Gua Sha Treatment

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EFL Movie Study Guide for: The Gua Sha Treatment



Story After eight years of hard work in the US, Chinese immigrant Datong Zhu achieves a piece of the American Dream in St. Louis. But a series of accidents and misunderstandings throw his family into turmoil, and the Child Welfare Agency gets a restraining order to keep Datong away from his young son. For the rest of the movie we see the effect of cultural pride and prejudice (on many sides), and what happens when people dare to be open-minded about things they don’t understand. (drama, with Chinese subtitles only; 100 min)

Setting: St Louis in the central USA

Note: One of the themes of this movie is that “violence” is hard to define, and the definitions often relate to one’s culture or upbringing. The film opens by showing protesters who object to the excessive violence in video games. The protest is outside a video design award ceremony at which Datong Zhu (the main character) will receive an important reward. Datong’s wife asks what is going on, and Datong’s American boss says: “It’s that constitution thing again; free speech and all that.” He means that the people have the right to “assemble” in order to protest, and they have the right to say they object to the violence of his video games. Later, he says “the first amendment works both ways,” meaning that his company also has the right to express itself, even if others think the expression is violent. (See “First Amendment” below)

Another theme is the conflict, especially in Datong, between showing love and respect to his elderly father (who can’t speak English) and to his young son (who can’t speak Chinese).


People and proper nouns:

Datong Zhu: the main character; a video game designer

Dennis Zhu: Datong’s American-born young son

Datong’s wife (I didn’t catch her name)

Datong’s father (often called Ye-ye, or grandfather)

John Quinlan: Datong’s boss and best friend, an intellectual property rights lawyer

Paul Quinlan: John Quinlan’s son, and a playmate for Dennis

Child Welfare Agency: a government department, which can take charge of children in abusive or dangerous situations. Two social workers [government employees who care for people’s non-medical needs] in this film work there (a female boss, and her loud, unethical coworker)

First Amendment: This refers to an important part of America’s basic law, dating back to the nation’s foundation. The first amendment to the US Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


Nouns/verbs (vocabulary):

secondhand smoke: exhaled smoke that others must breathe

DOA: Dead on Arrival (Mr Huo died of a heart attack before any medical or police personnel arrived at the scene)

five or six stitches: sometimes the seriousness of a wound is measured by the number of “stitches” a doctor must use to sew it up.

for observation: the doctor says they will keep Dennis overnight “for observation,” which is a standard medical procedure when a child badly injures his head; they want to watch him closely overnight, with a doctor nearby in case there is hidden damage

foster home/foster care facility: a place where children stay temporarily, without parents or with “temporary” parents, while the child is under the protection of a court.

contempt of court: the crime of being disobedient or disrespectful to a court, punishable by big fines and/or time in jail

restraining order: an official court document that says someone can’t do something (often not be near a person or a place); if you violate a restraining order, the police will arrest you


Sentences/dialog from the movie: (see the bottom)



1. Look at dialog 2a. What is the “American Dream”?

2. How do we know that Datong loves his child?

3. When Datong raps his son on the head for direct, prolonged disobedience, Datong’s father quotes a proverb: “当面教子背后教妻” (Face to face correct your son; in the background correct your wife) Why did he say this? Was he agreeing with Datong’s actions, or scolding him?

4. What did Grandpa mean when he quoted this proverb to Dennis (though Dennis couldn’t understand the Chinese): (A hit is deep love, scolding is love; don’t hit, don’t scold, then don’t grow into a useful person)?

5. At one point, Datong’s wife asks: “Why is this happening to us? Where did we go wrong?” Tell your partner how you would answer those questions.


Sentences/dialog from the movie:

1. As Datong wins an award, his boss says: “Welcome to the big time, my friend.”

2a. Award acceptance speech (Datong): “I believed that if I worked hard enough, one day I’d become one of you, a truly successful American. …This [award] is my piece of the American Dream.”

2b. Mom (as she opens a window because Grandpa is smoking): Secondhand smoke is bad for Dennis.

    DT: Don’t you think our rule about speaking English when Dennis is home might make Dad uncomfortable?

    Mom: Dennis has applied to go to Chesterfield next year. Without a proper English-speaking environment, how is he going to get in?

2c: After Mom gets home, Grandpa says (in Chinese) that Dennis wasn’t feeling well so he gave him Gua-sha treatment.

    Mom: Why didn’t you give Dennis a pill?

    Grandpa: I couldn’t read the English on the medicine boxes.

    Later, DT appologized to his son for hitting him (see the “differences” section, #A).

