AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 328

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Session 328: Chinese Cinema

From Two-Line Struggle to Triangular Love: Blooming Flowers and Full Moon (1958) as a Polyvocal Microcosm
Zhuoyi Wang, Hamilton College, USA

Early PRC films, as a crucial form of Party propaganda, had a position at the epicenter of the Maoist continuous revolution. Current studies often problematically assume that these films were integral to a monolithic governing system controlled by cohesive elite. This paper focuses on the checkered career of the 1958 film Blooming Flowers and Full Moon as a polyvocal microcosm metonymically connected with layers of contradictions and conflicts in this revolution, including frequent oscillations in propagandistic strategies, dramatic shifts in policies of agricultural collectivization, and intense factional clashes in and beyond the film industry. I argue that these metonymic connections render it necessary to understand early PRC propaganda works as open sites in history. Polysemous and hybrid, these works reveal the agency of various self-interested groups and individuals at different positions of the social hierarchy, which changed rapidly and violently in the continuous revolution.

Film as Manifestation of China’s Soft Power--Latest Trends of China’s Film Industry
Wendy Su, University of California, Riverside, USA

The concept of “soft power” is originally proposed by Harvard University professor Joseph Nye, and has its discourse and ramifications in the China context since 2006. As defined by President of the Chinese Party-state, Hu Jintao, the Chinese version of “soft power” is primarily composed of four aspects: 1) the “socialist core-values system” that highlights Marxism, “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” patriotism and collectivism; 2) A “harmonious culture” and a morally-uplifting society based on honesty and integrity; 3) the exaltation of traditional Chinese culture to foster “a spiritual home commonly identified by the entire Chinese nation”; and 4) the innovation of culture and the liberalization of the “cultural production force.” China’s film industry constitutes an essential part of China’s soft power, and is considered by the Party-state an indispensable manifestation of such soft power. The drastic transformation of China’s film industry culminated between 2006 and 2008 with new trends fully revealed to magnify the soft power. This paper seeks to analyze the new strategies and new trends of China’s film industry within the context of the Chinese government’s embrace of the concept of “soft power.” These new strategies include the humanization and commercialization of the so-called “Main Melody” propagandistic movies to cater to the market needs; the promotion of spectacular Kung Fu movies laden with dazzling martial arts and Hollywood-style audio-visual effects; and the massive marketing of Chinese movies overseas. The paper contends that the Chinese Party-state purposefully designed these strategies as part of soft power to attempt to maintain its legitimacy, to counter the Western/ American cultural influence, and to impose an ideological hegemony over the Chinese society full of social unrest and conflicts. The paper concludes that the so-called “soft power” works to the best interest of the Party-state, and is a double-edged sword that can have both positive and negative consequences.

The Uncontainable Flow in the Networks: The Counter-Espionage Films at the Turn of 1980s
Xiao Liu, McGill University, Canada

This paper will focus on the counter-espionage films produced in the People’s Republic of China at the turn of 1980s, immediately following the end of the Cultural Revolution. The revival of counter-espionage films, such as Hidden Rock(Anjiao, 1977), Hunting No. 99(Liezi 99hao, 1978) and Spy in the East Harbor(Donggang dieying, 1978), was a continuation, transformation and even parody of the 1950s and 60s counter-espionage films, and full of self-reflexive references to this most typical genre of the Cold War era. Yet at the same time, these films had close connections with the underground literary writing during the Cultural Revolution. In fact, one of the dominant genres of these underground literary compositions was precisely spy and counter-espionage fiction. Beyond the question how the genre is exploited and appropriated by the underground writing and later film revival at the end of 1970s, I am also interested in the communication networks which are represented by, but also produce these films and fiction. Since the counter-espionage genre centers upon the transmission of information and interpretation of messages and signs, what might close examination of the communication technologies involved in these films reveal to us? How do rival camps move along and exploit loopholes in the network of communication? What do these films tell us about media networks in the Mao era, especially when compared with the recent spy movie craze triggered by Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution? The examination of these questions might help resituate the Mao-era PRC in the global media culture, and illuminate on the question of networks before the rise of the internet.

Beyond the New Waves: Uncovering Taiwanese Comedy
George Chun Han Wang, University of Hawaii, USA

Studies of Taiwan cinema have been predominantly focused on the New Wave periods. Since the mid 1980s, the world has enjoyed discovering cinematic gems made by the island state’s iconic auteurs: Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-liang and Ang Lee. Nevertheless, a considerable list of lesser-known titles exists beyond those well recognized films, many of them possess significances that deserve comparable research attentions those New Wave titles perpetually enjoyed. In particular, Taiwan’s comedy cinema has often been brushed aside as being overly commercial while yielding little intellectual merits. Suffering from such disputable generalization are certain remarkable films, comedians and film-makers worthy of attention. Aiming to generate interests to this largely ignored genre, this article presents an extensive study on Taiwan’s comedy cinema. Attentions will be directed to a number of titles deemed influential, for instance, the Laurel-and-Hardy style comedy BROTHER WANG AND BROTHER LIU TOUR TAIWAN. A blockbuster that spawned numerous sequels, this 1958 film is a priceless time capsule for a nostalgic look back at the vistas of pre-industrial Taiwan, and a momentous debut of veteran director Li Xing. And also, Zhu Yen-ping’s 1980 surprise-hit THE CLOWN established comedian Xu Bu-liao as Taiwan’s Charles Chaplin, marking the debut of a short-lived career much celebrated even decades after Xu’s tragic death. Through encompassing investigations of historical and biographical records of similar titles that have contributed in facilitating Taiwan’s cinematic progress, the author endeavors to incite awareness that hopefully will lead to broader studies of Taiwanese comedy.