|In her book Primitive Passions, critic Rey Chow argues that Chinese cinema could be viewed as a form of Chinese self or auto-ethnography. In each of the five historic films, we see Chinese people and their past historical events represented and reconstructed as the director reflected upon them. In a 4 page paper (single-space), discuss how Chinese (at least three of the five directors) communicate their ideas of themselves as a people through cinema. Interpret the meaning of their film works by focusing on the way historical events in the twentieth-century are reconstructed to make a point. As you examine the historical films, look for “Chinese” attitude and response to the changes in modern Chinese history in the way historical events are represented cinematically.
- Are there ways in which the films lend expression to ambivalence about or resistance to social transformations and call into question modern Chinese history by presenting it as a series of crisis on the part of the individual?
- In what ways are the Chinese united as a people and a nation by their past collective experience as reconstructed in the films?
- What is the point or epiphany brought to light in the way the director rethinks and reconstructs the past? For what purpose do they look into and explore the nation’s traumatic past in which massive amount of people perished?
- What purpose or interest is served by the director’s revisiting the past and reopening the psychological wounds people sustained in the past?
- Is the director trying to show cultural continuity or discontinuity through the way he depicts the collective experience of the past?
- What ideals and values prove true and meaningful (or false and bankrupt) as the director carefully pieces together the past in stories to which ordinary people can relate?
- One critic believes that “to read a text is to understand the questions to which it is an answer.” What are some of the current issues and contemporary intellectual preoccupations being addressed by the films in question?
- In what ways is the director trying to remake a people or a nation by reconstructing the past, making “a people conscious of the path of development taken by its own spirit”? (The Philosophy of History by Hegel)
|As many of you well know, China has been an agricultural society for a long time. To become “modern” means, among other things, a social transformation from a farming and agrarian society to an industrial and consumer culture, which entails changes in people’s values and attitudes. As the Chinese modernize and urbanize, they change their ideas and views on such things as money, sex, gender identity, justice, family, rural village as a community, individual identity, and so forth.
- How do film-directors dramatize such a historic and social transformation?
- How do they frame and shape people’s views on the changes taking place?
- How are the processes of making and spending money elaborated in these rural films? What problems are associated with making money, and what solutions, if any, are suggested or made available by the director?
- Is money (economics) the language for post-Mao China? What can and/or cannot be purchased by money in these films?
- If their attitude to change is one of ambivalence, then what seems to be that which they hate and love at the same time?
- Are there comparison and contrast that reveal the director’s nostalgic view on an agricultural society vanishing and fading away?
- Is agricultural economy backward and archaic, primitive and simple, or spiritually superior and noble?
- What aspects of the industrial civilization (consumerism and urbanization) particularly concern these film directors? Are there solutions to moral decay suggested by the director?
- Do they view city life as paradise, or loathe it as a pernicious process in which they become uprooted and corrupted?
In a 4-5 page paper, discuss the views and attitudes of the Chinese (directors) by interpreting 3 or 4 rural films which are also elaborations of certain myths and/or variations of certain fantasies about the rural and urban. How are these films expressions of a deep anxiety about modern change? What hopes and/or fears are revealed in these films that are but dreams and nightmares? Technical and methodological issues. You must have a title, interesting, meaningful, and synoptic. If your thesis is vague, too general, and weak (poorly articulated), then the quality of your scholarship goes down; assign yourself something difficult to articulate, otherwise you cheapen your own work by stating the obvious. Respect subtlety, nuance, and complexity that go to make up the integrity of a narrative film; interpretation is imposing a reading on a work of art, but it should not be done at the expense of the richness of the work; instead, your reading ought to bring to light aesthetic, intellectual, cultural, or political concerns responsible for how details are arranged in a given film.