Paper Assignments

First Paper Assignment
The five historic films reconstruct not only past events but also tell us something about who the Chinese are as a people. In a 4 page paper (single-space), discuss at least three of the five directors) with a focus on the values and ideas they adopt to make sense of Chinese history. In other words, discuss the ways these films contribute to a new national identity and new Chinese humanity.  
  • Who is responsible for human suffering and what contributes to national crises?
  • What values or qualities are found lacking or identified as quintessentially Chinese in the way past events are reconstructed?
  • If the “task (of criticism) is to show the text as it cannot know itself” (Terry Eagleton), what new self-knowledge is made available in the historic films that are criticism of sorts?
  • What type(s) of past events are revisited to rally national attention and provoke cultural reflections?
  • What is shown to be national failings of the Chinese as a people? Or in what way are you able to relate to the people represented as Chinese in the films?
  • If “to read a text is to understand the questions to which it is an answer”, what are some of the contemporary issues being addressed by the films?
  • What national spirit or folksgeist is revealed in these historical films making “a people conscious of the path of development taken by its own spirit”? (The Philosophy of History by Hegel)
Second paper assignment
In a 4-5 page paper, discuss how the directors shape Chinese attitudes to the social change as represented in 4 rural films. To become “modern” means, among other things, a social transformation from a farming or agrarian society to an industrial civilization and consumer culture. What are Chinese (directors) views on such things as money, sex, gender identity, justice, family, technology or the disappearance of a rural community?
  • What is gone forever and being missed in rural reform as depicted in the films?
  • What is the biggest threat in the social transformation that calls for concern and resistance?
  • Is there a nostalgia for or utopia about the “primitive” past? Is the viewer called upon to identify with the primitive, backward and archaic and simple? Who are figures of the primitive that hold the key to the identity of modern Chinese?
  • In what way the Chinese living in rural areas spiritually superior to and nobler than modern Chinese?
  • Do they view city life as paradise, or loathe it as a nightmare for the uprooted?
  • Do you see see similar cultural change as identified by critic Lucien Goldmann who argues that Balzac novels “. . . might constitute the only great literary expression of the world as structured by the conscious values of the bourgeoisie: individualism, the thirst for power, money, and eroticism, which triumph over the ancient feudal values of altruism, charity, and love”?
Third paper assignment
In a 4 page paper, discuss at least four of the urban films below from the perspective of an auteur. Critique the uses of the city as a trope for addressing the problems of identity, namely, how the city is synonymous with identity crisis for the urban individual.
  • The World, directed by Zhangke Jia, set in capital city of Beijing
  • Chinese Box, dir. by Wayne Wang, set in the city of Hong Kong
  • Vive L’amour, dir. by Sai Mingliang, set in the city of Taipei
  • Together, directed by Kaige Chen, set in Beijing
  • Shower, directed by Yang Zhang, set in Beijing
  • Zhou Yu’s Train, directed by Zhou Sun, set in a southern city
  • Suzhou River, directed by Ye Lou, is set in Shanghai
  • A World without Thieves, dir. by Feng Xiaogang, setin a train
In a 4 page paper, discuss at least four films by Taiwanese and Hong Kong directors as attempts to address the issues of cultural values or national identity. How do they problemize “Chinese-ness”? How do they contribute to a new self-awareness and redefine what it means to be a Hong Konger and Taiwanese?


  • To what degree is the remark by critic Sheldon Lu true? “The globalization of cinema brings with it an erosion of the fixed geographic boundaries of nation-state. Yet it may not necessitate the disappearance and homogenization of cultural and ethnic identity. At times, transnationalism in fact strengthens reasserts a sense of cultural selfhood”.
  • How useful is the rubric of “Sino-phone film” as a different venue to talk about Chinese identity? Do you find true “Taiwan’s and Hang Kong’s relations with China are ambivalent, involving both identification with and resistance to ‘Chinese’ culture and the hegemony of the nation-state”?
  • How do the narrative films offer alternative modes of self-representation away from ethnocentrism? What aspect(s) of Chinese cultural identity is being problematized?
  • Do you agree with critic Yingjin Zhang who points out the limits to the study of “national cinema” and calls for more cultural perspectives with regard to truth, morality, and subjectivity?
  • Do you find Taiwan and Hong Kong cinemas different venues to discuss Chinese cultural identity as is “Even the concept of ‘national cinema’ itself has proven to be far from unproblematic, the critics have advocated a shift from national cinema to ‘the national’ of a cinema—a shift that allows for diversity and flexibility rather than unity and fixity.”
  • What seems to challenge or problematize Chinese cultural identity the most, language, food, attitudes, values, ethnocentrism, or history of modernization, globalization and Westernization?