Hero (2002). Directed by Zhang Yimou

Unity is the theme of Hero, the grand political film directed by Zhang Yimou, who with Steven Spielberg will direct the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games. Unity is also a core theme of Chinese culture and history, and, as this film shows, a central political goal of Chinese rulers for several thousand years. Even in the Warring States period (475–221 bce), when the film is set, the goal of unity preoccupied ambitious Chinese nobles. The film focuses on negotiations between the ruler of Qin, one of the states competing for supremacy (and the eventual victor), and a nameless public official in the ruler’s palace. The official presents himself as a warrior who has killed three assassins, thereby protecting the ruler. His recounting of his deeds is shown in action sequences of dramatic sword fights between the warrior and the assassins. The ruler then announces that he believes that the warrior is himself an assassin, and the ruler’s version of events is also shown in dramatic action sequences. The warrior reveals his true intentions, and the ruler allows the warrior to approach to within ten paces, close enough to kill or be killed. Will he kill the ruler? His decision reflects the fundamental Chinese values of duty, honor, and the subordination of self interest to the greater good.

The scenery and action sequences are stunning. The size of the Qin army (some 100,000 men strong) and its organization and discipline show how even in the distant past, China’s major resource was its people. While Hero is about events that took place over two thousand years ago, the focus on need for unity and the behavior required to maintain it remain salient in modern China. In the Warring States Period unity was blocked by state interests; today it is challenged by divisions between China’s urban and rural populations, between the rich and poor, between the Han Chinese majority and national minorities, and between the north and south and east and west. The same, of course, might be said about the entire human community.

Source: Movies and More: Hero. (2006). Guanxi: The China Letter, 3, 7.