Postsocialist Conditions: Ideas and History in China's "Independent Cinema," 1988–2008

By Huang, Yingying | Chinese Literature Today, July 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Postsocialist Conditions: Ideas and History in China's "Independent Cinema," 1988–2008


Huang, Yingying, Chinese Literature Today


Wang Xiaoping. Postsocialist Conditions: Ideas and History in China's "Independent Cinema," 1988-2008. Nonfiction. Leiden and Boston. Brill. 2018. 472 pages. $264 USD. ISBN 9789004385580

Wang Xiaoping's substantial volume investigates the films by China's "Sixth Generation auteurs," whose major productivity flourished in a postsocialist China, defined as the society under market economy since the late 1980s. Wang declares in the introduction that the book "aims to provide a cognitive mapping of the politics and the aesthetics of [the sixth generation cinema], by explicating its cultural awareness, political unconscious and aesthetic innovations as well as their mutual, dialectic interactions" (2). Contending that what appears apolitical in the films can be read through class analysis, Wang adopts a Marxist approach to repoliticize the texts, interrogating the ostensibly "natural" or humanist, questioning the directors' truth claims, and accounting for the inefficiency of the films' social reflections. The three parts that follow cover a wide range of works and subjects.

Part one, intended to lay out the "social-political contour of the postsocialist Chinese society" (43), contains two chapters. Chapter one analyzes the social transformation portrayed in Jia Zhangke's Hometown Trilogy: Platform (2000), The Pickpocket (1998), and Unknown Pleasures (2002). Chapter two explores the previously suppressed "psychological interiority" in postsocialist China through two films, Postman (1995), directed by He Jianjun ЩШШ, and Beijing Bicycle (2001), by Wang Xiaoshuai НЖ-. All three directors, Wang argues, have fallen short of the class awareness that is essential in presenting the social-political implications of marketization and addressing the root of the characters' predicaments, a viewpoint that Wang pursues through the remaining chapters.

In the same vein, the four chapters in part two examine the representation of postsocialist lives. Chapter three studies the impact of the socialist past on the lives of workers through Zhang Jiarui's ⅞⅜⅜ The Road (2006) and Wang Quan'an's Weaving Girl (2008?/2010), observing that an ideology of the "nature of humanity" undermines the directors' intended social critique. Chapter four, revisiting the subaltern, disputes the truth claims by Zhang Ming ⅜⅞ and Jia Zhangke, whose respective films, Rainclouds over Wushan (1996) and Still Life (2006), attempt realist depictions of the lives of the underclass. Both chapters call into question the legitimacy of the directors' elitist stance, from which, as Wang sees it, they project altered truths onto the underprivileged. Chapter five reviews the frustrations of artists in the commercial age as represented in Wang Xiaoshuai's Frozen (1995) and Gu Changwei's Щ ЙШ And the Spring Comes (2008), suggesting that the films fail to arrive at the ultimate cause of the artists' failures, which according to Wang Xiaoping is the spiritual vacuum left by the bygone age. …

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