CHINA STUDY GROUP
FULBRIGHT-HAYS CURRICULUM PROJECT
INSIGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS
COURSE MODULE: New Chinese Cinema
The following is paraphrased at length from:
Chinese Cinema during the Era of Reform
By Ying Zhu, 2003.
New Chinese Cinema Challenging Representations
By Sheila Cornelius with Ian Haydn Smith, 2002.
Zhang Yimou Interviews
Edited by Frances Gateward, 2001.
This class will explore the transition of post-Mao Mainland China cinema from idealogy to art and commerce. Major attention will be given to Chinese cinema’s transitions since the 1980’s. The intention is to place recent Chinese cinema within a social/historical/political context. This approach is particularly appropriate because the traditional role of intellectuals in China – including writers and film-makers – has been to comment on society.
Films, however, reflect not just the experiences and beliefs of film-makers, but the views of those who make decisions about what is permitted to be shown. The emerging directors of the Fifth Generation rarely engaged contemporary events head on - they would have little chance of getting beyond the censorship board’s script approval stage. Thus, the relationship between film-makers and government in China consists of a series of shifting moves as both sides attempt to achieve their goal. The goal of the Party Committee is to act to make sure films do not run counter to government policy. The portrayal of adverse social conditions, interpreted as criticism of government policy has predominantly concerned the censors and is the major source of conflict between the authorities and the film-makers. The goal of the film-makers, as presented in Perry Link’s book Evening Chats in Beijing, is “Chinese intellectuals have a traditional duty, for which there is no equivalent in the West: to worry, to take responsibility for all under heaven, to argue the question – What can we do with China?” - and indeed, as in much of the world outside of the West, artists are considered public intellectuals. Thus, the formation of recent Chinese cinema can be studied in terms of cultural policies that regulate the film industry in relation to intellectual/artistic duties and endeavors. In doing so, the course must also recognize that the mode of production of Chinese cinema has been shaped in part by the opening of the West and the associated industrial/artistic/distribution structure refined by Hollywood.
Highlighted will be the films of Fifth and Sixth Generation mainland directors, as we discuss the ways in which those who disagreed with “official” positions gave expression to their experience on film. The Fifth Generation utilized symbolic color and landscape (among many other devices) to explore themes that question the fundamentals of historical and contemporary Chinese culture as it emerged in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The Sixth Generation themes embrace social dislocation, identity, and disaffection of urban youth at the turn of the twenty-first century.
Fifth Generation Films utilized:
1. Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige, 1984)
2. One and Eight (Zhang Junzhao, 1984)
3. Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986)
4. Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou, 1987)
5. Judou (Zhang Yimou, 1990)
6. The Blue Kite (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1992)
7. Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993)
8. To Live (Zhang Yimou, 1994)
Sixth Generation films utilized:
1. The Days (Wang Xiaoshua, 1993)
2. Dirty Men (Guan Hu, 1994)
3. Frozen (Wang Xiaoshua, 1997)
4. Platform (Jia Zhang Ke, 2000)
5. Beijing Bicycle (Wang Xiaoshua, 2001)
POINTS OF VIEW:
1. historical – in particular the story of Mao Zedong as the story of Modern china. Mao’s lifespan (1893-1976) encompasses the overthrow of the ancient dynastic system, the foundation of the Chinese Republic and the introduction of a system of government modeled on Marxism. He also made possible the modernization of China.
2. film censorship – In 1949, when Mao Zedong established the Communist Party government in China, the China Film Bureau was instituted under the Ministry of Culture, together with the Ministry of Propaganda, subsequently becoming part of a Ministry of Television and Radio Broadcasting and Film in 1986. The China Film Bureau not only has censorial control and gives letters of approval to scripts, which must be submitted before filming begins, but calls annual meetings for studio heads to discuss production quotas, categories of film, policies and regulations, and works out long-term plans for the development of the film industry as well as dealing with foreign exchanges and film agreements. This intimate link with the entire process means that the Bureau may not only ask for changes in scripts as well as completed films, it can certify a film for release only in China, and, if need be, to a limited audience, or it may disapprove a film for international distribution.
