Taoist philosophical elements subvert the Maoist and Confucian prevailing paradigms of Chinese culture - the complexity of good and bad in everyone, the subversion of gender normativity and the compositional framing of each scene akin to a Chinese painting where the horizon sits low and the sky overwhelms.
The most remarkable part of this film is the extent to which the good peasant woman (girl, really) hauls water long distances -- whatever the songs were saying, Kaige was surely saying, in that Kaige way of his, "only a commitment to solving real problems can save China". You can't take the peasant to some "Communist stronghold", Communism must solve the problems of the people, for the people, wherever they are.
In comparison to many films that are lazily shoved into the "transcendent cinema" category, it was surprisingly fast paced and accessible. Despite occasionally having personal emotions expressed in folk songs, it holds quite an objective perception of the characters. Including the unmodernised north and "pre-Mao progressive" south, that you eventually realise is a stinker of a false dichotomy.