- Cinema, Space, and Polylocality in a Globalizing China by Yingjin Zhang
Yingjin Zhang’s new book, which examines the cinematic scene in China in the age of globalization and postsocialism, employs the unfamiliar term “polylocality” in its title. Cinema, Space, and Polylocality in a Globalizing China is a solid, well-reasoned account of a very new condition in Chinese cinema, one that amply justifies the neologism in its title. Although Pierre Bourdieu is not explicitly referred to, the cinematic scene that Zhang maps out is, indeed, a dynamic field full of contention, cooption, and negotiation as each agent takes up a social position using its available capital—be it political, cultural, or intellectual—to advance its interests while negotiating the new rules governing the field. Maneuvering through the rich and flexible discourse of space, Zhang takes on some important and urgent issues with which Chinese film studies are faced and seeks dialogue with other scholars and critical narratives.
In his introductory chapter, Zhang examines the work of some of the most prominent theorists, figures such as Henri Lefebvre, Miriam Bratu Hansen, Michel de Certeau, Zygmunt Bauman, Manuel Castells, Arturo Escobar, Doreen Massey, Arif Dirlik, and Yi-Fu Tuan, in order to prepare a theoretical context, in which polylocality—a term that renders his sense of the multiplicity, diversity, and unevenness of spaces—can be used as a salient critical lens through which to investigate contemporary Chinese cinema. Indeed, this is not another survey of Chinese cinema for the general reader, but, rather, a theory-oriented contribution to the rapidly evolving scholarly field of Chinese film studies.
The first half of chapter 2, “Space of Scholarship: Trans/National and Comparative Studies,” examines the familiar concept of “national cinemas,” a concept that is, in his very plausible view, under increasing challenge in this age of transnationalism [End Page 212] and globalization. While acknowledging the relevance of this term, Zhang proposes a shift in the use of the national as “[b]eing ‘relational’ on a continuum stretching across scale from the local to the regional and the global,” and thus being “fluctuating” and “unfinished” in ever-changing sociopolitical and cultural processes (p. 19). In other words, “it [is] more illuminating to conceive of the national as a spatial continuum stretching across the scale from the local to the global” (p. 25, original emphasis).
In his effort to define polylocality, Zhang identifies three significant shifts in Chinese cinema: (1) a shift “from conventional scholarship involving great auteurs and movements to an exploration of alternative practices previously downgraded or excluded from Chinese film history”; (2) a shift “from a thematic, ideological analysis of individual films to what may be broadly termed ‘industry research,’ which includes various aspects of film production, distribution, exhibition, and consumption”; and (3) a shift “from a narrow concern with national cinema per se to a transnational reconceptualization of cinematic projects on a continuum that stretches across the scale from the local and the national to the regional and the global” (p. 21). These shifts lead toward his endorsement of comparative film studies, which are
to capture the multi-directionality with which film studies simultaneously looks outwards (transnationalism, globalization), inwards (cultural traditions, aesthetic conventions), backwards (history, memory), and sideways (cross-media practices, interdisciplinary research). Conceived this way, comparative film studies demands investigations into diverse areas. In the area of political economy, for example, it examines the flows of translocal and transnational capital and the strategies of resistance or complicity a nation-state or locality may adopt or abandon at a given time. In the area of communication and articulation, it analyses the specificity and interconnectivity of media and technologies. In the areas of distribution, exhibition, and reception, it explores the ways people market and consume films. In the area of aesthetics, it exposes the structures and functions of narrativity and audiovisuality. For me, comparative film studies is better situated than transnationalism to benefit from theories and methods that have...