Chinese Cinema: the Aesthetics of Modernity and Identity

By 2050, it is expected that there will be 400 cities in China with population over one million. (Right now there are 172.) This social and economic transformation that began 30 years ago in the 1980s has created the greatest migration and urbanization in human history. As people’s ways of life change, so do their values and attitudes. This course studies a group of selected narrative films produced in the last two decades in the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong as texts of self-representation in which the Chinese reinvent themselves as well as their past. These films that depict modern Chinese experiences–including colonial experience and global diaspora–are also to be looked at as attempts on the part of the directors to negotiate China’s New Leftism or Leftist alternatives, and Neoliberalism. Often with a sentimental approach to pre-modern and primitive agrarian past, these films function as therapeutic fantasies for the modern individual and provide compensatory adjustments for his one-sided conscious attitudes, deep anxieties, as well as fragmented existences in a mass society.

The course breaks down structurally into four parts. In the first part, we examine some historic films to see how Chinese narrate social change in modern times. In the second part, we view films depicting rural and agrarian China being impacted on by the economic transformation. In the third part, we study urban cinema and its role in redefining Chinese culture as a consumer society. And in the fourth and last part, we pay attention to how cultural identity becomes problematic in Taiwan and Hong Kong cinemas by diaspora and global capitalism. The thematic connection between these parts is the issue of cultural identity on which each and every director elaborates through his film aesthetics.

Below is a tentative schedule for this 6-week summer course. The attendance is mandatory on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as is the viewing of the narrative films (viewed as primary texts) the night before each class. There is a short quiz on the content of each film. You can download the secondary readings by critics and are encouraged to reference them if you find them helpful, but they are not required.

