2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 105

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Dong nan xi bei: Chinese Cultural Production and Its Transnational Contexts

Organizer: Nicolai Volland, Pennsylvania State University, USA

Chair: Wendy A. Larson, University of Oregon, USA

Discussant: Wendy A. Larson, University of Oregon, USA

The notion of the nation state as the primary locus of cultural production has long been called into question. Over the past two decades, numerous authors have pointed out that the production and consumption of modern Chinese literature, theater, film, music, and art has been crossing boundaries ever since its inception. However, it is much less obvious what the “transnational” or the “global” means to individual practitioners. How have authors, playwrights, and filmmakers, based within and outside of China, embraced and engaged the Other, and how do they individually define the contexts of their work? How do these contexts—rather than a singular global context—inform their identity and their work? This panel proposes to speak of a plurality of transnational contexts, bringing together a range of perspectives that focus on cultural interactions across borders and the transnational milieus, from literally all directions, in which modern Chinese literature and culture have been historically produced and consumed. The papers investigate modes of interaction and reference in East Asian “homage cinema” (dong), the hybrid identity of Sinophone Malaysian literature (nan), the East-West contact zones of contemporary “Chinese” theatre (xi), and China’s cultural engagement with the Soviet Union in the 1950s (bei). Taken together, these papers emphasize that modern Chinese cultural production has been taking place in extensive and organic interaction with various cultural contexts beyond China’s borders. The panel thus proposes to understand modern Chinese culture as an evolving body in constant dialogue with a shifting and diverse range of transnational contexts.

Ozu Yasujiro and "Homage" Cinema
Margaret Hillenbrand, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Ozu Yasujiro enjoys special status as the grand master of East Asian cinema, and several Chinese-language directors have come under the shadow of his monumental filmmaking. A notable aspect of his impact on cinema in China and Taiwan is the way in which directors feel compelled to “own up” to the Japanese director: Hou Hsiao-hsien and Jia Zhangke, in particular, have paid him homage of a strikingly direct kind. Instead of the hints, nods, coded references, and subtle trails that are arguably the more common currency of cinematic citation, both Hou (in Cafe Lumiere) and Jia (in The World) have presented the most transparent tribute to Ozu. But homage of this sort can be as sly or guarded as it is reverential. Most obviously, both Cafe Lumiere and The World are far from Ozu-like in many aspects of their respective filmmaking; and several critics have used this gap to argue for the productive distance that can be brought into being, quite paradoxically, by the closeness implied by homage. But these two films also prompt a more vigorous definition of “homage” itself, a term which is loosely understood to lie somewhere on the spectrum of creative copy, but whose shifting relationship to remake, rip-off, parody, and pastiche has not been fully articulated. This paper explores the rivalrous, occasionally “faux”, nature of homage in East Asian cinema, arguing that its competitive undertow can be all the stronger in those films which profess their reverence loudest.

Why Sinophone Malaysian Literature?
Alison M. Groppe, University of Oregon, USA

What is the relationship between Sinophone Malaysian literature and modern Chinese literature from mainland China and Taiwan, or modern Chinese literature as it has been conventionally structured in the US academy? Is there a relationship? As one critic recently put it, Sinophone Malaysian literature is a “literature that lacks a nation.” It is written in Chinese yet emerges outside the geopolitical borders of mainland China; in Malaysia, not being written in the national language of Malay bars it from the category of Malaysian national literature. Meanwhile, apart from some relatively recent interest in Malaysian-born Taiwan authors such as Li Yongping, Zhang Guixing and Ng Kim Chew (Huang Jinshu), Sinophone Malaysian literature and literary history have received scant attention in scholarship on Chinese-language literature. Yet Sinophone Malaysian literature boasts a long history of production and emanates from one of the largest and most significant Chinese minority populations in the world. In this paper, I draw on the history and literature of “Sinophone Malaysia” in order to engage with recent theories and debates concerning the globalization of modern Chinese literature. I argue that an in-depth understanding of Sinophone Malaysian literature and the political and cultural contexts with which it is in dialogue is crucial for appreciating the global dimensions and diversity of Chinese literature—and for determining how—or whether—the field of modern Chinese literature can be reconfigured so as to equitably accommodate extraterritorialized Chinese-language literatures from Malaysia and other parts of the world.

"China" on Stage: Locating Gao Xingjian and Stan Lai in the Chinese Diaspora
Alexander Huang, George Washington University, USA

Artists in exile or in transit have produced some of the most exciting works, which is why intercultural theatre thrives in the contact zones between different ethnic, cultural, and performance traditions. Gao Xingjian (France) and Stan Lai (Taiwan) are two of the most active playwrights and directors who maintain a tense but productive relationship to “China” as a repository of lived experiences and transnational imaginations. While Gao enjoyed a relatively successful career in Beijing before his self-exile to France, Lai has recently risen to stardom as his plays, specifically those plays that engage with and sometimes critique various forms of nostalgia for the “lost” China, tour to critical acclaim throughout mainland Chinese cities. They are at once marginal in their artistic experiments off the beaten path and “mainstream” in light of state recognitions (Nobel Prize for Gao and two Taiwan National Arts Awards for Lai) and box office performance. Through case studies of productions of Gao’s Snow in August (Bayue xue, 2002) and Lai’s The Village (Baodao yi cun, 2010), this paper argues that grasping the experiences and imaginations of “China” are critical to understanding Gao’s and Lai’s stage works that attempt to build bridges and question the links between the Chinese diaspora and the “motherland.” Their contrasting approaches to the exilic and diasporic experiences are informed by their uses of Chinese and Western performance techniques and narrative modes.

A Brave New World of Literature: Mapping China's Cultural Encounter with the Socialist World, 1949-1960
Nicolai Volland, Pennsylvania State University, USA

When the People’s Republic of China embarked on its course of “Learning from the Soviet Union” in the 1950s, the nation’s world view underwent seismic shifts. It consequently fell to a range of media—newspapers, school textbooks, and literature—to explain this new world, its geographic contours, and not least China’s own place within this world order. This paper focuses on Yiwen, the PRC’s foremost journal of translated literature, to map the geography of a transnational literary and cultural vision that located China squarely in a socialist league of shared cultural production. This map attempted to radically reshape its readers’ understanding of “world literature,” focusing on the Soviet Union as the center of both literary theory and literary production, while relegating Western European and American authors to far-flung and peripheral regions. The paper argues that Yiwen projected an inclusive vision of a global cultural community that highlighted literary production from the Soviet Union, while for the first time giving ample space to the literatures of smaller nations—including those from Asia, Africa, and Latin America—that hitherto had been white spots on the global imaginaire of Chinese readers. At the same time, however, the paper shows that Yiwen’s cartography of the new socialist culture reveals underlying tectonic tensions, especially regarding the proper position of the PRC on this map, and its relation with the Soviet Union. These tensions broke open in increasingly violent tremblers after 1960, which eventually tore apart the ambitious project of a socialist world culture.