Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender

By Sheldon Hsiao-Peng Lu | Go to book overview

Chapter 14
Narrative Images of the Historical Passion Those Other Women -- On the Alterity in the New Wave of Chinese Cinema Yi Zheng

The self-conscious New Wave of Chinese cinema begins with a resituation of what C. T. Hsia, in his study of modern Chinese literature,1 calls the modern Chinese "obsession with China," an obsession recurrent in modern Chinese literary, social, and political thought, which begins with that traumatic moment in "our" modernity, when, as Benedict Anderson observes: "So, as European imperialism smashed its insouciant way around the globe, other civilizations found themselves traumatically confronted by pluralisms which annihilated their sacred genealogies. The Middle Kingdom's marginalization to the Far East is emblematic of this process."2

It is an obsession burdened with the traumatic modern Chinese history, with a "pregazing" -- "the givenness of subjectivity," which "is already part of the process of cross-cultural interpellation that is at work in the larger realm of modern history."3 These cinematic new waves and re-presentations emerge as belated but conscious attempts at a self-recasting that is a response to and a critique of that earlier trauma and the "Chinese" own subsequent entanglement with it, including the initial moment of encounter with the imperial West and the later "Cultural Revolution" as various stages of a Chinese modernity.

These filmic practices, as self-reimaging, however, are more than what Rey Chow diagnoses via Freud as the fetishizing gaze, nor are they a belated longing for the lost empire. In Primitive Passions, which is an extended reformulation of the practice of self-gazing/display, the "autoethnography" in the Chinese New Cinema, and a critical assessment of its attendant crosscultural inquiries, Chow looks at the formalisms of the production of the Fifth-Generation Chinese filmmakers as masculinist cultural critics. She suggests that in these new waves, the "primitive passions" of the masculinist, imperialist (in their nostalgia for a primitive Chinese empire) modern Chinese intellectuals are redeemed in their formal construction of "the primacy

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