China and Inner Asia
Cassandra Xin X. Guan
Brown University, United States
My paper envisions the first Chinese atomic bomb as an apparatus of animation that converged with actual works of animation produced by the Shanghai Art Film Studio (SAFS) between 1956 and 1964. My case study is the first feature-length color animation film made in China, Havoc in Heaven (大闹天宫), a pioneering production that commandeered all the resources of the Chinese animation industry and remains to this date its most celebrated creation. My reading of Havoc underscores the imperative of “technological revolution” (技术革命) originating from a global environment shaped by Cold War geopolitics and the nuclear arms race. Contrasting the animated film with its literary source, I challenge traditional interpretations of the Monkey King’s revolt as an allegory of revolutionary subjectivity and recast the desire of the revolutionary subject as a function of the technical object in animation. Exploring the political aesthetics of atomic energy in Cold War China from a contemporary environmentalist perspective, I show that Havoc in Heaven supports a subversive reading of the nuclear weapons program as the originary prosthesis of nationhood, or min zu (民族), a view that radically undermined the politically entrenched doctrine of popular sovereignty. As its replacement, I develop toward the end of this paper the concept of “ludic sovereignty,” a term Annette Michelson first introduced in relation to Soviet montage, to interpret the ways in which Chinese animation, circa 1964, put into play the imagined geographies of self, nation, and world in the service of a mass-based revolutionary polity.