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Über dieses Buch

This unique book investigates the tug-of-war between the free market economy and authoritative state regulation in Chinese TV and film culture after 1989.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction

Introduction

How Far Can We Go in Controlling and Negotiating Cultural Production and Consumption

As compared to the revolutionary era, people in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now seem to live in a freer and more relaxed atmosphere, in which they have the freedom to explore desire and consumption in an alleged socialist market characterized by privatization, consumerism, and marketization. Popular culture epitomizes such a market that allows for free consumption and commercialization, as market forces appear to be a dominant factor, among others, in producing cultural commodities. However, current understanding of this socialist market seems to be an overemphasis on the role of the market and belittling of the socialist forces, to the extent that we see discussions about whether or not China is achieving neo-liberal status.1 To further complicate this understanding, I explore the state’s socialist force in regulating feature films and TV series as a window through which to improve our understanding of the ways in which marketized popular culture is a battlefield on which competing ideologies are at odds. Meanwhile, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the official forces, I also pay attention to cultural producers and consumers, hoping that my research ultimately contributes to the understanding of the state-individual interactions in contemporary China.

Wing Shan Ho

Screening the Economic Subject in Films

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Selfless Party officials and the Socialist Legacy

As China undergoes drastic social and economic restructuring, ensuing moral catastrophes have garnered increasing attention, with the population emerging as desperate economic subjects craving financial security—a departure from the previous socialist welfare system. Ci Jiwei argues that China is confronting a “moral crisis,” that is, “a state of affairs in which large numbers of people fail to comply with more or less acceptable rules of social co-existence and cooperation,” as he sees that the violation of elementary norms has resulted in the production and widespread sale of unsafe food, medicine, and water, for example.1 These ruthless acts arguably stem from the desire for profit or advancement at the expense of others. Economic subjects at all social levels pursue wealth during socioeconomic restructuring, transgressing moral and sometimes even legal boundaries. This moral disarray resonates with the global moral crisis that sociologist Zygmunt Bauman identifies—a moral crisis in which strangers are seen as threats, attacked, and killed within a space of liquid modernity, a term he coins to describe the globalization processes in which the boundaries of society and culture become more and more permeable.2 Both the anxious Chinese government and cultural elites respond to such a moral crisis on the screen but with different representational paradigms that give rise to representational politics—the former attempts to reinvigorate moral values in order to maintain political legitimacy and the latter reflects upon social problems.

Wing Shan Ho

Chapter 2. Insulting Portrayals of the Present Era?: Selling one’s Son, Murder, and Human Trafficking

Local response to global capitalism in China and its resulting social changes are central to socially conscious films of various directors whose works first circulated in international art-houses before occasionally inhabiting movie theaters in their homeland. While the state addresses moral anxiety by holding up examples of altruistic Party members, non-state-sponsored productions portray ruthless, immoral, profit-making economic subjects of the lower social class. In this chapter, I will examine the films Lost in Beijing, Blind Shaft, and Blind Mountain, with a special focus on Lost in Beijing, in order to understand how non-state—sponsored films reveal the underbelly of society by portraying immoral and/or illegal profit-making schemes carried out by poverty-stricken characters. These economic subjects make money at the expense of others—strangers or even their own children and wives—through murder, selling children, and human trafficking. Their profit-making schemes also suggest that economic opportunities and victims of financial predators are highly gendered. As the perpetrator navigates his social space, we often find misfortunate females who prostitute themselves for a living. When analyzed together, the experiences of downtrodden innocents and opportunistic offenders reveal a complex network of quandaries facing Chinese migrant workers.

Wing Shan Ho

Screening the Sexual Subject on the Television

Frontmatter

Chapter 3. Golden Marriage: An Exemplary Marriage and a Harmonious Society

Following discussion of the (non-)profit-driven subject and the implications of his acts with regard to the self, family, and community in Part I, Part II turns to the investigation of the socialist spirit in sexual terms and the control and the negotiations of the representations of sexual subjects. While Chapter 1 discusses the ideal selfless acts of ideal Party officials as presented in state-sanctioned Chinese media, this chapter will provide us an angle from which to glimpse the qualities of state-approved ideal citizens in their domestic setting, with a focus on their sexual virtue. The disintegration of the sublime figure notwithstanding, the state remains active in curbing overindulgence in sexual desire by creating faithful sexual subjects in the service of establishing a harmonious society and eliminating social instability in the familial structure. Even though contemporary on-screen sexual subjects and the off-screen general public appear to have more freedom than previously to embrace their personal sexual pleasure per se, state-sponsored productions attempt to shape people’s off-screen sexual subjectivity by creating an on-screen exemplary sexual subject and encouraging the institutionalization of sexuality in the form of marriage.