    Dennis: You never hit me before. Dads who hit their kids aren’t good daddies. I’m sitting with Grandpa.

    DT explained to Grandpa that Dennis was still upset about being disciplined.

    Grandpa (in Chinese): 这么小心眼儿? (Why so narrow-minded?) Are you going to hold a grudge against your Dad? (then he “sings” this proverb) ” 打是亲骂是爱不打不骂不成材” (see translation below)

2d. Grandpa (in Chinese): I really didn’t expect to run into Mr. Luo today—we haven’t seen each other inover 10 years. He offered to take me to a gambling ship where we can get $15.

    DT: Not “get” but “win”; you can win.

2e. Teacher: Dennis hit Paul again at school, saying it was because “he loved him.”

    DT: He misunderstood something I said.

2f. DT (to police captain): What happened to his friend?

    Police: DOA (Dead on Arrival); he died; heart attack; it happens.

2g. (After DT picks up his Dad late at night; his son is home alone, asleep)

    Grandpa (in Chinese): Isn’t driving too fast against the law?

    DT: Dad, leaving a child alone is already against the law.

2h. Doctor: The wound is deep. Its going to require five or six stitches. We’ll need to keep him here tonight for observation.

    Nurse: Doctor, you’d better take a look at this. (She is looking at the effect of Gua-sha treatment.)

    Doctor: Notify the hospital social worker right away.

3a. Social worker: This child is under the supervision of the Child Welfare Agency (CWA) now. It is the opinion of the CWA that this child has suffered long-term abuse and neglect, so he is being moved to a state foster care facility. Forty-eight hours from now the court will convene a special hearing, and then you’ll be able to state your case. Prior to that time, if either of you come within 500 feet of your child you will be held in contempt of court.”

3b. Boss (John Quinlan): The anti-violence lobby put up a good fight, but the First Amendment words both ways. The judge ruled in our favor on all points. (Then DT says he needs John’s help because of the trouble at the hospital.) I’m an intellectual property rights lawyer, not family law. (That is, you need a different type of lawyer! But DT didn’t understand American law, so he wouldn’t listen.)

4a. After seeing the photos of Dennis’s back, showing the Gua-sha marks, DT told the judge that this was a traditional Chinese medical treatment. (then see 4b)

4b. DT: “Gua Sha is a traditional Chinese medical treatment.”

    Judge: “What does it say on every Missouri license plate?”

    DT: “Show me state”

    Judge: “Can you get an authoritative medical expert to back your testimony in plain English?”

    DT: “Yes, I can try.”

4c. Judge: Did you do this Gua-sha to your son?

    DT: Yes, I did. (even though Grandpa actually did it)

    Mom: No!

    DT (in Chinese to his wife): Don’t say anything; don’t forget we are trying to get Dad a green card.

5. When the judge said this case would go to trial, it meant that Dennis would not be able to be with his parents for many months. Datong Zhu’s lady-lawyer said: “The CWA’s entire case is aimed at you. There is a remote chance that they will let your son return home if you and your wife separate.” Legal “separation” is a step between marriage and divorce.

6. When the parents come home without Dennis, Grandpa begs to know what is happening.

    Grandpa (in Chinese): In China, I was known as an intellectual, but here I’ve become deaf and dumb [because I can’t use English]. Yet I have two good eyes. I’m old but I’m not frail. Please tell me about Dennis! (in tears) What is going on!? How long are you two going to deceive me?

    Then Mom breaks her promise (to DT) not to tell his father.

7. Boss: You shouldn’t have hit your son.

    DT: Why did I do it? To show respect to you. To give you face.

    Boss: What kind of twisted Chinese logic is that? You have to hit  your own son so you can show respect to me?

    DT: 道不同不相与谋 (see below)

8. DT returns home, trying to continue deceiving his dad, after his wife has explained things.

    Grandpa (in Chinese): 好儿子难得你一片孝心。(Good son; how rare is your filial piety.)

9. Mom: Why is this happening to us? Where did we go wrong?

    DT: I don’t know.

10. Grandpa (in Chinese, talking to Mr. Luo’s grave): 我想我怎么着都的来跟你聊聊不成。I’ve thought about this for days, and have decided to go back to China. Here, I can’t help take care of Dennis. I just bring everyone trouble. They’ve known Gua-sha in China for thousands of years, so why can’t it be understood in American?

11. Grandpa (in Chinese, in the car): Datong, you can’t move me. I’ve made up my mind. There are things to do there.

    DT: Dad, what are you talking about? Mom passed away. In Beijing you would be alone. I would be very worried.

    Gpa: Why worry? Everyone there speaks Chinese. I’d be with old friends. I would be very happy.

