Author Archives: sberube

Viewing blue as a Bridge in Hero


Scene: Yimou, Hero (2003).

Zhang Yimou’s  film Hero tells the story of Nameless, a warrior who attempts, with the help of three assassins, to kill the King. As the story unfolds, the king unravels Nameless’ plot piece by piece in increasing detail. There are three main phases of the film characterized by three different colors. The first phase is characterized by red, it is a story of betrayal specifically between the assassins Flying Snow and Broken Sword that leads to Nameless defeating the assassins, this part of the story happens to be untrue. The second phase, characterized by blue scenes and costumes, tells the story of love and sacrifice between Flying Snow and Broken Sword, however, still presumes that Nameless is attempting to defeat the two assassins to save the King. The final phase of the story is characterized by white and tells the true story of how Flying Snow and Broken Sword sacrifice themselves to give Nameless the opportunity to assassinate the King. The Scene depicted above is part of the blue phase, it shows a fight on the water between Broken Sword and Nameless while Flying Snow lies dead. In this scene the color blue, present in the surroundings and the costumes acts as a narrative bridge between the radical lie that Nameless tells the king and the whole truth of the plot to assassinate the king.


The fight takes place on the lake itself, with a dance like quality to the movement over the surface of the lake.  The entire scene takes place in a blue surroundings, which stands in stark contrast to the red forest in the first part of the story and the white surroundings, specifically the desert, in the last scene. If we consider the symbolism of the blue surroundings (the lake) we can consider that it acts as a bridge between the lush forest, often a symbol of life, and the stark desert, often a symbol of death. The blue tones of the scene are carried through the water and symbolize the partial truth of the story that Nameless presents to the king in the blue phase.


The blue of Flying Snow and Broken Sword’s costumes further bridges the narrative between the initial lie that Nameless tells and the final truth about the plot to assassinate the king associated with the white costumes. More specifically, Flying Snow and Broken Sword share a similar blue hue while Nameless is portrayed in a black costume. This highlights the notion that at this moment in the plot, the viewer and the king understand that Flying Snow and Broken sword, in their commitment to each other, are willing to sacrifice their lives to fulfill a greater goal. However, the narrative has not yet revealed that Nameless too is part of the plot to assassinate the king.  In this scene his black costume, in contrast to the blue background and costumes, portrays Nameless as the outsider or opposing force to Flying Snow and Broken Sword’s plan to assassinate the king. Eventually Nameless adopts a blue costume and begins to reveal his intentions to unify with the three other assassins in order to kill the king. In this way the colors and costumes of this scene serve as a bridge between the fragmentation between characters, specifically Nameless from the three assassins and Broken Sword and Flying Snow from each other and the unification at the end of the narrative not only between the three assassins but of all of China under one king.

clear and persuasive


Beauty: a class issue

enhanced-buzz-3068-1372866885-8 ICON magazine 2015 - chinese

Advertisement on the left taken from Vogue January 2013, advertisement on the right taken from ICON magazine 2015.

These two advertisements were taken from women’s magazines in China, the one on the right was taken from ICON magazine a Singaporean fashion publication that has been locally established throughout China and the one on the left was taken from Chinese Vogue. In their article, Frith and Yeng describe the difference between locally based publications and multinational publications with a foothold in China. In their estimation, while both groups of publishers rely on advertisement, local publications rely more heavily on mass circulation, while international publications such as Vogue rely on advertisement to secure revenue. Owing to this difference, many local publications have a slightly less high end quality to them, specifically they cater to lower to middle class women while international publications cater to higher class women (1). The difference in these two advertisements, when considered in this context, demonstrates the notion that beauty is a class issue in China and a woman’s ability to conform to beauty standards depends on her ability to afford self alterations.

sound statement 

Content of the advertisement: The advertisement on the right shows a product that alters skin appearance making it appear younger and more pale. The advertisement is cluttered with information about price and  how to obtain the product, which presumes that people to whom this advertisement is targeted, lower to middle class Chinese women, would seek this product out and use it. why? This is in direct contrast to the advertisement from Vogue, which provides no information about the product, in fact it is not clear exactly what product (the dress or the bag) the advertisement features. The name of the company figures prominently at the top of the advertisement but there is no price, store location or phone number. This suggests that this advertisement is not directed at clients who will expressly seek out the product and use it, but rather it is selling a way of life or a persona. In other words, the advertisement presumes that upper class have everything they could need to be beautiful and now are just looking to personify a way of life associated with this beauty.

Choice of models: The difference in the two models further demonstrates the connection between class and beauty. The model on the left appears both younger, specifically because of her “baby face”, and more pale than the one on the right. This fits in with the obsession with paleness and the notions of nennu and shunu that seem to be central to the Chinese notion of beauty. The simple fact that the advertisement targeted towards wealthier women displays the two main ideals of Chinese beauty while the advertisement targeted towards lower to middle class women seems to be striving for these ideals without actually attaining them demonstrates that beauty and wealth are strongly connected, particularly when self-alteration seems to be such a widespread beauty ritual in China.

please elaborate “self-alteration?”

