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In Session: Constructing Blindness: Moral, Medical, & Media Frameworks of Disability from East Asia
4: Revolutionary Karma? Blindness and Muteness in Li Jun’s Serf (1963)
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Rosaline (Yi Yi Mon) Kyo
Davidson College, United States
Seemingly simplistic, Li Jun’s 1963 film Serf (Nongnu) has been dismissed by scholars as one of a myriad of propaganda films produced in the first three decades of the People’s Republic of China. Serf follows the tragic life of Jampa, a young Tibetan serf who loses his ability to speak but is eventually cured of his muteness through exposure to revolutionary thought. Through an examination of the filmic representation of the protagonist’s muteness, which is closely paired with his teacher’s eventual blindness, the film’s vilification of Tibetan Buddhist faith while simultaneously valorizing revolutionary devotion becomes abundantly clear. While those who remained tied to old beliefs remained or became disabled, those who joined the PRC’s forces, in contrast, were framed as resurrected and healed. In other words, the new revolutionary framework ties bodily ability and health to revolutionary belief and commitment. The film reinforced former serfs’ testimonies (suku; speaking bitterness)—accounts supported by carefully curated displays of artifacts of torture and physical remnants of bodily harm—which were constructed as easily-consumable visual and textual revolutionary narratives for both Han and Tibetan audiences. By delving into Serf’sframing of scenes centered on the protagonist and his teacher, this presentation unpacks the film’s manipulation of the intended audiences’ sensorial reactions meant to tease viewers about their own scopic abilities and limitations as cinematic spectators.