Socialism off-screen : moviegoing in Maoist China, 1949-1976
- As a result of state sponsorship, film was made widely available to Chinese audiences after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, enjoyed by urbanites, workers, intellectuals, as well as peasants. While the production of socialist subjects has often been seen as the primary function of cinema in China during the Mao era (1949-1976), moviegoing became the basis of cultural practices that encompassed multiple goals and identities. My dissertation investigates moviegoing in Maoist China through contemporaneous discourses and viewers' testimonies, both of which, I argue, articulated multiple ideals of socialism by positioning the spectator differently vis-à-vis the filmic text and the institution of film exhibition. I show film reception as a contested space by pursuing two lines of inquiry. By examining Maoist film institutions and discourses, I describe how cinema became embedded in the multimedia propagandist system of the Chinese Communist Party. In the press and in campaign materials, authorities, editors, critics, and ordinary viewers tried to prescribe almost every aspect of a socialist film culture from exhibition strategies to desirable viewing habits and responses to films. Drawing on archival sources, including newspapers, film magazines, internally released journals, and government documents, I suggest that although public discourse often focused on the education of model socialist citizens through cinema, it was open for negotiations and debates. On a second front, I examine how Mao-era moviegoers experienced and remembered watching films through memoirs, published accounts, as well as interviews I conducted myself in 2013 and 2014. Audience testimonies revealed that film viewers assumed a range of spectatorial identities from model viewers in the eyes of the Party, to cinephiles, critics, and distracted spectators. Despite officially sanctioned attempts to regulate moviegoing, there was a considerable amount of unpredictability and autonomy in the actual reception of films. The four chapters of the dissertation focus on different aspects of the Maoist film culture. Chapter 1 examines the Party's effort to build a socialist film exhibition system across the country. Guided by Mao Zedong's "Talks at the Yan'an Forum of Literature and Arts" (1942), this system was founded on an ambivalent notion of "the people" - at once an active political subject demanding the Party's service and an object of reform needing Party guidance. Chapter 2 focuses on scarcity as a key material condition that shaped spectatorial identifications. Chapter 3 traces the changing contours of Chines socialism by looking at dubbed foreign films and their reception. The popularity of a wide variety of films from countries including the Soviet Union, North Korea, India, Italy, and France as well as the diverse modes in which audiences engaged with these films testified to the aspiration of Chinese socialism to create an internationalist mass culture. Finally, the topic of Chapter 4 is the imitation of film characters among children. While the CCP encouraged model emulation as a crucial mechanism of political education, through fantasy and play, children's imitative practices became potentially critical of Party policies. My study makes an original contribution to the growing body of scholarship on Chinese cinema and culture, which has paid little attention to the question of reception. It re-conceptualizes socialism and socialist culture through moviegoing. By delineating a little known film culture radically different from what is found in most industrialized countries, my project also revises current historical narratives of the global circulation of cinema.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Stanford University, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.
|Ma, Jean, 1972-
|Ma, Jean, 1972-
|Statement of responsibility
|Submitted to the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2016.
- © 2016 by Chenshu Zhou
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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