In conclusion, the difference in the layout and content of the advertisments as well as the models themselves, clearly demonstrates the trend that while lower and middle class women seem to constantly strive to meet beauty ideals with various products, upper class women have the resources alter themselves and meet these standards, making beauty a fundamentally class based issue.

(1)Transnational and cultural flows: An analysis of women’s magazines in China, Frith and Feng. Chinese Journal of Communication. 2(2) July 2009, 159-173.

both statement and structure are clear. The issue of class could be further investigated.

Uniformity and Heightened Status among Students in Maoist China


Students at Beijing University, Joseph, William, Collection: “Serve the People!” 1972.

Above is a photo of students at Beijing University listening to a history lecture. This photo was taken in 1972 by William Joseph a political science professor at Wellesley college as part of a series called “Serve the people! Images of daily life in China during the Cultural Revolution”. Professor Joseph visited China as a member of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, a committee dedicated to the improvement of Chinese-American relations (1). Despite the relative uniformity of all the students which can be observed through the blue and green colors of clothing as well as the masculinization of the female students, the heightened status of the Red Guards is still evident and clearly displays their importance in Chinese society during the Cultural Revolution thus revealing a contradiction between the desire for uniformity and the elevation of certain members of society as Red Guards.

First, the presence of a ‘uniform’ is evident in this classroom setting through the blue and green colors. Although there are slightly different hues of blue and green, which is likely due to individuals making their own ‘uniforms’ with available materials, nobody deviates drastically from the the norm of blue and green clothing which is striking evidence of uniformity. Moreover, since all clothing bears the same box-like shape with a high collar and long sleeves, there is no evident distinction between male and female bodies which only furthers the sense of uniformity among the students. Additionally, the women all either have short hair or tightly pulled back hair which erases any remaining traces of gendered bodies and normalizes everyone to a masculine standard. little more comments on the political indication of this “uniform”

However, despite the general uniformity, the Red Guards stand out from others signifying their importance. First the patches of red on their collars and hats stand in stark contrast to the sea of blue and green and serve to distinguish the red guards from ordinary students. Second, the hats on the red guards seem to increase their height relative to other students thus literally and figuratively elevating them among the crowd. Finally, the uniforms of the red guards seem to be better tailored, made of better cloth and generally of higher quality than their peers. All of these elements converge to signal the heightened and important status of the red guards above other students. the political status of the red guards?

There seems to be an interesting contradiction between the strong uniformity of the garments worn by students and the distinct contrast of the red guard uniforms. During the Cultural Revolution the individual was devalued in favor of the larger group and thus uniformity was a fundamental component of society so it seems contradictory that certain individuals would be elevated to a higher status(2). Specifically because, as is evidenced in Professor Joseph’s image, these individuals seemed to break the uniformity of the rest of the crowd.

However, an important factor, which could change the interpretation of this image, is the potential for bias. Although Professor Joseph is an academic and thus presumably educated on the subject of Chinese culture and society his position as an outsider and specifically a westerner certainly created a bias in the way he chose to capture images of daily life during the Cultural Revolution.

there were no schools in those days and the colleges were only open to “workers, peasants, and soldiers.” we may see the class identity from what they wear.


(2)Li Li (2010) Uniformed Rebellion, Fabricated Identity: A Study of Social History of Red Guards in Military Uniforms during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Beyond, Fashion Theory, 14:4, 439-469

Qipao’s role in Advertisement


Left image taken from:, artist unknown, date unknown.

Right image taken from :, artist unknown, date unknown.

Since the early 1900s qipao has appeared in Chinese advertisements. In some cases, the advertisements and the qipao itself exhibits distinctly western influences and in other cases, in a nod to Chinese nationalism, the qipao appears to be more traditional. Certainly, as Ellen Liang describes in her article, the qipao evolved throughout the 1900s with the changes in China’s relationship with the outside world. Specifically, when China exhibited openness to the west in the early 1910s the qipao exhibited more western qualities, while later when the antiforeign National Goods Movement began the qipao exhibited a more traditional style. (1)  Despite changes in qipao style fluctuating with the changes in China’s political and cultural reality, the role of the qipao in advertising has remained constant. Beginning in the 1900s and continuing to present day, the qipao is used in advertisements to sexualize women and by extension the products they display, a consistently effective tactic in selling products.

brief the intro as not much room for it

In both the vintage and modern advertisements the woman’s body is highlighted with the color of the qipao.  In the older advertisement for the cigarettes, the bright orange color and pattern of the qipao stands out distinctly from the background of the advertisement, immediately drawing the viewer’s attention to the model’s body. In the modern advertisement, the shiny gold also draws the reader’s eye immediately to the woman’s body and the sash whose color also stands out from the dark background further highlights the the small waist of the woman, a tool typically used to sexualize woman. In these ways, the colors of both dresses highlight the women and specifically make their bodies the focus of the advertisement thus sexualizing them and the product they are displaying.

