Working with Absence in 20th Century China: Gaps, Ellipses, Silences, and How They Shape History
3: Materials as Interchanges Between Historical and Textual Studies: Studying Key Cases in Chinese Revolutionary Cinema
Saturday, March 26, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 313A
Hamilton College, United States
This paper discusses the important role that materials have played in challenging a conventional assumption that dominated the field of Chinese film studies until recent years: Chinese revolutionary cinema, or the films produced during the “Maoist era” (1949-1978) in China, offers nothing beyond repetitive stories and fully controlled propagandistic messages, so much so that a close reading of one single film or film sequence may reveal the essence of the revolutionary culture in its entirety. The paper reviews the methodological turn from this “representative text” approach to a new “key case” approach. Different from representative texts, researchers do not use the key cases to conclusively delineate revolutionary cinema as if it were coherent and static. Instead, they have studied these cases to reveal major discursive conflicts over the uses of films, which were crucially related with the rapidly changing circulation of power among film users in the complex revolutionary culture. Bringing to focus new materials beyond a limited number of “representative” film texts, including previously neglected films, artists’ biographies and memoirs, governmental policy documents, officials’ internal reports, film magazines, artistic journals, newspapers, movie promotional materials, training manuals and trade journals for film workers, and audience testimonies, this new approach has helped scholars bridge historical and textual studies and take a new pluralistic view of revolutionary films as polyvocal discursive sites open to multifarious struggles and conflicting interpretations.