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Word Count: 614
Zhang Yimous Raise the Red Lantern set in turn-of-the-century China before the Cultural Revolution is about a 19 year-old village woman named Songlian whose father has just died To support her stepmothers livelihood she agrees to be sold to a rich man named Chen as his Fourth Wife For generations the Chen family has consisted of one man surrounded by wives servants and children all living together in a vast estate with separate houses for the wives that are not much more than glorified bedchambers Every evening Chen and his wives take supper together in the family dining house After dinner there is a ceremony in which all the wives stand waiting outside their respective houses When Chen decides which one he will spend the night with the butler calls in a loud voice Raise the lantern over the 4th House 2nd House etc and servant men light the house whose occupant is to be honored by her husbands private company Chen is approaching the age of sixty and has long tired of his First Wife who is almost as old as he is When Songlian joins the family she becomes embroiled in a vicious rivalry among herself Second Wife Zhanyun and Third Wife Meishan She learns to compete with them for Chens favor a competition that involves subterfuge alliances secrets performance and manipulation She learns that her most important duty is to give Chen a son She learns that Zhanyun behind a sweet demeanor harbors a malicious jealousy of the other wives because she is growing old and has not borne a son She learns that Meishan a former opera singer and the next youngest besides Songlian herself is having an affair with the family doctor Dr Gao She learns of the existence of a death house in the compound where wives of past generations were hanged for adultery When she asks Chen about it he ridicules her and changes the subject
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