From "Minority Film" to "Minority Discourse" Questions of Nationhood and Ethnicity in Chinese Cinema
In recent years, cultural critics have returned to the relationship between nationhood and ethnicity with a renewed sense of urgency if not anxiety. This has been, in part, to criticize the established paradigms and epistemes (such as "center-periphery" and "majority-minority") and, in part, to reconfigure the geopolitical space in the contemporary world. This study seeks to investigate the functioning of a set of critical categories -- ethnicity, race, nation-state-as well as other related terms, such as nation-people, nationalism, state discourse, cultural hegemony, and subjectivity, in the field of Chinese cinema. Proceeding from "minority film" (shaoshu minzu dianying) as a special genre in Mainland China to "minority discourse" as a critical practice in New Chinese Cinema,1 I will demonstrate that the categories of the nation and ethnicity have been put to use through a complex process of negotiation in Chinese cinema from the early 1920s to the present. Two levels of such negotiation can be differentiated at this point: the level of filmic discourse (i.e., film narrative and narration) and the level of critical discourse (i.e., film theory and criticism). I shall start with the second level so as to identify issues of crucial importance and then return to the first level by way of reading a number of films that illuminate these issues.
Chris Berry published an article in which he equates minzu, an ambiguous Chinese term, with "race," an extremely loaded English term. By insisting on equivalents such as "race characteristics" for minzu tedian, "race form" for minzu xingshi, "race-ization" for minzuhua, "race color" for minzu fengge, and "racial minority" for shaoshu minzu, he attempts a deconstructive reading of minzu that has resulted in, unfortunately, not so much a clarification as a conflation of several distinct categories in Chinese film studies.2 While Berry is certainly correct in identifying "sinocentrism," which he would rather term "race-centrism," in post-1949 Chinese film, what he sees as "race-