12: (In the airport, also in Chinese)

    DT: You’re too anxious. The plane won’t leave for over two hours.

    Gpa: Let your dad take a good look at you. (DT starts to weep.) At my advanced age, I don’t want to forget what you’ve grown up into. Your Dennis—I love him (starting to weep). I miss him; I know I can look at his photo…  Now look at me (crying).

    DT: Dad, wait for me here. I’ll be back soon. (Then DT brings Dennis to the airport to see Grandpa; even though he knows this is breaking the law.)

    Grandpa (to Dennis): Such a good boy. Grandpa’s going back to Beijing. I’ll really miss you!

    DT: Dad, we’re coming with you. I’ve been in America many years and made it my home, but now my home/family is so broken… Why should I stay here? In Beijing we can be reunited.

    Gpa: You have great prospects here. You want to run away? You want to abandon this lawsuit—pretend it never happened? How are you going to go back? You would still be an escaped criminal who had abused a child in America. Life is just sometimes like this. All kinds of things happen, whether or not you started them or can avoid them. But before you moved to America, didn’t you prepare to come face to face to difficulties? Datong, take Dennis back. Do what you said you would do. Raise the child to be an upright/fair-minded person with a bright future. (Datong looks out the window.) I’ll write after I get back to Beijing.

13. Lawyer: Since posting bail, Mr. Zhu has moved out and has fully complied with the court’s restraining order.

    Social worker: Our only concern is that your son have a safe home environment. If we discover that your husband has been around Dennis, the police will arrest him.

14. (Grandpa’s letter from Beijing): Son, I arrived safely. Don’t worry. This trip to the US, seeing the accomplishments you’ve achieved far from your old homeland, was really gratifying. I bought this book about Gua-sha in Beijing and I’m sending it to you. I heard on TV about a reference film about Gua-sha they are making. I asked somebody to get me a copy and soon I can also send that. I hope this quickly helps to resolve the problem. As for me, I’ve had a rough life… slipped into being an old man. I have no other request/prayer than that you three will know peace and safety.

15. Guard (DT tries to enter the apartment building, disguised as Santa): Mr. Zhu? You can be arrested on sight if you’re caught here! You’ve always been a good tenant, and you’ve never caused me any trouble, but I can get into deep shit if I help you violate your restraining order. Sorry.


A few Chinese idioms used in the film:

1. 留得青山在不怕没柴烧

2. 不可理喻 bùkělǐyù (be impervious to reason)

3. 道不同不相与谋 (people with different principles are ill-matched)

4. 异国他乡

5. 一生坎坷

6. 蹉跎成翁

7. 打是亲骂是爱不打不骂不成材(spare the rod and spoil the child)

8. 当面教子背后教妻 (Face to face correct your son; in the background correct your wife)

9. 赶早不赶晚 (the sooner the better)


How do differences between Chinese and American culture affect these situations:

A. Dennis hit Paul because Paul said Dennis’ dad was stupid. When Paul’s dad arrived, Dennis’ dad required Dennis to apologize for hitting Paul (though Datong didn’t know what started it).

B. The family’s decision to use “only English” when Dennis is home (though Grandpa didn’t understand English).

C. Datong’s decision to say that he gave Dennis the Guasha treatment, in order to protect his father.

D. Datong’s willingness to leave Dennis alone, asleep in bed. (In America, most parents will not let a child be alone—without an adult looking at him—until the child is eight or ten years old.)

E. Datong’s decision to immediately “drop everything” to pick his dad up from the police station (after Mr Huo died unexpectantly), even though it meant leaving Dennis alone, asleep in bed.

F. Datong’s decision not to tell his dad about what was really going on (to protect him from feeling responsible for Dennis’ detention, and because his dad was already feeling bad about Mr. Huo’s death, the non-Chinese culture around him, etc.).

G. The lawyer’s intentionally wrong depiction of Sun Wu Kong as a selfish, deceptive, “violent, all-powerful monkey” (to which DT reacts violently to defend the Monkey King as a “good-hearted compassionate, righteous hero who represents our traditional values and ethics”).

H. Datong’s decision to “kidnap” his son so that his father could see Dennis one last time (before returning to China), and so that they could all flee to China; and then his decision to drive the boy back (with a police escort) after his father told him to return the boy and keep fighting to get him back legally.

I. Datong’s decision to attack the mugger who stole his money and (more importantly) his child’s toy.

J. Datong’s decision to risk his life to give his son the Christmas gift, in spite of a restraining order, almost certain jail time, and possible death.

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© 2008 Michael Krigline, all rights reserved. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use.

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