Wing Shan Ho

Chapter 4. Narrow Dwelling: Extra-marital Sex and the City

Despite the fact that SARFT once rigidly warned against “unhealthy” sexual depictions and promoted sanitization of the screen, the ban on sexual material proved transient. In fact, TV dramas depicting extra-marital affairs and sexual openness reappeared not long after SARFT’s campaign. One such drama, Woju or Narrow Dwelling, was even labeled as “the most obscene TV drama in history” and was criticized for bringing negative influences to society.1 Its Chinese title, Woju, literally “snail dwelling,” even became one of the most popular terms in 2009 mainstream media.2Woju as a verb means to inhabit a narrow dwelling; as a noun, it is the name for the narrow dwelling itself.

Wing Shan Ho

Screening the Political Subject in Films

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. Selling Party Patriotism to Intellectuals in the Chinese Blockbuster Hero

There are various forms of subjectivity that are not permitted to surface in post-1989, neo-liberal China. The most forbidden form is alternative political subjectivity, which is connected to a less forbidden but still taboo subjectivity—non-heteronormative subjectivity. Conversely, patriotic subjectivity is the form of partisanship that is most often promoted, as seen in the portrayal of the patriotic Tong Zhi discussed in Chapter 3. Such Party patriotism is embraced by the socialist spirit that manifests as sacrifice of the individual for the greater good as well as patriotic submission to the ruling Party. This chapter investigates the phenomenon of promoting Party patriotism, particularly to intellectuals, while banning dissenting political expressions as is apparent in films made after the 1989 Tian’anmen Incident. In this chapter I will focus on one Chinese blockbuster that promotes the notion of self-sacrifice and will examine three contrasting underground/independent films that depict challenges to state power in Chapter 6.1

Wing Shan Ho

Chapter 6. (Dis)Associating Political Dissent and Non-heteronormative Sexual Desire

In the preceding chapter, I discussed a highly commercialized zhuxuanlu production that emphasized the socialist spirit of submission to political leaders and regime. To obtain a more complete understanding of political subjectivity as depicted in films, in this chapter I explore three films that contain potentially subversive elements that challenge state power—East Palace, West Palace (東宫西宫), Lan Yu (藍宇), and Butterfly (蝴蝶). The common feature that draws these films together is their association of politically dissenting ideas with non-heteronormative sexuality. I maintain that the sexual and political taboos portrayed are interwoven within the present political and cultural milieu and therefore form a counterexample to proper Chineseness. These films suggest that the state allows only certain kinds of personal desires to break the surface, while all others are denied a place in the post-socialist, neo-liberal Chinese context. As seen in Chapter 5, a political subject has to embrace political leaders, and those subjects who do not fit the image of submissive patriotism may be considered verboten, as is the case with the protagonists depicted in the three films I analyze below. As these films are either shot underground or made without the intention of capturing the mainland market, they provide an angle from which to understand the type and salience of critical political subjectivity that can be screened in filmic productions that ignore or bypass China’s censorship system.

Wing Shan Ho

Conclusion

Conclusion

How Far Have We Gone

Ihave researched filmic and TV representations of three forms of subjectivity in order to understand how cultural producers negotiate and create within a restricted creative system. Screen products allow us to investigate the complex power dynamics interwoven by the cultural policies of zhuxuanlu and censorship, cultural workers, and viewers, in which power and agency is executed, affirmed, and reclaimed, yet also restrained or counterbalanced by opposing forces. Although the state, in managing cultural policies, has structural supremacy in attempting to manipulate ideology in screen products, its cultural policies are by no means omnipotent or boundless. My six chapters have illustrated that cultural workers and viewers are active participants in the production and interpretation of cultural products in general and screen products in particular, and they have provided answers to the question of “How far can we go?” that I posed in the Introduction.

Wing Shan Ho

Backmatter

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