Academic journal article CineAction

On the Oppositional Politics of Chinese Every Day Practices (Back to Back, Face to Face)

Academic journal article CineAction

On the Oppositional Politics of Chinese Every Day Practices (Back to Back, Face to Face)

Article excerpt

If a socialist society does not promote social and collective aims, then what of socialism still remains?

Mao Tse-Tung(1)

HUANG JIANXIN HAS BEEN CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MOST political directors that emerged during the turbulent 1980s in China. Placed within the Fifth Generation, Jianxin's films are unique in that they address contemporary socialist urban issues, mostly, the impact that the reforms launched after 1978 have had on urbanites.(2) Whereas Jianxin's films are difficult to locate in terms of ideological inscription, it is possible to think of them within what some theorists have labeled "postsocialism."(3) This paper will explore the concept of "postsocialism" advocated by Arif Dirlik and Maurice Meisner, and its connection not only to the social issues addressed in Back to Back, Face to Face (1994), but to its narrative structure. Briefly, in Dirlik's analysis, Chinese socialism shares the time/space productive homogeneity of western modernization that structures both capitalism and Marxism, hence it is and always was a hybrid socialism. Meisner's assessment of Mao, instead, positions him as a subversive thinker and practitioner of a socialism born not from the homogenization of Western time/space productivity since the peasants and not the proletariat were, albeit briefly, the protagonists of the Chinese revolution before it was stifled by modernization and the bureaucratization of a centralized and authoritarian Communist Party modeled after Lenin.

In recent years, Chinese urban economy has shifted away from a centralized apparatus relying upon direct bureaucratic allocation and distribution toward a market-based system where goods and services are distributed according to market flows, generating a space where both frameworks coexist simultaneously. While profits were previously returned to the state--which in turn provided the necessary funding to cover enterprise costs--now firms are able to retain and reallocate them according to internal needs under a taxation system, as an incentive for local firms to increase their efficiency. Private enterprises have risen, though supervised and with some restrictions: privately owned hotels, restaurants, domestic services, educational and vocational institutions, construction crews, and farmers' markets are among some forms of private employment. Other sectors such as housing and health care facilities and services are also privately owned, while large state companies offer shares for sale to their employees and public as a way of increasing capital.

Enterprises have, in general, more freedom to hire and fire as opposed to the prior state labor assignment system but the state is no longer under the obligation to provide employment for school graduates, even when only one to four percent are now admitted to higher education. Employment is not permanent for those newly hired by the state--as it used to be--and instead a limited term contract can be renewed upon agreement between employer and employee. Firings, bank-ruptcies, and lack of assignments have generated unemployment which is nevertheless officially sanctioned as the price to pay for keeping good work records.

In addition, a policy toward opening China to the outside, capitalist world is aimed at attracting new technology, capital, markets, and training from abroad, and enabling China to perform competitively within a global economy. While foreign instruction in languages and economics is imported, foreign exchange is pursued through massive translation and publication of foreign books and periodicals, and, recently through sending over 30,000 students to study in advanced capitalist, Western countries. Western cultural products from TV series to plays, films, and radio broadcasting are now not only permitted but encouraged as a source of information and instruction about the world at large.

Economic insecurity, however, and a sense that the changes introduced by the reforms constitute a threat to the social accomplishments of the 1949 revolution seemingly contradict an apparent yet uneven economic growth. …

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