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Zhang Yang 张扬

Zhang Yang’s bittersweet tragi-comic film Shower (1999) presents a vision of self-care and informal mutual aid among the mostly elderly male clients of a somewhat dilapidated, unpretentious bath-house in an old Beijing hutong neighbourhood which is in sharp contrast to the hurried, mechanical and totally impersonal forms of amenity and cleanliness offered by the fast-paced, money-and technology-dominated world of contemporary China.

Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)


Zhang Yang (b. 1967) is one of the best-known of the so-called 'Sixth' or 'Urban Generation' of Chinese film-makers. Ever since his directorial debut in the late 1990s, he has demonstrated a consistent talent for addressing sensitive themes of interest to the mainstream Chinese public in easily accessible, entertaining and politically acceptable ways, without falling foul of the censorship. Following his directorial debut with Spicy Love Soup 爱情麻辣烫 (Aìqíng Má Là Tāng) in 1997, Shower was Zhang Yang's second feature film, and from this point onwards, until recently, all his films have been variations on the classic Chinese 'family-separation' genre (lunli qingqing pian, or "ethical family-affection-language films"), which has been a recurring strand in Chinese-language theatre and cinema since the 1950s and even earlier. In this genre, just as in 'Shower', the family home - or, in this case, the family bath-house - frequently becomes the setting where conflicts between tradition and modernity are played out.

Although made on a very modest budget of US$350,000, with no very high expectation of domestic box-office success, Shower was favourably reviewed by many influential Western critics following its release at the Toronto International Film Festival in November 1999 and subsequently won a number of awards when screened in several Western film festivals in 1999-2001. For details of the production, cast, box office, awards, etc., see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shower_(film) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0215369/

Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)


In Old Liu’s bath-house, the regular customers enjoy the benefits of a person-centred culture of care based on the traditional creature comforts of the bath-house and the values of personal service, face-to-face contact, mutual aid and respect, and a broad measure of tolerance for the eccentricities, foibles and failings of others, mediated through the physical and spiritual healing powers of water and massage. The bath-house serves as a refuge from the modern world where the regular customers obtain relief from their aches and pains, gamble on fighting crickets, seek advice and guidance, or consolation, for their marital and domestic woes, imagine themselves as operatic tenors, exchange insults and pleasantries, and generally pass the time in relaxing and relatively healthful pursuits. In the process, they learn to understand and appreciate each others’ qualities and limitations and reaffirm and strengthen their common humanity. Both for the regular clientele and for Old Liu and his sons who minister to them, the bath-house is a kind of school in the art of living well which does as much to enhance their psychological and spiritual well-being as their bodily health. However, the therapeutic and life-nurturing culture of the bath-house, with its deep connection to nature and to the care and cure of the soul as well as the body, is also shown as fragile, vulnerable to the forces of social change and physical decay, limited by virtue of its exclusive homosociality, and doomed to extinction in face of the onslaughts of techno-modernity and wholesale urban redevelopment.

Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)


See 'Movie Context', above

  • What are the principal elements which make up the culture of self-care and mutual aid in traditional Chinese culture?
  • What are the forces which threaten to destroy that culture?
  • How does the film represent the broader Chinese culture of yangsheng, ‘the art of nurturing life’?
  • Are there any alternative settings or less fragile social ecologies in which alternative, more inclusive cultures of self-care might develop and flourish in the digital worlds of today and tomorrow?