AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 166

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 166: Chinese Amateur’s Ambivalent Spaces: escapist pleasures, children mobility, smaller-screens’ lightness, distorted realities

Organizer: Paola Voci, University of Otago, New Zealand

Chinese cultural spaces have often being described as being dominated by either mass-mediated State ideology or, more recently, by globalization-orientated commercial imperatives. This panel looks at cultural practices and narratives that falls outside both these larger overarching perspectives and instead address topics of declaredly little importance (they are escapist), involve small communities of participants (who are individually interconnected), or give screen space to minor citizens (children). As they are self-declaredly unofficial (non-professional, non-regulated, non-commercialized, non-authoritative, non-adult), we refer to these cultural practices as amateur spaces. We understand amateurism not just as professionalism’s antinomy, but as a fluid conceptualization of the unofficial as a non-codified space that we contextualize outside the usual opposition between a dominant discourse (generally endorsed by the State) and a counter discourse (generally identified with avant-garde practices). Youths (Paul Clark), children (Stephanie Donald), smaller-screen videomakers (Paola Voci), bloggers (Ying Zhu) are all amateurs who challenge authority on screen or off screen, through different strategies. The four case studies included in this panel all bring strong evidence that amateurs occupy complex, ambivalent spaces. On the one hand, of minor players can develop significant resistance against dominant narratives or hegemonic ideologies. On the other hand, not only are there limits to such resistance, but the resistance spaces opened up by amateurism can also become accomplice (or even “worse”) of the authority they seek to challenge.

Bodies, spaces and rhythms: film and Chinese youth cultures in 1988
Paul J. A. Clark, University of Auckland, New Zealand

In 1988, the most liberal moment in Chinese public life since 1949, film screens set the pattern for youth culture. The triumph of Zhang Yimou’s film Red Sorghum in North China among young male viewers brought together the physicality, geographies and soundtracks of an emergent youth culture. This combined local roots with more international influences. The film’s ersatz folk songs drew on the Northwest Wind in music that gave rise to the rock beats of Cui Jian and his youth anthem, ‘Nothing to My Name.’ The naked, male bodies on display in Red Sorghum were matched by exhibitions of nude art, an upsurge in interest in body-building and public exhibitions of the power of ancient qigong breathing exercises in. The converted hotel ballroom used for dancing gave way to the bar, dance-hall and billiard table as spaces for youthful displays of identity and difference. Caught between the largely autochthonous invention of youth culture in the Cultural Revolution decade and the global possibilities offered by the internet over ten years later, 1988 youth cultures present a mix of escapism, international awareness, and regret at lost innocence. This paper draws from a book-length study of Chinese youth cultures in 1968, 1988 and 2008.

Smaller screen’s lightness: from accidental journalism to amateur/auteur microcinema
Paola Voci, University of Otago, New Zealand

In China, as elsewhere, the moving image has expanded to a multiplicity of screening experiences, filtering outside the regulated channels of both commercial and artistic practices to land --quite literally-- in the hands of its makers and viewers, on smaller screens. A big number of amateur movie-makers has developed hybrid practices in which aesthetic concerns, social awareness, or political engagement are not necessarily discarded, but other variables play equally important roles. In particular, mobile-made and -viewed movies often emphasize portability, playfulness, connectivity, and sharing as their main defining elements. In this presentation I focus on a selection of such movies to discuss their lightness –which I define as a marker of small production costs, distribution ambitions, economic impact, limited audiences, quick and vola¬tile circulation, and resistance to being framed into and validated by either market, art, or political discourses. In China, the ability of producing and viewing movies at a non-official level has strong implications in terms of state control and citizen disobedience. Seeking to affirm a personal perspective on reality, Chinese portable moviemakers develop disobedient – rather than dissenting – moviemaking and viewing practices that range from the politically engaged records to escapist pleasures. While Chinese smaller-screens have been often seen to represent a mass-movement towards either a popularization of (or illegal appropriation) cinema or potentially supporting the growth of civil society, they have also become an outlet for complex and ambivalent creative expressions of post-socialist subjectivities.

Children - authority or amateurism in international film space?
Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, , Australia

This paper discusses the possible role of urban geography in understanding what I loosely term fables of childhood migration on film. It argues that there are alternative ontologies of authority which may be considered within the more widely distributed concept of media space. Extrapolating from Lefebvre’s thesis of belonging to the city, this paper raises the question of authority as a form of belonging (and vice versa) in relation to cinematic space. It asks particularly to what degree do children belong in film space and how is the status of their belonging illustrative, or indicative of their historical status in society? Is that status absolute in relation to the real, or is it symbolically inflected by an authority gained or given through the processes of cinematic narrative and narration? Films discussed are primarily Chinese but also include international comparisons: Persepolis (Paronnaud and Satrapi, 2007), Australia (Baz Luhrman, 2008), Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009) and The Blue Kite (Zhuangzhuang Tian, 1995).

Mainstream/Professional vs. Marginal/Amateur?
Ying Zhu, City University of New York, USA

The big question that social media raise is about the validation of information, or the ranking of products. The Wikileaks, for instance, sent all their “secret documents” to the NYT, Der Spiegel and The Guardian before posting it online, presumably for “official” ratification – to lend weight and respectability to something that might have been dismissed as marginal or wacko if it had come straight from Wikileaks to the Internet. What does that say about mainstream vs. social media, or professional vs. amateur? As suggested by the panel statement, there is a vast underworld of disorganized, amateur literary or media products out there that have long been mostly invisible and/or ignored. The assumption here is that “amateur” is morally superior to professional, because it is organic and naturally “resistant.” Well, some of it may be, but much of it might turn out to be obnoxious, idiotic and/or deliberately misleading with more or less potential for inflicting real harm. From Holocaust deniers to global warming deniers, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, large groups of people frequently rejects events that do not fit their worldview, their lifestyle or their faith. I will examine the complex relationship between professional and amateur or mainstream and marginal, including cases within a Chinese context. I acknowledge that information is vastly more accessible, immediate, shareable and actionable these days but distorted information is much more easily reified and accepted by large numbers of people, with frightening potential for revising history and even current events, effectively producing distorted realities.