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Inhabiting the City: Tropes of “Home” in Contemporary Chinese Cinema


Urbanization has been fueling massive migrations across various regions in China, redrawing its physiognomy as much as patterns of relations among all its inhabitants. Amid such redrawing in the life-world, “home” (jia 家), a term referring to the material place and related objects used in family life and a trope evoking a “psychic” sense of belonging, has been gaining ascendancy in and across all the artistic and public media, including contemporary Chinese cinema. By bringing three Chinese films produced in the 2010s into a constellation, this essay traces the distinct ways in which a cinematic aesthetic transpires to significantly reconfigure some of the familiar logics of representation. More specifically, this essay examines how such reconfiguration turns into a critical telescope that variably mobilizes tropes of “home” as differential imaginaries of an “urban China,” involving important implications for studies of the arts and their social efficacy, in China and beyond.

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