3. film dissidence – Like other intellectuals in the post-revolution period, the Fifth Generation directors questioned the origins of Chinese culture. Their films critiqued the nation’s political and social dynamics especially where the constrained personal freedom and were the cause of suffering. As such, the films not only reflect culture, but raise awareness of the need for change.
4. artistic pursuit of directors – This will be covered by applying the concepts from Film Art, Seventh Edition, by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. Concepts include, but are not limited to, modes of production, principles of film form, principles of narrative construction, aspects of scene in space and time, the photographic image, framing, dimensions of film editing, continuity, functions of film sound and concepts of style.
The objective is to examine the realm of film-making in contemporary China in relation to
government oversight, historical context, and artistic pursuit while exploring the question of a distinctly Mainland China Cinema.
1. How does the Chinese censorship mechanism function and to what degree is it successful?
2. Is there verisimilitude between the “official” historical view and the film-makers view? If so how, and if not, is the zone of contention available for critical discourse.
3. Is there artistic merit to contemporary Chinese film and how is the criteria set and met?
a. Films (see above under Fifth and Sixth Generation films utilized)
Berry, Chris, ed. Perspectives on Chinese Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1991.
…, ed. Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes London: British Film Institute, 2003
Bordwell, David and Kristen Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003.
Braester, Yomi Witness Against History: Literature, Film, and Public Discourse in Twentieth-Century China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003
Brown, Nick, et al. New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Chow, Rey. Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
Cornelius, Sheila, and Ian Haydn Smith. New Chinese Cinema: Challenging Representations. London: Wallflower, 2002.
Fang, Zhang. Animal Symbolism of the Chinese Zodiac. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2001.
Gatewood, Frances, ed. Zhang Yimou: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
Hsiao-peng Lu, Sheldon, ed. Transnational Chinese Cinemas: identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
Kuoshu, Harry H. Celluloid China: Cinematic Encounters with Culture and Society. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.
Monaco, James. How to Read a Film: Movies, Media, Multimedia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Nelmes, James, ed. Film Studies. London: Routledge, 2001.
Silbergeld, Jerome. China Into Film: Frames of Reference in Contemporary Chinese Cinema. London: Reaktion Books, 1999.
Yang, Jeff. Once Upon a Time in China: A Guide to Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Mainland China Cinema. New York, ATRIA Books, 2003.
Yau, Ester C.M., ed. At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2001.
Zha, Jianying, China Pop. New York: The New Press, 1995.
Zhang, Yingjin, ed. Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Zhu, Ying. Chinese Cinema during the Era of Reform: The Ingenuity of the System. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
2. film and persuasion
4. artistic parameters
8. intellectual and generational responsibility
The class will need to attain an understanding of the following sometimes paradoxical dynamics, as well as a corresponding modicum of sensibility beyond one’s own Western gaze assumptions.
a. Overthrow of Qing dynasty
c. Guomindang/Communist League
d. Long March
e. Japanese Invasion
f. Nationalist Guomindang fled to Taiwan
g. The Hundred Flowers Movement
h. The Great Leap Forward
j. Anti-rightist Movement
k. Cultural Revolution
l. The Four Modernizations
m. The Four Cardinal Principles
n. Special Economic Zones
2. Chinese conventional use of metaphor and symbols
3. Chinese cultural use of color, space, and time.
4. Confucius and patriarchy – family
5. The history of women in Chinese society
6. Chinese identity with the state
7. Chinese identity with other groups
8. Chinese individualism and the ability to shift among identities
9. Chinese intellectual and generational responsibility proclivities
At the present time the way ahead for a cinema which is distinctly Chinese is uncertain. The Chinese government is still willing to fund projects that it approves of. However, there has been a decline. The studios also face an increasing quota of expensively made American films capturing the domestic audience, especially after China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. The Sixth Generation independents despite help from the Fifth Generation film-makers are often driven to give up their big screen dream and resort to lucrative television work. The distinctly Chinese film can best be understood as utilizing a background of Confucian values, a troubled political past and a nostalgia for disappearing processes and customs. It remains to be seen whether this criteria will be the measure for a recognizable Chinese cinema, however its use is clearly on the decline.