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In Session: Transnationalism and Transmediality in Wartime China
2: Orphans as Children of the World: Transnational Collaboration between Fei Mu and the Flecks in Wartime Shanghai
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
The Ohio State University, United States
At the end of 1939, after eighteen months of being interned at a concentration camp due to his Jewish identity, Austrian director Jacob Fleck fled to Shanghai with his wife and directing partner Luise Fleck. It was the only international city that did not require a visa then. There, they met Fei Mu, a Chinese director active in this “Orphan Island” city. The cooperation between them led to the first internationally co-produced feature film in modern China, Children of the World (1941).
This paper examines how the symbolically loaded idea of “children of the world” is expressed both in the production of the film and on screen. Historicizing the process of collaboration between the Austrian and Chinese artists, I explore how the shared experience and identification with orphanage during World War II propelled them to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers and mediate questions of displacement, diaspora, and global citizenship. Moreover, the film features extensively the lively urbanscape in Shanghai, the Orphan Island seized by imperial Japan, and in so doing, it brings into sharp relief the tension between the everyday and the wartime. Finally, I examine how filial piety as a traditional Confucian value is negotiated in a seemingly clichéd love triangle among two filial sons and a rebellious daughter, and discuss how different types of “orphans” navigate their family, love, and ambition. Thus, the film transcends the conventional Sino-Japanese war narrative of resistance or submission, and formulates a cosmopolitan vision of children of the world.