In both advertisements the form fitting nature of the dress further highlights the woman’s body and further contributes to sexualizing the woman and by extension the product. However, one distinct component of the modern advertisement is that the woman’s body has become so objectified and thus sexualized that her face is no longer visible. It seems that the woman’s body in the vintage advertisement had not yet been sexualized to the same degree because while her body is central to the advertisement it is not highlighted at the expense of the face as it is in the modern advertisement. In fact, the vintage advertisement highlights the woman’s face with bright cheeks and pulled back hair.

Analysis of these two advertisements reveals the qipao’s key role in sexualizing women particularly in the context of marketing products. This tactic has clearly been used since the advent of modern advertising in the early 1900s to increase the desirability of a product by associating it with a sexually enticing woman. However, it seems, according to the extensive analysis of the qipao done by both Ellen Liang and Matthew Chen that this could be a perversion of the qipao as a symbol of traditional Chinese culture perpetuated by the advertising industry. Moreover, considering the qipao’s rich historic background particularly, in some historical contexts, as an empowering article of clothing for women, its use in marketing as a way of sexualizing women seems to be especially problematic. see that happens if use this paragraph as introduction

Works Cited:

(1) Ellen Liang, “Visual evidence for the evolution of politically correct dress for women in early twentieth century Shanghai”, Nan Nu, 5.1 (2003): 69-114.

Concealment in the practice of footbinding


“Chinese woman with bound feet”, painting on glass, 19th century. Taken from Artstor, original source University of California San Diego.

This nineteenth century painting depicts a Chinese woman with bound feet sitting on a small piece of furniture in a minimally decorated room. Records indicate that the painting was found in China, however the nationality of the artist and the subject of the painting are unknown. Since westerners were already frequenting China and had already been exposed to footbinding it is possible that this painting is a western interpretation of the practice which, as Dorothy Ko explains in her article on western views of footbinging, could certainly influence the messages inherent in the painting (1). Although the room surrounding the woman is minimally decorated and somber, the ornate silk clothing with delicate embroidery, fine jewelry and fan in the woman’s hand as well as the ornamentation on the delicately carved side table suggests that the subject of the painting is of relatively high class in Chinese society. The position and relative size of the woman’s shoes indicate the importance of concealment inherent in the practice of footbinding and suggest that the concealment of the feet is the primary purpose of the ritual. sound claim

The colors of this painting are intentionally matched to convey the notion of concealment of the feet. The backdrop of the painting is black which is carried through the woman’s hair, as well as the side table, and the embroidery on the woman’s clothing. This backdrop gives the painting a somber mood. The white section of the woman’s clothing as well as her pale face stands in stark contrast to the black background drawing attention to the upper half of the body. The blue present in both woman’s pants and coat sleeves provides a contrast to the black and white upper half of the woman’s body but blends slightly into the blue chair which de-emphasizes the woman’s lower half. The wide pant legs not only make the feet appear extremely small but also diminish their importance relative to the rest of the woman’s body. Moreover, the shoes seem to blend into the red floor making them even less noticeable particularly relative to the white that stands in stark contrast to the black background in the upper half of the painting. The difference between the shoe color and the pant leg color also suggest that the shoes are not part of the woman’s body, almost as though they are small objects, not belonging to the woman but rather symbols representing an ideal of femininity. This matches Dorothy Ko’s explanation of the body being viewed as a part of the cosmos and not as parts belonging to an individual(2).

The relative size of the shoes particularly to the pant leg size not only emphasizes the importance of concealment in the practice of footbinding, it also emphasizes the idealized nature of bound feet. By using illusions to further reduce the size of the feet beyond the actual practice of footbinding the artist suggests that the central purpose of the ritual is to present a certain vision of femininity to the outside world, one wherein the feet themselves are concealed and replaced with an image of small well decorated parcels. why concealment?

In these ways the painting uses contrasting and blending colors as well as relative sizes to define an idealized notion of what it means to be a Chinese woman in the 19th century and central to this notion is the concealment of bound feet.

-Sophie B.


(1)Dorothy Ko (1997) Bondage in Time: Footbinding and Fashion Theory, Fashion Theory, 1:1, 3-27

(2)Dorothy Ko (1997) The Body as Attire: The shifting Meanings of Footbinding in Seventeenth Century China, Journal of Women’s History, 8:4, 8-27.