Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Non-Han in Socialist Cinema and Contemporary Films in the People's Republic of China

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Non-Han in Socialist Cinema and Contemporary Films in the People's Republic of China

Article excerpt

In April 2011, the town of Dali in Yunnan province inaugurated its "Museum of Rural Film" (nongcun dianying lishi bowuguan ?????????). Proud of its cinematographic history, the town council featured a selection of fairly specific films: the shaoshu minzu pian ?????or "films on mi- nority minzu" made between 1950 and 1980.(1) Rather than an homage to rural film, however, this selection glorified the productions of so-called so- cialist cinema, the narrative and aesthetic pillars of which were the region's non-Han populations. The creation of the museum is related to two current trends, the celebration of the cinematographic tool and the glorification of an idealised revolutionary past. Indeed, the seventh art is fertile ground both in commercial and tourism terms, and it is a particularly effective propaganda tool for a national and international audience. The panegyric of national pro- duction is a means of maintaining a form of control over an industry that has experienced accelerated privatisation and transnationalisation of funding since 2000.(2)The Chinese authorities have therefore actively promoted the cinema in recent years, in particular with the opening in 2005 of an enor- mous "Museum of Chinese Cinema" (Zhongguo dianying bowuguan ??? ????) in Beijing and a local and national cinema theme park (ChangYing shijicheng ?????) in Changchun. Moreover, by integrating a cinema museum into regional circuits, the municipal authorities in Dali are contribut- ing to another booming industry: tourism with a nationalist flavour. In this way, the non-Han are integrated into both "ethnic tourism" (minzu lüyou ? ???) and "red tourism" (hongse lüyou ????).(3)

It is against this background, therefore, that socialist films on the non- Han, like those of the new Dali museum, have been re-edited and screened numerous times since the early 2000s. Collections entitled "red films" (hongse dianying ????) and "old classic films" (lao dianying jingdian ?????) offer versions subtitled in English and Mandarin, sometimes simplified, technically enhanced, or remastered in colour.(4) Eagles Brave the Storm (Bao fengyu zhong de xiongying, 1957, WangYi), which pays homage to the solidarity of Tibetans and Han soldiers during the Long March, was re-edited in 2007. Two spy films, Visitors on the Ice Mountain (Bingshan shang de laike, 1963, Zhao Xinshui) and The Caravan (Shanjian lingxiang mabang lai, 1954, Wang Weiyi), were re-screened as TV serials on the biggest national channels in 2006 and 2010. Lastly, Third Sister Liu(Liu sanjie, 1961, Su Li), which combines romance and class struggle amongst the Zhuang, is one of the most widely readapted films in terms of reworkings, and has also been remade for the cinema (The Singing Fairy,Xunzhao Liu sanjie, 2009, Zhu Feng) and turned into a musical show for tourist sites (Impression Liu sanjie, directed by Zhang Yimou). This renewed interest in the non-Han on the big screen was also characterised by the abundance of new productions in the 2000s, with more than 50 films made between 2000 and 2007.(5) In 2004, 12 of the 212 films produced in China featured non-Han characters, an annual figure judged "insufficient" in terms of percentage but one that remains the highest in the history of the cinema on the non-Han.(6)At the same time, a great deal of academic research encouraged the production of new films on the non-Han, insisting on the need to preserve their cultures and open up new perspectives for the development of Chinese cinema. (7)

Cultural representations of minority minzu constitute a field of study that has been developed over the last 20 years. The key role of the "primitive" non-Han in the formation of a modern Han majority has been observed and widely documented.(8)This dichotomy implies a hierarchisation of pop- ulations within the framework of Chinese national construction, often re- lated to the domination of men over women.(9) Moreover, cinema specialists have highlighted the "over-representation" of the non-Han and the processes of exoticising and homogenising an "internal Other. …

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