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Women Through the Lens

Gender and Nation in a Century of Chinese Cinema

Shuqin Cui

Publication Year: 2003

Women Through the Lens raises the question of how gender, especially the image of woman, acts as a visual and discursive sign in the creation of the nation-state in twentieth-century China. Tracing the history of Chinese cinema through the last hundred years from the perspective of transnational feminism, Shuqin Cui reveals how women have been granted a "privileged visibility" on screen while being denied discursive positions as subjects. In addition, her careful attention to the visual language system of cinema shows how "woman" has served as the site for the narration of nation in the context of China's changing social and political climate.

Placing gender and nation in a historical framework, the book first shows how early productions had their roots in shadow plays, a popular form of public entertainment. In examining the "Red Classics" of socialist cinema as a mass cultural form, the book shows how the utopian vision of emancipating the entire proletariat, women included, produced a collective ideology that declared an end to gender difference. Cui then documents and discusses the cinematic spectacle of woman as essential to such widely popular films as Chen Kaige's "Farewell My Concubine" and Zhang Yimou's "Ju Do." Finally, the author brings a feminist perspective to the issues of gender and nation by turning her attention to women directors and their self-representations.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xxvi

In the history of Chinese cinema, gender and nation have often served as narrative subjects and visual tropes. The intersections between gender and nation that occur in cinematic representation, however, have received little critical attention. ...

Part One: Early Production

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1. From Shadow-Play to a National Cinema

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pp. 3-29

IN THE LATE NINETEENTH AND early twentieth centuries, external and internal forces compelled China to begin the task of building a modern nation. One of these forces was Western imperialism. China’s engagement with the West was double-sided. ...

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2. Reconstructing History: The (Im)possible Engagement between Feminism and Postmodernism in Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage

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pp. 30-48

ALLUSIONS TO EARLY FILMS AND film stars call on the memories of the audience and refer to the images housed in film archives. When memories and fragments are reconstructed, however, they enter a process of cinematic reproduction and cultural reinterpretation. ...

Part Two: Socialist Cinema

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3. Constructing and Consuming the Revolutionary Narratives

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pp. 51-78

THE TRANSITION TO A MARKET economy and the rise of consumer culture have turned contemporary China into a society that cannot be easily defined as either socialist or capitalist. This ambiguity, as well as the swelling multiplicity of cultural forms at the end of the twentieth century, is evident in such extraordinary phenomena as the “Red wave” and “Mao fever.”1 ...

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4. Gender Politics and Socialist Discourse in Xie Jin’s The Red Detachment of Women

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pp. 79-95

THE CONCEPT OF SEXUAL difference has been the fundamental premise for the construction of feminist discourse. Seeking to extend the analysis of gender, however, socialist feminist criticism has called attention to the relationship between female subjectivity and class identity.1 ...

Part Three: The New Wave

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5. Screening China: National Allegories and International Receptions

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pp. 99-126

A WIDELY REMARKED achievement of China’s fifth-generation directors is how their new wave films have taken a national cinema to international screens. By turning national identity and cultural history into visual images, this small, radical group of newcomers to world cinema initiated a transnational engagement in which Chinese productions for the first...

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6. The Search for Male Masculinity and Sexuality in ZhangYimou’s Ju Dou

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pp. 127-149

ZHANG YIMOU’S JU DOU RENDERS repressed male masculinity and sexuality in the form of visual allegories. The mesh of semiotic coding, mise-en-scène, color, and sound track constitutes a world of parable where a sealed dye mill conceals a drama of sexual transgression and psychological conflict. ...

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7. Subjected Body and Gendered Identity: Female Impersonation in Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine

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pp. 150-168

A DEPARTURE FROM HIS EARLY films, which were highbrow excursions into philosophical subjects and allegorical forms, Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine has attracted both critical and popular interest. The film’s self-reflexive form of opera-within-the-film and visual mise-en-scène have prompted several readings. ...

Part Four: Women’s Films

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8. Feminism with Chinese Characteristics?

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pp. 171-199

THE INTERNATIONAL RECEPTION of Chinese cinema has been largely confined to films made by the so-called fifth-generation of film directors. A few “masterpieces” have come to stand for Chinese cinema; they appear regularly in college courses or at film studies conferences. ...

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9. Desire in Difference: Female Voice and Point of View in Hu Mei’s Army Nurse

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pp. 200-218

IN FILMS MADE BY WOMEN directors, we find evidence of a female consciousness: the exploration of a self split between submission to sociopolitical ideology and allegiance to personal desire. In society, in cinema, and especially in military service, where the concepts of consensus and collectivity dominate and suppress individuality, a psychological...

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10. Transgender Masquerading in Huang Shuqin’s Human, Woman, Demon

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pp. 219-238

HUMAN, WOMAN, DEMON (Ren gui qing, 1987) is primarily concerned with the subject of female experience.1 Representing a woman’s personal history from childhood to adulthood, the film portrays its protagonist facing a dilemma: her desire for and denial of a female identity. ...

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pp. 239-248

This book has examined the changing relations among gender, nation, and cinema in the framework of twentieth-century China. We have seen how cinema, a visual form, and gender, an analytical category, have served in representations of the nation-state. ...


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pp. 249-267


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pp. 269-285

Works Cited

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pp. 287-297

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 299-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865634
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825324

Publication Year: 2003