Zhong Zhiwei, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Written by Zeng Xiba and directed by Zhang Zhongyi, Marriage was adapted from a 1967 Qideng Sheng short story of the same name. The TV production starred Ke Shuyuan and Zhang Fengshu as male and female protagonists Luo Yunlang and Zeng Meixia, respectively. The story opens with a wedding procession, accompanied by a strangely gloomy music, the celebrants’ expressions downcast and dispirited, paradoxes that hint at the tale’s tragic nature.
Thus, viewers understand that the wedding is actually a posthumous, or “ghost marriage,” 1 the black umbrella the matchmaker holds hinting that Zeng Meixia was bearing Luo Yunlang’s child at the time of her death – it was Meixia’s pregnancy that brought her relationship with Yunlang to light. Luo Yunlang and Zeng Meixia were in love and wanted to marry, but owing to class differences, their mothers adamantly opposed to the union, resulting in a series of romantic setbacks for the young lovers. Although they do their best to overcome difficulties, the story ends tragically: Zeng Meixia’s mother accuses Luo of seducing her daughter, and Luo’s mother promises – on her knees, begging for forgiveness – that her son will never again set eyes on Meixia if the girl’s mother retracts the charge. Lovesick, Meixia bursts into a dance party held in the Farmer’s Association, where Luo Yunlang is employed; there, in front of Luo and startled onlookers, she swallows pesticide, killing herself.
Marriage is part of the “Taiwan Writers’ Playhouse” series. Sponsored by the General Association of the Republic of China, the film project focuses on portraying Taiwanese situations and settings. The TV adaptation adds depth to the short story’s analysis of a woman’s inner struggles, bringing the small town environment to life – multistory houses, Chinese apothecaries, women’s traditional bedrooms, and village sights and sounds all add depth to the tale conflict between “free love” – the liberty to choose one’s own romantic partner – and arranged marriage in a conservative Taiwanese village.
The TV production brings a linguistic element to the story as well. When Luo Yunlang and Zeng Meixia are together they speak to each other in Mandarin, the “modern” language. But when conversing with parents and elders, they use “traditional” Taiwanese (Holo). Both languages belong to the self; therefore, is the self “traditional” or “modern?” Does one live for one’s self or for one’s family? These are the big questions Zeng Meixia’s suicide asks viewers to ponder.
TV Serial Marriage Video Clip (Source: Formosa Television Inc.)