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Home  /  Inside China  /  Ermo (二嫫) - Women’s Independence, Men’s Impotence
Ermo (二嫫) - Women’s Independence, Men’s Impotence print version
The fascinating 1994 movie 'Ermo' 二嫫, discusses the story of a peasant woman, Ermo, in her quest to join the modern capitalist race. Ermo's initiative is induced by her veteran husband's metaphoric and physical impotence.
‘Ermo', a Zhou Xiaowen (周晓文) film (1994) is a story about a rural woman's (named Ermo) quest for independence and fulfillment of a modern, urban lifestyle. The ultimate symbol for such success in the eyes of Ermo is purchasing the biggest TV set sold in the county, sold in the town's electricity appliance store, which "even the county's municipal cannot afford".

The desire of becoming modern, reflected in the affinity to Western consumerism and in the transition from rural to urban (with all the relevant motifs) has been discussed in numerous forms of media and literature. What is most intriguing in Ermo is the man-woman relationship and its role in the development of Ermo's character.

Ermo is a vendor of dry noodles. Her husband is the former village chief (村长) who is older than her, with no physical strength and... impotent. The latter detail cannot be discounted, particularly due to the scarcity of Chinese films dealing with such topic. On the other hand there's xiazi (瞎子), Ermo's neighbor, a guy in his early 30's, full of initiative and a proud owner of a truck.

Is Ermo a feminist woman in the body of a poor peasant girl who wishes to break free? It doesn't seem that conducting a housewife's duties bothers Ermo so much, but rather the fact that her husband doesn't "play his role" according to traditional family life concepts. At night, after the herbal medicine fails again to recover her husband's potency, Ermo goes to prepare her noodles in a manner that is clearly seen as the releasing of her libido energy. In the most erotic shots of the movie Ermo is pressing down her noodle tool and releasing fresh noodles from the flour.

Her neighbor Xiazi helps Ermo to find a better earning job, drives her around from their small village to her work in town and even buys her fancy meals. Soon enough their relationship becomes romantic and Ermo becomes more and more obsessed with money and fulfilling a better lifestyle. In addition, she goes to visit her future TV set daily, a TV larger than the one owned by the annoying neighbor and the goal of her money making. No wonder that in the store the TV broadcasts western erotic scenes, since modern in this movie become a synonym to potent, and vice versa.

After Ermo owns enough money, she feels stronger, liberated, but she understands that Xiazi wishes to remain in the (manly) driver's seat and doesn't allow her to invite him for lunch and to become the decision maker. He is the most ‘modern' guy of the village, but he cannot be considered a content man; His wife is annoying, he doesn't have a son and has experienced a scandal after an acquaintance with a prostitute. Even his truck stopped working once he hastened to drive a wounded man to hospital.

Without giving out spoilers, let's say that Ermo finds out that money, a desired TV set, and the quest for modernism cannot truly liberate her. Perhaps this is a conclusion that promotes family values, or perhaps even strongly points out the dead end in a rural woman's route for independence.

In this movie in which progress means potency, relying on the past is impotency and modern is sexual there are still many additional subtexts which can be discussed.

Ermo can be viewed here.

Additional Source: Farquhar, Judith. 1999. "Technologies of Everyday Life: The Economy of Impotence in Reform China". Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 155-179.

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