2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 195

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Session 195: Individual Papers: The Marginalized Past of the 1940's -1950's China: Collaborators, Prisoners, Prostitutes and Soviet Movies

Chair: David G. Atwill, Pennsylvania State University, USA

The Banality of the Sublime: Consuming Soviet Movies in Pre-Socialist China
Xuelei Huang, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

The resonances of Soviet movies as a remarkable imprint of socialist experience in Maoist China have been well recognized and extensively researched. This paper scrutinizes the early itineraries of Soviet movies in pre-Socialist China throughout the 1920s to 1940s and argues that showing Soviet movies at this stage was primarily a business, not politics. There is no denying that Soviet movies provided the earliest reservoir of images, narratives and plots for Chinese imaginaries of the political aesthetics of sublimity, but beneath the surface, I argue that popular consumption and reception of these films was no more than a “banal” part of people’s everyday life. I first delineate Soviet movies’ early circuits from Harbin to Shanghai and to southwestern provinces in the war time (1937-1945), and analyze the multiple agencies of commercialism, geopolitics and collective mentalities that facilitated the circulation of this supposedly alternative genre. In the second part, by examining film reviews, advertisements, and censorship reports, I look at the ways in which Soviet films were endowed with sublime qualities. The third part examines a counter-discourse and demonstrates that historical spectators did not necessarily succumb to the mainstream construction of the discourse of sublimity in an entirely passive fashion. They had their own ways to put up their aware or unaware resistance. The real fate of Soviet movies in China, or probably Communist culture at large, might have been no more than the banality of the sublime.

Testimony, history and ethics: the memory of Jianbiangou prison camp
Sebastian Veg, EHESS, Hong Kong

At the approach of the 50th anniversary of the Anti-Rightist movement in 2007, a number of important personal writings were published in China, reflecting on events for which the Party has never taken full responsibility. Among these, Yang Xianhui’s volume of short narratives, based on interviews with survivors of Jiabiangou Reeducation through labor camp in Gansu, is of particular interest. First published in 2003, the 19 pieces of Chronicles of Jiabiangou (Jiabiangou jishi) represent both a literary endeavor and a claim to reestablish the memory of forgotten historical events, which will be analyzed along three perspectives. By emphasizing the subjective dimension of humiliating dehumanization and reduction to corporality in the accounts of survivors, Yang’s work breaks with the greater historical or fictional narratives used by previous authors like Zhang Xianliang who emphasize redemption. In contrast with many victims’ faith in the Party’s legitimacy, Yang documents the extra-legal nature of the entire movement. Finally, by constructing extreme moral dilemmas in which no choice is morally acceptable, Yang proposes an ethical reflection on history that serves less to absolve the survivors than to indict the system. Hence, Yang makes a claim to a different style of historicity: documenting the subjectivity and the moral dilemmas of rightists subjected to a policy of deliberate starvation, he explores the effects of a deliberate attempt to break down the elementary moral and human values that life in society is usually deemed to be based on, in a way that historians may struggle to capture.

Engendering Contempt for Collaborators:Anti-Hanjian Discourse Following the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945
Yun Xia, Valparaiso University, USA

During the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, the Chinese Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek launched vigorous anti-collaborator movements. It labeled collaborators as hanjian, “traitors to the Han.” The word became widely used in legal regulations, popular literature, and newspapers, and became the most derogatory and politically disastrous title possible for a Chinese citizen. Individuals designated hanjian were exposed to public humiliation, confiscation of land and property, and the threat of assassination. Such anti-hanjian movements continued into the postwar period on a larger scale, involving more social groups. This paper examines the interplay between gender and the crime of collaboration in the context of the Nationalist government’s post-war struggles, public voyeurism, and changing literary trends. Anti-hanjian literature targeted “female collaborators” as a particular category, exposing their relationships with male collaborators and fabricating details of their private lives. Tabloids and popular pamphlets deployed hearsay and rumors to confirm political disloyalty and personal decadence of celebrities suspected of wartime collaboration, male or female. Focusing on the punishment of female collaborators and the anti-hanjian literature in the late 1940s, the paper demonstrates how issues such as family and sexuality were written into the discourse on war and collaboration. Anti-hanjian campaigns shaped the ways in which popular forces were unleanshed by the state to expose “political criminals” and to destroy their social reputation. Many anti-hanjian strategies and vocabularies were inherited and taken up during later campaigns organized by the Chinese Communist party.

Singing Girl - Prostitute - Revolutionary Artist: Female Entertainers Across the Revolutionary Divide of 1949
Mi Zhao, University of Michigan, USA

Prior to 1949, the identities and social valuation of so-called “singing girls,” female entertainers who made a living in Chinese teahouses and story-telling houses, were highly ambivalent. In Chinese tradition, chastity and staying at home were the two key virtues for women. Singing girls violated both of these conventions. In the classification of Chinese orthodox society, singing girls inhabited a physical and cultural “grey zone” with ambiguous identities as both female entertainers and prostitutes. In the eyes of male audiences their performance places were alternative brothels. After 1949, singing girls became subjects of women’s liberation and were remade into “revolutionary artists.” Some of them even were promoted to be the leaders of state troupes as symbols of revolutionary victory, and tools by which to transform others. Their performances and the language penetrated into people’s everyday life. The dramatic shift in the identities of singing girls reflects the political, cultural and economic transformations wrought by the new CCP regime. This study reconsiders the question of what went by the name of socialist liberation and interrogates the process of state-building through the shaping of socialist new art, artists and new language. How were/are memories of individuals and the state worked and reworked over time? I look variously at propaganda, experience, and social memory, considering the narratives of women, men and the party. Primary sources include oral historical materials of former singing girls, male writers, audiences, CCP cadres and “new socialist artists,” reportage and newly released party archives.