P41. Modern Chinese Cinema and Popular Culture

Session: Session 6, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, Saturday 9/30

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Humanities

Chair: Xinge Zhang (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Yuzhe Li, Chuanhui Meng, Lei Wang

Dangling Skillfulness in Mao-Era Montage: (Anti-)Craftsmanship and Filmmaking in Sun Yu’s Films on Craftspeople

Speaker: Yuzhe Li
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Abstract: Sun Yu’s 1958 film The Legend of Lu Ban seems to convey the Maoist ideology of glorifying labor and mass laborers from the first glimpse. The film’s overarching problem-solving narrative, however, elevates Lu Ban rather than unifies him with other ordinary craftspeople, highlighting his exceptional creativity and making it hard to square him with other craftspeople. Such an emphasis on creativity over technical skill can also be found in Maoist China’s film theories, which devalues craftsmanship (jiangyi)—a term imported from Soviet film theories that refers to many kinds of stereotypical filmmaking work that are technically skillful but lack emotional impact—while emphasizing the director’s artistic creativity in producing affective masses-oriented films. However, whereas anti-craftsmanship encourages the inventiveness of individual directors, a simplicity aesthetic in Mao-era film theories requires montage, the most essential film-editing technique, to be simple and straightforward in order to make the film more accessible and understandable to the general public, as opposed to showcasing the director’s individual filmmaking skills. The ambiguous attitude of Maoist China’s cinematic discourse toward technical skillfulness in montage-making parallels the socialist deskilling of craftspeople in a broader context. Through a close reading of the dissolve (diehua) technique in Sun Yu’s 1958 film The Legend of Lu Ban, with comparisons to his earlier films on craftspeople such as Little Toys (1933), I examine the film medium, the visualization with regard to creativity and science, and how they complicate the discourse towards craftspeople and skillfulness in Maoist China.

“Watch out! Your long-lost lover could be a spy:” The Post-war Blooming of Counter-espionage Thriller and the Politics of Fear and Anxiety in Socialist China at the Brink of the Great Cultural Revolution.

Speaker: Chuanhui Meng
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Abstract: This paper looks at the phenomenal genre of the counter-espionage thriller film of socialist China, tracing its translation from the spy thriller genre produced in wartime Europe and its adaptation in the postwar construction of a socialist nation-state. I will examine the translation of the film genre of the counter-espionage thriller in China before and during the Cold War, its adaptation in the making of an ethnic-minority counter-espionage thriller Visitors from the Icy Mountain (Dir. Zhao Xinshui, 1963), and the entanglement between ethnicity and sexuality in the film’s creation of a female Tajik spy in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. I argue that such a production of counter-espionage thriller should be studied against both the international background of the Cold War as well as the domestic context of the Socialist Education Campaign launched by Mao Zedong himself, which foreshadowed the Great Cultural Revolution in its promotion of “class struggles for ten thousand years.” Shedding light on the Visitors from the Icy Mountain’s tactic eliciting of emotions such as fear and anxiety within the audience, this paper articulates the politicization of affective genre like counter-espionage thriller as an effective medium in the promotion of class struggles and the ideal “long revolution” in socialist China at the brink of the Great Cultural Revolution.

Communist Propaganda and Popular Culture, 1927-1949

Speaker: Lei Wang
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: The University of Toledo/Adrian College
Abstract: This study examines how popular culture helped the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mobilize popular support during the revolutionary period from 1927 to 1949. My central argument is that popular culture was fundamental in carrying out the CCP’s propaganda campaign during the revolutionary period. In this work, I discuss different examples of cultural activities, such as music, plays, and comics, to demonstrate how the Party promoted its propaganda. In addition, I examine the local origins of the cultural elements employed by the CCP.   My research explores early communist experiments in linking revolutionary art with the peasantry. Communist intellectuals paid attention to rural entertainments and infused them with new revolutionary content. Since its early days in Jinggang Mountains and Jiangxi Soviet, the CCP prioritized on creating propaganda that related to popular culture. The Party used revolutionary folk songs as the major propaganda method in the Jinggangshan Soviet from 1927 to 1929. The stage drama became a favorable way to promote the CCP’s revolutionary agenda in the Jiangxi Soviet from 1931 to 1934. During the Yan’an years of the 1940s, Mao Zedong set up Qunzhong wenhua (the culture of the masses) as an essential component of the Chinese revolution. The Party transformed folk art and folk performances, such as Yangge, to mobilize political movements and social changes. These local forms of entertainment not only proved effectiveness, but also mobilized the mostly illiterate peasant inhabitants of rural China to the Communist cause during the revolutionary period.