The Hero’s Journey

Published: 2021-07-02 02:52:16
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Category: China, Journey, Hero Journey

Type of paper: Essay

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The Hero’s Journey In recent centuries, China has been subject to many foreign powers even on its own soil. In times of low national pride, martial art masters such as Ye Wen and Huo Yuanjia became national heroes, inspiring the Chinese people to prove their worth to visiting foreigners and preserve their sovereignty. Through a comparative study of heroic martial artists in the recent Chinese films Ip Man(?? ) and Jet Li’s Fearless (??? ), this paper will explore how the stories that they tell relate to and critically reflect the “Hero’s Journey” narrative pattern identified by American Scholar Joseph Campbell.
Campbell’s 2008 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces provides a theoretical frame for this paper. We will study how these martial artists’ personal stories inspire their community and the nation to overcome great hardship and how the filmic representation of their images represents the self-image of China as a nation. Drawing a parallel between these heroic images and China’s own journey toward self-reliance and national regeneration, this paper will argue that the narrative pattern of “A Hero’s Journey” could also project a meaningful reading of China’s own trajectory of social and economic growth as a nation.
The first film that this paper studies, Jet Li’s Fearless takes place in the early 1900’s, half a century after the Opium Wars have resulted in China giving up territory to Western powers as well as diminished their rule over foreigners in Chinese cities. In this historical period, Western powers look down on the Chinese as the weak men of Asia. Likewise, despite his father being a martial arts master, Huo Yuanjia is not permitted by his father to practice wushu because of his asthma.

