Introduction
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Introduction Q U E S T I O N S A N D I S S U E S 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. This study begins by raising 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. It also makes inquiries into a parade of related issues: how early film production frames women’s problems to signify the need for national awakening while using star images to attract audiences; how socialist cinema presents woman as either a victim of class oppression or a beneficiary of national liberation; how new cinema revives female sexuality and makes the female body a narrative site for the projection of national trauma and collective memory; how self-representation in search of a female identity and voice is vexed by various discourses of nationalism; and, finally, how woman-as-nation addresses international as well as domestic viewers. In exploring these issues, this book shows how a visual form, cinema, and a gender category, woman, participate in the representation of the nation. Throughout the twentieth century, China witnessed a series of narratives of the nation, each with a particular political construction and cultural representation. The task of constructing the nation involves the drive for a sovereign position in the world order, as well as the struggle for power among domestic political factions. The process of narrating the nation engages various discursive and textual productions. Considering “nation” as an imagined community and a system of narration, one sees primarily the master narratives of China’s national identity. The concept of nation is always changing and in process because sociocultural transformation never ceases. In the early twentieth century, for instance, the May Fourth intellectuals called for a modern nation that would break from tradition and engage with Western ideas. Enlightenment and cultural iconoclasm became discourses of national salvation. As Prasenjit Duara has pointed out, the process initiated by calls for national salvation allows a nation “to see itself as a unique form of community which finds its place in the oppositions between tradition and modernity, hierarchy and equality, empire and nation.”1 During times of war and revolution, the discourse of nationhood has united people in the fight against foreign invasions while dividing them under different political banners, such as nationalism and communism. The establishment of a party-state mobilizes the masses as an institutional force as well as an agent of representation. “The division between the nationalists and the communists in the Chinese revolution,” John Fitzgerald explains, “is best characterized not as a struggle between Marxism-Leninism and nationalism but as a struggle between two phases of nationalism,” both of which are directed against external humiliation as well as domestic opposition.2 Under communist control, the party-state system centralized and elevated the project of nation building. The nationalistic discourse of selfreliance walled off socialist China from the outside world. Meanwhile, the political doctrine of class struggle drew lines between the proletariat and potential enemies. For decades, China remained isolated, and the individual was trapped inside the collective enterprise. Those who spoke the revolutionary language became a “chosen people” in the front ranks of the masses; those who did not were either awakened or eliminated by the collective authority.3 As China emerges into the postsocialist era, the revival of nationalism involves many interacting and contradictory factors. While embracing a capitalist market system, for instance, China strives to protect its political system. After the end of the Cold War, the desire to integrate the nation into the global community may be countered by nationalistic hostility toward the West. Moreover, the turn to China’s cultural heritage as a source of nationalistic values occurs as ideas and images from the West increasingly filter into Chinese life. Finally, official, mainstream cultural productions often coincide or collide with avant-garde or popular cultural trends. The master narratives that describe the evolution of the nation-state are marked by the absence of woman as subject and her voice as discourse, even though she has a conspicuous visual presence. Thus, by taking gender as an analytical category and cinema as a form of representation, this study asks how the nation has been imagined and the narration composed. And how has gender...