The Story of Qiu Ju

There is no need to wonder about the motivation of the lead character in “The Story of Qiu Ju,” a 1992 Chinese language film directed by Yimou Zhang.  Li Gong plays the title character, a pregnant peasant woman seeking justice after her village chief kicks her husband.  The arrogant village chief (Kesheng Lei) refuses to admit he did anything wrong, even though Qiu Ju only wants him to apologize.  When he refuses, she goes to the village to report the incident to a minor official, Officer Le (Zhijun Ge).  Officer Le spends the rest of the movie playing the supreme mediator, but he cannot convince Qiu Ju to give up her quest for an apology.  For his part, the village Chief just wants to “save face,” and an apology would subject him to scorn and ridicule from other officials and the public.

Li Gong as the title character searches for justice in "The Story of Qiu Ju."

Li Gong as the title character searches for justice in “The Story of Qiu Ju.”

After failing to get satisfaction from Officer Le’s solution, Qiu Ju brings the case to “The District,” where she files a case against the Chief.  She pays 20 yuan to a letter writer, who asks her if she wants a mild letter or a strong one.  The letter writer warns her that a strong letter might lead to a much harsher sentence for the accused, so Qiu Ju opts for the mild letter.  Her actions should clear up the matter, but the District officials simply use the letter to uphold Officer Le’s original decision.

Still unsatisfied, Qiu Ju takes her case to “The City.”  The City (a big one, but not Beijing) is full of much more sophisticated people than Qiu Ju, who stands out as a country bumpkin as she plods around the crowded streets with her equally unsophisticated sister -in-law.  She’s come a long way, and is very pregnant, but it doesn’t take long for a crooked pedal-cart driver to cheat her out of a lot of Chinese Yuan.

The contrast between the petty arrogance of the Chief and Qiu Ju’s unrelenting quest for justice provides a satisfying profile of extreme stubbornness.  For most of the film, Qui Ju’s husband, a chili farmer, waits passively at home as his wife continually travels to find a solution.  He remains a non-factor in her quest, and the nature of the assault indicates his essential weakness.  Here we have a pregnant and unsophisticated woman in the new China grappling with an old tradition that requires officials to save face.  The Story of Qiu Ju is certainly an inspirational film, even though Qiu Ju’s quest might not necessarily achieve success.  Viewers of this film will admire her tenacity above everything else.

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