8. Feminism with Chinese Characteristics?
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Chapter Eight Feminism with Chinese Characteristics? 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. By contrast, little attention has been given to the subject of women’s films in China. Compared to the films of their male counterparts, the works of women directors evince scant interest in macronarratives or allegorical models. Nonetheless, as important contributors to mainstream film production, female directors and their films call for critical attention. In her Writing Diaspora, Rey Chow asks, “Why is it so difficult to bring up the topic of women in the field of Chinese studies?”1 In a similar vein, I question the relative lack of scholarship on women’s films, female directors and their cinematic poetics, or even feminist perspectives in the field of Chinese cinema studies. D I F F E R E N T VO I C E S The investigation begins with the problematic engagement between feminist assumptions in the West and women’s studies in China. Since the 1980s, the theories of Western academics have entered China, as have a myriad of Western cultural and commercial products. The reception of feminist assumptions, however, has not been friendly or positive. A number of interviews conducted between critics from the West and women directors or writers in China reveal problems in communication. While Western scholars attempt to inspire feminism in the minds of Chinese women, the Chinese typically respond with either flat denial or ignorance. Among the questions frequently asked are these: What do you think about the idea of women’s cinema? As a female director, have you ever encountered problems because of your gender in the process of making films? Have you read any books on the topic of Western feminism? Which foreign films have most influenced you, and which do you particularly like? Have you seen Thelma and Louise? When you are composing your stories, do you think that because you are a woman you want to express things from a woman’s perspective or experience ? How much do you know about the Western feminist movement?2 Responses to such questions are often surprisingly straightforward and sometimes negative. For instance, in a conversation among Dai Jinhua, Mayfair Yang, and the woman director Huang Shuqin, the scholars asked how the idea for Human, Woman, Demon occurred to the director. Huang responded that as she was preparing for the film script, she “thought of themes such as the relationship between man and woman, life and theater, humans and ghosts. Feminism is a notion I had never thought of back then. . . . I never related the movie to women’s issues or viewed it from a masculine or feminine perspective.”3 During an interview conducted between Wang Zheng, a Chinese scholar studying in the United States, and Wang Anyi, a well-known young woman writer in China, Wang Zheng asked, “In view of your contact with and analysis of women, what do you think is the prominent problem facing Chinese women?” Wang Anyi replied, “I think China is tragic. In China women are only now beginning to have the right and the luxury to talk about the differences between men and women, to enjoy something that distinguishes women from men. That is the reason I absolutely deny that I am a feminist. I have a great aversion to that sort of feminism.”4 In another interview, Wang Zheng told Dai Qing, a prominent female journalist, that “I’ve seen translations of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in the bookstalls . How are people responding to it?” Dai explained, “What readers see is sex not feminism. [Laughs.] My feeling is that Chinese are quite ignorant about things going on in Western post-industrial societies, things like homosexuality and feminism.”5 These conflicting voices raise the question of why women from different sociocultural and global locations disagree about the importance of feminism . By saying no to feminism, Chinese women throw into question the canon of theory constructed purposely to speak for the interests of women. The rejection or subversion of feminism from women of different geopolitical locations provokes more relevant questions: Can feminism enlighten the consciousness of Chinese women and theorize their problems? Should the concept of gender difference seize its primary and exclusive signifier WOMEN’S FILMS 172 position when...