Understanding the Rise of China through Film

Semester: Fall

Lecturer: Dr. SHI Donglai

Credit: 2

Course Description:

The rise of China as a modern political and economic powerhouse is one of the most significant events in recent world history. The transformation of Chinese society since the implementation of the Reform and Opening-up Policy has been drastic, and Chinese-language films can serve as useful media to understand and analyze the complexity of the cultural aspects of this transformation. Chronologically arranged, this course offers an overview of the cultural transformation of Chinese society from the late 1970s to the present via critical readings of a selection of films produced in China and beyond.

Using the aesthetic media of feature films to understand a nation and its changing cultural politics is not a straightforward process, and this course has been designed with the specific theoretical debates on the fraught contradictions and ethical complexities of this process in mind. Starting with the dialectics between the nation state of China and the shifting parameters of “Chineseness” as a cultural force, the key topics this course engages with include the root-seeking and self-critiquing trends of the 1980s, allegorical intertwinements of gender and tradition in the films of the fifth generation Chinese directors produced in the 1990s, diasporic conditions of being “Chinese” outside of mainland China at the turn of the 21st century, the local and global reception of Chinese cultural spectacles against the background of the rapid growth of the Chinese film market after China jointed the WTO in 2001, and cinematic representations of the recent political emphasis on Chinese “cultural confidence”.

From the social reflections and critical perspectives offered by these films and the related academic readings, students will be cognizant of the fact that the rise of China is far from a linear process of progressive development but operates as a transformative dynamic full of contradictions and controversies. Neither is the relation between cultural self-critique and cultural confidence demonstrated by the selected Chinese films one of zero-sum competition and unidirectional replacement. Ultimately, the course helps students see the rise of China and its associated socio-cultural phenomena in the larger historical context of post-Cold War globalization and equips them with the critical tools to read Chinese films as aesthetic manifestations of Chinese struggles and negotiations with the shifting cultural conditions of modernity.