Representing History through the Personal and the Familial: Cinema and TV Production in Postsocialist China

Title: 1150 | Representing History through the Personal and the Familial: Cinema and TV Production in Postsocialist China
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Cinema Studies/Film
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Chialan Sharon Wang, Oberlin College, United States (organizer, presenter)
Hsiu-Chuang Deppman, Oberlin College, United States (presenter)
Lawrence Zi-Qiao Yang, Harvard University, United States (presenter)
Zhuoyi Wang, Hamilton College, United States (presenter)
Jiwei Xiao, Fairfield University, United States (chair, discussant)


Since the beginning of China’s economic reform, the representation of the nation’s postsocialist transformation in film and TV production has been a field of discursive complicity and negotiation. In such a cultural practice, historical experiences are often framed in private memories, personal journeys, or familial relationships. This panel explores film and TV productions that articulate multivalent narratives in chronicling postsocialist China. It investigates the way national history is recast as personal and domestic stories. Lawrence Zi-Qiao Yang studies the movie, Hello, Yiwu (2011) and TV-drama, Feather Flies to The Sky (2015) and unpacks the discourses of cosmopolitan kinship associated with the Belt and Road Initiative. In these two works, the notion of kinship is redefined as infrastructure around the city of Yiwu, the world’s largest wholesale market and the first stop of the trans-continental railway line. Also analyzing the kinship narrative in PRC’s national discourse, Zhuoyi Wang discusses the 2004 film, My Bittersweet Taiwan and investigates the ambivalent discursive formation of Taiwan within the incongruity of the political ideology and artistic style of the film. Foregrounding counter-discourses to China's economic expansion, Hsiu-Chuang Deppman delves into Jia Zhangke’s documentation of China’s transition from socialist economy to market economy in his 2018 film, Ash Is Purest White and teases out a parallel development of female agency. Similarly, Chialan Sharon Wang studies Lou Ye’s The Shadow Play and scrutinizes the characters’ turbulent emotional attachment as a sentimental resistance to the alienation and displacement brought about by China’s capitalist advancement.

Panel Abstracts:
"What’s Love Got to Do With It?": Female Agency in Jia Zhangke's Ash is Purest White
How far will you go to set yourself free? In Ash Is Purest White (2018), the sixth-generation director Jia Zhangke tells the story of a woman Zhao Qiao (Zhao Tao) who serves five years in jail to save her gangster boyfriend’s life and liberty. Yet her sacrifice earns her more apathy than credit from the community. After being released from prison, she travels across the vast terrain of China only to find her intended now in love with someone else. Penniless and heartbroken, Qiao goes to Xinjiang—the “New Frontier”— before returning to her historic hometown in Shanxi. Her journey through time and space chronicles as much a forlorn woman’s quest for love as a country’s transition from socialist economy to market economy. A post-millennial Chinese woman at the crossroads, Qiao reinvents herself at every stop to expose the social ills of sexual violence, moral indifference, and greed. Blending fantasy with reality, Jia uses tracking shots, long takes, and ellipses to frame female resilience and adaptability.

Home in the World: Yiwu and the Fantasy of Cosmopolitan Kinship
The Belt and Road Initiative has not only been China's strategic roadmap but a set of cultural rhetoric that plays on the collective fantasy of logistical connectivity and regional dominance in the name of kinship and friendship. The city Yiyu (義烏) of Zhejiang province, in this context, serves as an important site where geopolitical ambition and cultural fantasy converge. Home to the world's largest wholesale market of small commodities, as well as the first stop of the trans-continental Yiwu–London railway line, the small city is portrayed in media as the epitome of a new cosmopolitanism based on trade, labor, and transportation. In this essay, I take movie Hello, Yiwu (2011) and tv-drama Feather Flies To The Sky (2015) --two narratives set against Yiwu-- as two important cases that redefine the notion of kinship as a sort of infrastructure for an emerging geopolitical affects. This infrastructure, I suggest, allows family lineage, bloodline, and local heritage to be recoded into a new community based on flows, connections, and exchange.

Between Enemy and Family: My Bittersweet Taiwan (2004) and the Discursive Formation of Taiwan in Post-Socialist Chinese Films
In 1979, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began to depart from the Maoist hardline and soften its Taiwan policy. During the PRC’s post-socialist transformation after that year, its film industry saw a rapid marketization along with a great influx of Taiwanese films through official and unofficial channels. As a result, portrayals of Taiwan in PRC-made films went through dramatic changes. The hardline Maoist imagination of Taiwan, which had been concentrated in stories featuring demonized Cold War enemy, was replaced by nationalist and affective narratives depicting Taiwan as an essential family member of the PRC, politically and geographically separated yet united in defending their “one China” against menacing foreign powers.My Bittersweet Taiwan 台湾往事Taiwan wangshi (2004, dir. Zheng Dongtian) is emblematic of the PRC’s post-socialist cinematic portrayal of Taiwan in its story of a Taiwanese family living through both Japanese and Chinese rule. This paper closely analyzes two sides of the film: its political attempt to construct a clear-cut opposition between the Chinese (i.e. the Taiwanese) and the Japanese, as well as its narrative and artistic style heavily influenced by imported Taiwanese family story films, which usually reveal a much more complex Taiwanese identity. The tension between these two sides speaks to the subtleties, contradictions, and oscillations in the discursive formation of Taiwan as a politicized “family member” in post-socialist PRC films.

Melancholia in the Capitalist Expansion: Lou Ye’s The Shadow Play
One of the leading six-generation directors, Lou Ye often captures the changing social and political atmospheres in China through portraying melodramatic relationships with jolted camerawork, multiple time frames, and emotionally charged narratives. The intimate, damaging, and symbiotic ties among individuals conjured up in personal memories often inscribe a protest against the totalizing power of socio-political hegemony. This paper studies Lou’s 2018 crime drama, Feng zhong you duo yu zuo de yun (The Shadow Play) and unpacks the complex emotional attachments among the characters. As the narrative unfolds in disjointed temporal order and heterotopic spaces in which high-rising skyscrapers and demolished residential buildings co-exist, the film documents thirty years of reform and opening up of China. The paper investigates the way the private, illicit, and turbulent interpersonal relationships figure as psychological trauma of and sentimental intransigence to the country’s accelerated capitalist development. I examine the way each character’s personal experience and memory constitute a synchronized antithesis to the expansion and displacement brought about by the economic reform. It is the character’s intertwined relationships, aggravated by ambition and desire in sync with national advancement, that articulate nostalgic and melancholic sentiments in resistance to postmodern alienation and disruption

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 02 - Room 5

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