After his father’s death, Yuanjia is able to practice wushu openly and begins to build his reputation as the “best of Tianjin. ” Huo Yuanjia’s call to adventure comes after tragedy strikes his family. Yuanjia is led by one of his disciples to believe that another martial artist, Master Qin, has beaten him without provocation. In the ensuing confusion, Yuanjia kills Master Qin and Master Qin’s nephew in turn kills Yuanjia’s wife and daughter. This personal tragedy can be contextualized in the historical period knows as the Boxer Rebellion.
China’s reluctance to accept western ideals, specifically its rejection of Christianity, led to irrevocable conflict across the country in which many innocent people lose their lives. As portrayed by the film, one of China’s major weaknesses was its inability to adapt as the world around it modernizes and westernizes. A hero is not without mentors and ultimately must work to gain a treasure, which can then be used to transform the world. Huo Yuanjia is humbled by the tragedy that struck his life and learns to accept guidance from many around him.
In a small mountain village he is taught how to live in harmony with nature. Upon returning to Tianjin, he visits his old friend Nong Jinsun with a changed heart. Yuanjia knows that China’s image is in desperate need of refreshing and asks his friend to pay his way to challenge O’Brien, the US boxing champion, in Shanghai. Huo Yuanjia then undergoes many tests, finding allies and enemies along the way. He is invited to dinner and tea on occasion. The first invitation comes, again, from his friend Nong Jinsun.
The two agree that China must realize the gravity of their situation and reunite to take back their sovereignty. Jinsun knows that Yuanjia can unify the country through martial arts and is so dedicated to the idea that he sells his successful restaurant in order to help open the Jingwu Sports Federation. Later, Yuanjia has tea with an arranged challenger, Anno Tanaka. Tanaka is prideful of his knowledge and taste for differentiating various grades of tea. In perhaps the deepest line of the film, Yuanjia explains to Tanaka that the tea does not judge itself, but people judge it, placing one above the other.
In contrast, Yuanjia believes that the all tea is made equal by nature and the taste of the tea will reflect the attitude of the drinker. As for martial arts, there isn’t one superior style, but varying degrees of skill in each style. This explains China’s endangered situation at the time of the movie. The Chinese style of government and nationalism simply couldn’t withstand the pressure of outside forces. Finally, the hero Huo Yuanjia must be severely tested in order to be purified by a last sacrifice.
According to the film Fearless, Yuanjia’s sacrifice is literal. In a contest against four opponents, he is poisoned, even as he is near victory. China has its own internal conflict. Although the internal struggle was largely put on hold during the Second World War, the Chinese Communist and Nationalist Parties divided China one more time before it could finally be united under Mao Zedong’s communist government. Tanaka declares Yuanjia the victor as he dies and becomes a hero behind which the Chinese can unite to fight the foreign influence.
Resonating the theme of heroism and nationalism, the movie Ip Man is a great tribute to Ip Man, a great leader of China by example of his determination to achieve justice. This story takes place in Foshan, Guangdong region before and during the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s. This invasion leaves a lot of Chinese people to be wrongly treated and also have an inappropriate and improper view of the actuality in strength that China has as a whole especially in numbers. What good can a high amount of people be if they aren’t all governed by the same organized and directive laws?
The importance of effective and self-sufficient leadership is great and can be shown through the life of heroes like the martial artist Ip Man, a visionary leader of the Chinese people, who was able to bring hope, direction and most importantly greater unity to the local Chinese community Ip Man was a very important and influential master of Kong Fu in the history of China. Taking his heroic life and comparing it with the “Hero’s Journey” will allow readers to perceive what affects a Heroic figure had on a historical nation such as China.
According to Joseph Campbell, there are various stages in the narrative pattern of “A Hero’s Journey. ” The most important are: one, “The Ordinary World”; two, “The Call To Adventure”; three, “Refusal of The Call”; four, “Meeting with the mentor”; five, “Tests, Allies and Enemies”; six “The Ordeal”; seven, “The Road Back”; and lastly, eight, “Return With The Elixir”. In Ip Man, the first stage, “The Ordinary World”, is presented as the earlier life of Ip Man. He is extremely accomplished in traditional Chinese martial arts and lives a quite life.
As an ordinary person, he has no desire to become a master and teach others. Corresponding to Stage two, “The Call To Adventure,” Ip Man is brought to pass as the Japanese are introduced as invading China, which caused numerous Chinese to live in perilous conditions. Ip Man, as well, lost his home and many personal belongings. In a scene of the film, a Japanese General invites Chinese locals to challenge Japanese martial artists using their own styles of Kong Fu to judge which national martial arts are more powerful.
The intersection between personal and national crisis is escalated in the third stage, corresponding to Campbell’s narrative pattern “Refusal of the Call”, when Ip Man chooses to fight against 10 Japanese fighters at once due to the very recent murder of his close friend. He triumphs at last, conquering his challengers. When he reviews this experience with his wife, he comments that his Kong Fu has no use in this current unfortunate situation for his country-men and friends since the whole nation is in a larger, much more dangerous and critical condition.
Later a Chinese officer who later works as the interpreter for the Japanese brings the Japanese military to find Ip Man. This is when the fifth stage is visible, “Tests, Allies and Enemies”. Ip Man could see the apparent intentions that one Japanese officer had towards his wife. To save himself and his family from danger, Ip Man fights against all the soldiers and finally manages to flee. The story later progresses into stage six “The Ordeal”, when Ip Man dares to face the Japanese General in a fight to see whose Kong Fu can prevail.
At this time Ip Man understands that whether he wins or loses, he is doomed to be unfairly killed. However, he knows that the dignity and glory of his nation rests on him and is dependent on his victory. Ip man then greatly triumphed in this match up, and the large crowd mostly consisting of Chinese locals cheered and chanted, “Ip Man, Ip Man…” but then out of nowhere a Japanese Colonel shot Ip Man, and seemed to have killed him, but luckily he lived on.
Finally, corresponding to Stage seven, “The Road Back”, the film shows Ip Man willingly sacrificing himself to protect the workers in the cotton factory, when revealing his genuine care for them, his countrymen. Lastly, stage eight, “Return with the elixir” is that Ip Man finally establishes his belief that Chinese martial arts is founded in Confucian spirit, the essence of which is benevolence. This corresponds to the eighth stage in the Campbell narrative pattern, the return with the elixir, which to Ip Man, is this spirit of benevolence. This, the elixir is a treasure that the Hero brings back from his journey.
It can be physical or an idea. In most wushu films, the elixir can best be compared to attaining a zen-like state where the hero gains internal peace and harmony with the world around him. To conclude, as a part of the Hero’s Journey, the hero must obtain some form of treasure or elixir. For Huo Yuanjia, the treasure was discovering the essence of wushu. Before his journey, Yuanjia was certainly a strong martial artist, but through his journey, he realized that the true power in martial arts is the ability to avert conflict and better oneself.
For Ip Man, the true lesson that he obtained was that you must cherish your abilities using them for good and that even one person can accomplish great things as an example to others, causing many people to unite and become great. As a nation with dramatic changes in the recent decades, China has recently learned this lesson power in unity and good leadership as well. In 1971, The People’s Republic of China gained a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Since then, China has worked peacefully to become a world power, with an average annual GDP growth rate of nearly 10 percent in the last 20 years.
And finally, Beijing had the honor of hosting the world’s athletes in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. China has grown into a world power, and as any hero knows, with great power comes great responsibility. Through this process that is found through a hero’s journey, the audience are also invited to explore the importance of these heroes and their entire process of becoming real heroes and draw lessons from them. The same is true for China as a nation that may grow and progress by learning from the empowering examples of heroes on screen such as Ip Man and Huo Yuanjia. .

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