Chinese Cinema (223) Final Exam

Chinese Cinema (223) Final Exam
Take-home essay questions. (50% of the final)
Answer only five of the following questions by writing no longer than one page (single space) for each. 10 points for each complete answer that fully addresses the abstract issue in the contexts of at least five films by different directors. Please use the alphabetic letter to indicate which questions you are answering and discussing.
Whatever topic you choose to write on, you need to respect, first and foremost, the integrity of each work. In other words, your interpretations of a work should make perfect sense within the totality/context of a specific narrative film. Some people tend to sacrifice the specifics of a work just to make a point or generalization (e.g. “the Chinese are quite negative about social change,” or “they tend to value tradition over new possibilities”), which only cheapens the quality of your scholarship. A good term paper requires some generalities or universals, but not at the expense of the particulars in the works that you discuss. That’s called respect for the film text and for complexity. These 20 some odd directors cannot possibly all have the same attitudes or views. There are considerable differences amongst them with regard to how they understand technology, gender or cultural identity, continuity or discontinuity, tradition, freedom, etc. Pay careful attention to how they differ as you discuss your chosen topic or focus, and try to avoid an “either-or” approach. Chinese attitudes to change, although sharing some defining cultural characteristics, are often mixed and ambivalent.
  • (A) Homi Bhabha, the editor of “Nation and Narration” and a post-colonial scholar, studies the close relation between national/cultural identity on the one hand, and fictional or/and historical narratives on the other. He argues that a nation or community is held together by the way history or reality is talked about. To that extent, nation or national identity is but a living myth. Do you see a national identity being reinvented through the way certain Chinese narrative films “talk” about, say, modernity, tradition, rural poverty, money, women, and so forth? How? Please define the “Chineseness” that you see emerging from a number of films.
  • (B) Some believe that the arts, such as literature and film, function more or less like dreams and fantasies that are compensatory adjustments to social realities. Films, for instance, can be seen as lending expressions to wishful thinking and the needs of the collective unconscious. Is this view of art valid? In what way and to what extent are narrative films we saw compensatory to conscious (and often one-sided) attitudes and values such as “social progress,” “modernization,” “justice,” “prosperity,” “nationhood,” and “selfhood”?
  • (C) As is often made the case for literature (especially literary realism), film can also be viewed as a vehicle for social transformation, representing “reality” in a way that calls into question certain social praxis. To what extent can we understand the narrative films we saw as social realism that problematizes existing social values and cultural beliefs? Do you agree with the way modern changes are represented and dramatized in these representative films made in the past 15 years in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong? Why?
  • (D) Images, characters, and dramatic personae can and often do serve as symbols or allegories of something much larger than the story in which they appear. To what extent are women (Qiu Ju, Meili Zhang, Ermo, Minzhi Wei, Ying Wu), children (Xiao Chun), the mentally challenged (Erming, Dumbo, Weiguo Gao), and invalids (Ying Wu) that we saw in the films figures of speech or tropes of a sociopolitical discourse on global capitalism? To what extent are they a part of the aesthetics of primitivism invented to resist modern industrial civilization and consumerism threatening to uproot modern man from his past tradition and destroy his wholeness? Is it possible that these problematic heroes (individuals) with defects (mentally challenged, cripple, blind, children, women, etc.) represent certain social issues and are carefully created to negotiate conflicting values?
  • (E) Nostalgia may be a way for modern man to cling to his past and his identity when cultural continuity is threatened or ceases to exist. To what extent can some of the narrative films we saw be regarded as collective memories of the past and as sentimental approaches to what is no more, destroyed and discarded as archaic? Do recollections and memories mean renewal or death? How difficult is it to keep one’s identity (individual, national and transnational) in the era of globalization where migrancy calls into question the conventional notion of the self as a fixed point of reference and redefines “home” as a place without a physical location?
  • (F) How do some of the traditional Chinese moral values and religious beliefs get reaffirmed and revived in the way modernity is represented in contemporary Chinese films? In other words, can we argue that, despite revolutions and social transformations, traditions (such as Daoism and Buddhism) survive and reassert themselves when directors use old values to mediate new realities or try to reconcile the differing worldviews and contested values? Can China and the West, rural and urban, material and spiritual cultures, Confucianism and individualism coexist? Do old values and way of life really become extinct as new values and way of life take hold in China?
  • (G) Literary critics such as Georg Lukacs, Lucien Goldmann, Fredrick Jameson, and Rene Girard understand literature as a product of socioeconomic developments and argue that fiction, especially the novel (and film), reflects the way capitalism operates in conjunction with individualism. Can this be said about contemporary Chinese narrative films in which the viewer often finds various “problematic heroes” who are uprooted and displaced by a liberal and free market economy? Can “pre-modern” small scale communities continue to exist when commercial activities like buying and selling become accelerated? Are there hopes and redemptions for rural China when urban and commercial developments become so ubiquitous?
  • (H) Sigmund Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents), Norman O. Brown (Life against Death), and Carl Jung (Modern Man in Search of A Soul, and The Undiscovered Self) seem to agree that alienation/repression is the condition of modernity and social progress, which subjects modern man to varying degrees of neurosis. How aptly and well do contemporary Chinese film directors adopt and apply this critical perspective on history in their portrayal of China’s transition from an agricultural society to an industrial civilization? How much, if at all, are Chinese affected by the conditions of alienation and repression (sexual or otherwise) and how conscious are we as viewers made of these problems? Do you see sick individuals held captive, crushed or even devoured in a mass-minded society?
  • (I) The way technological gadgets are depicted can frame viewers’ understanding of, or/and express their ambivalence toward, an industrial civilization. What can you say about Chinese attitudes to technological advancements (social progress) by examining the way Chinese directors represent them in their works, TV set, truck, electric foot and back massagers, subway, mass transportation, walkman radio, cassett player, etc.?
  • (J) Often times we see women’s positions and gender issues complicated by a market economy; in traditional Chinese literature, women can be associated with what is known as the figure of femme fatale (fatal women) who bring back luck to men; are women also used in some of the films we saw to express a sense of foreboding or doom (fear and anxiety) about modernity as uncontrollable and unpredictable as female sexuality? Discuss how gender and cultural identity (as man or woman or as a Chinese) is complicated by the advent of a market capitalism
  • (K) Confucian 5 cardinal relationships (emperor vs subject, father vs son, husband vs. wife, elder brother vs. younger brother, and among friends) are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain or even disintegrating under the pressure to modernize; is Chinese society still Confucian by nature? What happens to this moral philosophy that has been known as China’s state religion? Is it easy to keep these relations that have been understood as central to realizing a person’s humanity? Why?