self within the framework of society and the country, allowing them to show more potentials based on the same qualities and spirit.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ideal female image reflected in the films of the 1930s. In fact, based on different periods, backgrounds, genres and filmmakers, the kind of female consciousness expressed in the film is different, and there may not be just one female image in a film, just as male and female filmmakers can have very different visual and approaching points about women’s stories. That being said, only Esther Eng and Wan Hoi-ling are among the relatively famous female filmmakers of the time, but since there is very little visual information left of them, it is difficult to make an in-depth comparison, thus the films selected in this article are all works of male filmmakers. The diversity of female images in Hong Kong cinema in the 1930s is inexhaustible and cannot be fully documented here, but after all, it is the diverse imaginations of women at different times that created such a great variety of female images and representations.

References

Yip, H. (葉漢). (1999). Zhuti de zhuixun: Zhongguo funu shi yanjiu xilun (Searching the subjectivity: Research on the history of Chinese woman, 主體的追尋:中國婦女史硏究析論). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Educational Publishing Company Ltd (in Chinese).

Zhao, W. (趙衛). (2007). Hong Kong film history (1897-2006) (香港電影史:1897-2006). Beijing: China Radio and Television Press (in Chinese).

Zhou, C. (周承) & Li, Y. (李以). (2005). Early Hong Kong film history (1897-1945) (早期香港電影史(1897-1945). Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (Hong Kong) Company Limited (in Chinese).

Yu, M. (余慕). (1996). Xianggang dianying shihua (juan er): Sanshi niandai (A Hong Kong film history (Vol. 2), 1930s, 香港電影史話(卷二):三十年代). Hong Kong: Sub-Culture Ltd. (in Chinese).

Wong, S. (黃淑) & Kwok, C. (郭靜) (Eds.). (2020). Hong Kong filmography Vol I 1914–1941 (Rev. Ed.). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive (in Chinese).

Yau, C. (). (2015). The difficulty of imagining southern women/China in modernity (現代(女)性之蜀道難). In W. Fu & M. Ng (Eds.), Early cinematic treasures rediscovered. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, pp.4-11.

Chin, A. S. (2012). Bound to emancipate: Working women and urban citizenship in early Twentieth-century China and Hong Kong. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[1] Chin, A. S. (2012). Bound to emancipate: Working women and urban citizenship in early Twentieth-century China and Hong Kong. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[2] The public and the media were very critical of the new female profession at the time, for details: Chin, A. S. (2012). Bound to emancipate: Working women and urban citizenship in early Twentieth-century China and Hong Kong. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[3] Yip, H. (葉漢). (1999). Zhuti de zhuixun: Zhongguo funu shi yanjiu xilun (Searching the subjectivity: Research on the history of Chinese woman, 主體的追尋:中國婦女史硏究析論). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Educational Publishing Company Ltd., 118 (in Chinese).

[4] Zhao, W. (趙衛). (2007). Hong Kong film history (1897-2006) (香港電影史:1897-2006). Beijing: China Radio and Television Press, 50 (in Chinese).

[5] Zhou, C. (周承) & Li, Y. (李以). (2005). Early Hong Kong film history (1897-1945) (早期香港電影史(1897-1945). Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 37 (in Chinese).

[6] Yu, M. (余慕). (1996). Xianggang dianying shihua (juan er): Sanshi niandai (A Hong Kong film history (Vol. 2), 1930s, 香港電影史話(卷二):三十年代). Hong Kong: Sub-Culture Ltd., 126 (in Chinese).

[7] Zhao, W. (趙衛防). (2007). Hong Kong film history (1897-2006) (香港電影史:1897-2006). Beijing: China Radio and Television Press, 52 (in Chinese).

[8] The film tells the story of the female protagonist who, after being abandoned by her husband, replaces him as the leading role in the family, taking on the task of maintaining the family order and acting as the central force in bringing the broken family back together and making the husband return to the family. For details: Wong, S. (黃淑) & Kwok, C. (郭靜) (Eds.). (2020). Hong Kong filmography Vol I 1914–1941 (Rev. Ed.). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 27 (in Chinese).

[9] Zhao, W. (趙衛防). (2007). Hong Kong film history (1897-2006) (香港電影史:1897-2006). Beijing: China Radio and Television Press, 52 (in Chinese).

[10] The film tells the story of the female protagonist who runs away after being forced by her brother to marry a rich man and is later wooed by a narrow-minded, remarried rich man. Recognising the lack of reliability of marriage, she decides to pursue her career in education and work hard to help oppressed women. For details: Wong, S. (黃淑嫻) & Kwok, C. (郭靜寧) (Eds.). (2020). Hong Kong filmography Vol I 1914–1941 (Rev. Ed.). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 62 (in Chinese).

[11] Yau, C. (). (2015). The difficulty of imagining southern women/China in modernity (現代(女)性之蜀道難). In W. Fu & M. Ng (Eds.), Early cinematic treasures rediscovered. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 6 (in Chinese).

[12] The story is about the heroine attempting to get close to her ex-lover, who turns out to be a traitor, by means of a fake divorce, and killing him in the process of seduction. She is the mastermind behind who, facing her husband’s questioning at first, says that even though she is a woman, she can still serve her country, and in the process, she sacrifices her virtue to approach the traitor and his men, and eventually, her identity is exposed, and she dies with them. For details: Wong, S. (黃淑嫻) & Kwok, C. (郭靜寧) (Eds.). (2020). Hong Kong filmography Vol I 1914–1941 (Rev. Ed.). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 113 (in Chinese).

[13] The story is about the male protagonist who wants to save his country by building a railway, and his wife supports him without a doubt, taking care of his son and his mother. For details: Wong, S. (黃淑嫻) & Kwok, C. (郭靜寧) (Eds.). (2020). Hong Kong filmography Vol I 1914–1941 (Rev. Ed.). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 20 (in Chinese).



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