The meeting of cultures can cause shock and sometimes friction. Families shared between the United States and China are living these moments with ease or tearing them apart. Lulu Wang’s film “The Farewell” or the unrest caused by political tensions are good examples.
Beijing-born director Lulu Wang followed her parents to the United States at the age of six. The comedy “Farewell” has the Chinese title “别告诉她, Don’t tell her.” She’s telling a story, her story.
A family discovers that the grandmother has cancer. Instead of telling him the sad news, his sister decides not to tell him the truth. The children and grandchildren organize a fake wedding to return to China and see the grandmother again without arousing suspicion. The granddaughter Billi, raised in the United States, finds it hard to understand that people keep the truth from her grandmother that they don’t let her live her last days as she wishes. She will have to struggle with the will of her parents, who explain to her the importance of ensuring a happy end of life for the grandmother rather than plunging her into anguish. She is confronted with a Chinese practice that goes against what she, half American, half Chinese. A doctor even comes to explain that he has acted this way in his family. This film reminded me of certain episodes in China where people preferred to soften reality (see this article on subtlety).
I asked three Chinese friends what they thought. All of them told me that this is normal, and even one told me that his grandmother had left without knowing that she had cancer and that she had had a happy end to her life. Lulu Wang takes a non-judgmental look at cultural differences. It just shows these differences. Finally, the grandmother, who did not experience the anguish, will be saved from this disease. For the record, Lulu Wang’s grandmother learned that she had cancer with the release of this film, as the director tells in this interview. On the political front, let us hope that the end is also a happy one.
In the last few months, I have come across some Chinese-American families who are tearing each other apart on the subject. Some find that their relatives living in China are victims of propaganda that takes away their lucidity about the practices of the Chinese government, and others who remain in China think that the future lies on the Chinese side while complaining about the…American propaganda.
One son said to his mother, Meilan, who has been in Los Angeles for two decades: “Mom, you should go back to Beijing, China is becoming number one, there is no more pollution and we are living very well.”
She voted for Trump in 2016 and sometimes has stormy discussions with her own parents, who have lived through China’s recovery since 1949 and are very proud of it. Meilan’s mother even sent a very solemn message to her anti-Trump daughter: “Your father is asking you again to abstain from voting for Trump, he is too dangerous. You can express yourself differently. We’re against your choice, and it’s very harmful to China. We oppose him and hope he will lose in the elections! ».
These differences may be in conflict. Through listening and a desire to understand, we can lessen the differences and better appreciate both sides. At the political level, we often talk about Chinese propaganda, but we forget another kind of brainwashing sometimes in the West. Let’s not get caught in the trap!
17 June 2020