6/16 Themes and Methods Introduction, excerpts from Image-Music-Text by Roland Barthes; Francis Fukuyama’s idea of The End of History through liberalism; view Farewell My Concubine, dir by Chen Kaige Lu, (TCC) pp.1-26; and (CTVGP) pp.1-28; “If China Can Say No, Can China Make Movies? Or Do Movies Make China?” by Chris Berry, pp. 159-177; article by Tam and Dissanayake entitled “Chinese Cinema: Lines of Development” pp.1-10; finish viewing Farewell My Concubine, dir by Chen Kaige; articles by Sheldon Lu: China, Transnational Visuality… and Dialect and Modernity…; Shu Mei-Shi’s Visuality and Identity: Sinopohone Articulations Across the Pacific
6/18 Historical Films and Collective/Private Memories quiz on Farewell My Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige and Fukuyama’s article; Read “The concubine and the figure of history” by Wendy Larson in (TCC) pp.331-343; “History Lessons” by Pauline Chen, pp.85-7; read “Farewell My Concubine”: History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema and Farewell My Concubine and its Nativist Critics; view To Live, directed by Zhang Yimou
6/20 quiz on To Live, directed by Zhang Yimou; the place of Mao and Chinese history in film; Read article “We endure, therefore we are: survival, governance, and Zhang Yimou’s To Live” by Chow and article by “To Live Beyond Good and Evil”by Wang in Asian Cinema, vol. 12 No.1, 2001; (SGWF) pp.1-17; view City of Life and Death
6/23 quiz on City of Life and Death, directed by Lu Chuan; discuss first paper weekend: read Lu, (TCC) pp.105-133; historic background of the Cultural Revolution;Historic background of Great Leap Forward; read  Peacock Review by Derek Elley; view the following: Peacock, dir by Gu Changwei and Aftershock, dir by Feng Xiaogang;
6/25 quiz on Peacock, and Aftershock; discussions; view Postmen in the Mountain directed by Huo Jianqi; read Wendy Larson’s He Yi’s  The Postmen: The Workspace of a New Age Maoist; write first paper;
6/27 China (Rural) quiz on Postmen in the Mountains, directed by Huo Jianqi; first paper due view Not One Less; and Story of Qiu Ju; read review of Qiu Ju; view
6/30 quiz on Not One Less, and Story of Qiu Ju; dir by Zhang Yimou view  Blind Shaft; read a review of Blind Shaft;
7/2 quiz on Blind Shaft, dir by Li Yang; discussion weekend: view Ermo directed by Zhou Xiaowen; read “Ermo, Televisuality, capital and the global village” by Ciecko/Lu; and view Incense and read Carl Jung The Undiscovered Self pp.3-39; Modern Man in Search of A Soul pp.95-114;
7/4 quiz on and Ermo, dir. by Zhou Xiaowen; and Incense, directed by Ning Hao; view The World directed by Zhangke Jia; read a review of The World, read Interview with Jia Zhangke , Poetics of Vanishing, the cinema of Jia Zhangke, by Zhang Xudong, write second paper
7/7 China (Urban) quiz on The World, directed by Jia Zhangke; second paper due; second paper due view Happy Times; read interview of Zhang Yimou by Jiao Xiongping, 1988, pp.3-11; read Happy Times Review, and China’s New Leftist; A Chinese Alternative;
7/9 quiz on Happy Times, dir by Zhang Yimou view Together; read “The Theory of the Novel” by Georg Lukacs, pp. 29-39, 56-69; read a review of Together;
7/11 quiz on Together, directed by Chen kaige; weekend: view Shower; read article by Nick Browne entitled “Society and Sujectivity: on the political economy of Chinese melodrama” pp.40-56; read review of Shower; view Zhou Yu’s Train; read two reviews: review 1, review 2;
7/14  Shower dir by Zhang Yang and Zhou Yu’s Train, directed by Zhou Sun; discussions View A World without Thieves; read Lu (TCC) pp.48-86, and pp. 195-212; write third paper
7/16 quiz on A World without Thieves dir by Feng Xiaogang; View Suzhou River, directed by Lou Ye; read a review of Suzhou River; view Getting Home;
7/18  quiz on Suzhou River, directed by Lou Ye, and Getting Homedirected by Yang Zhang, 2007 View Eat Drink Man Woman; read “Breaking the Soy Sauce Jar: Diaspora and Displacement in the Films of Ang Lee” in Lu (TCC) pp. 187-218; read Ang Lee’s Domestic Tragicomedy: Immigrant Nostalgia, Exotic/Ethnic Tour, Global Market by Sheng-mei Ma; Read “Border Crossing: Mainland China’s Presence in Hong Kong Cinema”by Esther Yau; write third paper;
7/21 Taiwan/Hong Kong cinemas quiz on Eat Drink Man Woman weekend: view Wedding Banquet; directed by Ang Lee; write third paper; Read “Intersection: Tsai Ming-liang’s Yearning bike boys and Heartsick Heroines” by Chuck Stephens, pp.20-23; view Chinese Box ; read article by Jameson entitled “Remapping Taipei” pp.117-49
7/23 quiz on Wedding Banquet dir by Ang Lee; Chinese Box dir by Wayne Wang; historical background of Hong Kong as a British colony, Kipling and White man’s burden; third paper due View Comrades, Almost A Love Story read “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” by Stuart Hall; read: “Invisible Cities: Wayne Wang” by Alvin Lu, pp.31-7
7/25 quiz on Comrades, Almost A Love Story, directed by Peter Chan; View Happy Together; “Diaspora, Citizenship, Nationality: Hong Kong and 1997” Lu (CTVGP) pp.104-120; read article entitled “Migrancy, Culture, Identity” by Iain Chambers, pp.1-7, 22-9; read a review of Comrades, Almost a Love Story
7/28 quiz on Happy Together directed by Kar-wai Wong; view  read A Leap Forward, Or A Great Sellout? by David Barboza; also Nostalgia of the New Wave: Structure in Wang Kar-wai’s Happy Together by Rey Chow; write fourth paper; do take-home portion of the final, 50%, due on the day of the final; turn in electronically;
7/30 Final exam to be held at 9 a.m. in classroom; identify film clips by director and title; discuss the significance of each clip; fourth paper due;