Rethinking the Cultural History of Chinese Film: A Conversation with Dai Jinhua

From Gu'er jiuzu ji (Orphan Rescues Grandfather), dir. Zhang Shichuan, 1923.

The Marxist Feminist scholar of film and literature Dai Jinhua emerged in the late 1980s as one of the preeminent cultural critics of China's New Left. In 2002, Verso published Cinema and Desire: Feminist Marxism and Cultural Politics in the Work of Dai Jinhua, a collection of Dai's film writings, edited by Tani Barlow and Jing Wang, on subjects including China's Fifth and Sixth Generation filmmakers (and the consolidation of the "generations" periodization in Chinese film history), the narraton of gender in Chinese films and novels, and mass culture in the context of the explosion of consumerism in the 1980s and 90s. 

Included in the book is the 1997 interview below (translated by Lau Kin Chi) conducted by Zhou Yaqin, then a Ph.D candidate at Peking University's Department of Chinese. Dai discusses her intellectual formation, her efforts to reconceptualize the cultural history of Chinese film, the relationship between film and literature, and feminism in China.  

Disciplinary Turn and Cultural Thinking

Zhou Yaqin: As some of the students and I understand it, over the last few years you have been engaged, actually you have really excelled, in studying contemporary and modern women's literature, mass culture of the eighties and nineties, and post-1949 Chinese film, paying particular attention to the period after 1978, the New Era. Lately, you've undertaken studies into the cultural history of Chinese film, particularly its pre-1949 roots. How do you account for this turn in your thinking?

Dai Jinhua: It may be more a question of extending my academic territory than any particular disciplinary turn. In fact, the study of women's literature and mass culture is an expansion of my film work. Women's studies used to be a sideline love for me. The more deeply I got involved in it, the less of a sideline it became, however. Generally speaking my work consists of three parts, each complementing the others: Chinese film, women's literature, and mass culture.

I began academic life working in film theory and criticism. Throughout the eighties I was primarily concerned with Chinese film studies, focusing on contemporary films, mostly of the New Era. Chinese film history grew out of a convergence of my reflections on and use of Western theories, my "ambition” to challenge these theories on the basis of complex film practices in China, and my wish to position contemporary Chinese film on a historical horizon.

Over the course of the nineties, I've reconfirmed my sense that films cannot be explained exclusively on their own terms. Since its inception at the end of the nineteenth century, film has always been situated at nodal points in modern society. A young art, the invention of science and technology, film entered the social circuit and was rapidly made an industry and a characteristic commodity. There is no disputing that film is one of the twentieth century's premier art forms. Yet at the end of the century it is already in decline. Since film becomes a unique, charming commodity available in any cultural market, inevitably it is linked to society, politics, ideology, fashion, consumption, all sorts of mass culture and urban culture, and tendencies in the humanities and arts.

During the eighties I placed enormous faith in my belief that film is one of the great art forms — in its own way, an art as pure as anything ancient. I haven't abandoned this belief. But I find it too limiting now to accept, as a truly efficacious explanation, aesthetic, artistic criteria as sole issues in the study of film, particularly Chinese film. That is why I have begun extending my research into cultural studies and why I feel so strongly now that film work requires this emphasis. When I look back I see that in the past I was not exclusively in film studies, either. I always seem to have been trying to bring historical and cultural perspectives to bear. What I'd like to do is open up a larger platform for film studies, drawing on cultural studies and studies of the cultural history of film.

I love both literature and film, and women's literature had always been my sideline pursuit. Since I am a woman I'd initially been inclined toward women writers in a simple intuitive way. In leisure reading, however, I began encountering more and more representations that I did not or could not identify with; that is to say, I discovered the complexity of women's literary writing. In the process, my feminist positioning and conceptualizations surfaced, partly in response to my reflection on my own gendered experience, and partly from the film theory that I was studying and teaching.

So-called Western film theory coalesced at the turn of the sixties and in the seventies, a time of climax, the beginning of the end of the last revolution of the twentieth century in Europe. Film theory is revolutionary; it is theory that, at least in some US and European universities in the seventies and eighties, was inherently critical and leftist. In the course of my study of film theory I received my primary theoretical training. Of course, as a special cultural industry, film is deeply implicated in gender processes and gendered order. My theoretical position as a feminist took shape in the course of studying film.

Besides film theory I have read quite widely in feminist literary, sociological, and other theories. This links up naturally to my sideline pursuit in women's literature and hence the work of women writers spills over into what I do. My heightened concern with women's writing is also connected to the opportunities that the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women opened up. Still, commitment to any study has to be total; for me, film is what I am devoted to body and soul and literature must consequently remain a side interest.

Zhou: What specific historical, cultural, and critical insights do you feel you have gained into Chinese film?

Dai: Chinese film's emergence, development, and change all present to researchers a challenging and enriching cultural syndrome. Certainly much of what happens in the field of Chinese film can be considered specific, but in some senses it represents larger Chinese cultural developments. I think that film studies should be able to offer insights into Chinese cultural studies generally. Let me take for example a general trend at work in cinematics throughout the New Era, which I call truncated periodization fever (duandaire) and retrogressive naming syndrome (nituifa). The eighties were a period of elated, forward-looking enthusiasm. Speaking more ironically, it was an era of abundant Great Leap Forward deployments, and I was one of those mouthing the line. People were chronically enthused with truncated periodization fever during this era of epoch-making discourses of innovation and breakthroughs, and they were pronouncing the emergence of new trends, new phenomena, new epochs, new generations, and so on, and so on. And it is quite true that such discursive strategies did indeed testify to the reality of the eighties, which had its own distinctive features in the areas of literature, arts, and the humanities. Three generations of intellectuals erupted onto the scene simultaneously as everything was reviving again with great fanfare at the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution.

Looking back now, truncated periodization fever was a very special, interesting cultural event. In the film arena, at least, it involved a retrogressive — as opposed to purely chronological — historical narrative. It was only when a cohort of young directors (now-familiar names like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou) graduated from the film academy in 1983 that the term Fifth Generation suddenly emerged. In the face of a new Fifth Generation, directors who had started their careers around 1979, less than five years earlier, a group still considered as "young directors" at the time, these people were retrogressively anointed as the Fourth Generation. Directors who were key figures in Chinese film after 1949, like Xie Jin, were consequently retrogressively named as the Third Generation.

For a long time no one seemed particularly concerned about who the First and Second Generations of Chinese film directors were. Nor did anyone ever ask whether generational lines were being drawn on the basis of a logic of periodization specific to the history of film art, the history of political culture, or to some other field. Nobody seemed concerned with such matters because we all seemed to be situated in the same context, and to share a certain consensus or tacit understanding of contemporary history. I realized that the end of an epoch is pronounced only after the beginning of a new epoch has been declared. We allude to death only through the metaphor of a new birth, and, to put it crudely, the whole duration of the eighties was imbued with cheap optimism. Or should I say that the era was saturated with discourses of passion and a longing optimism that pervaded humanists' studies of culture. Not to mention the dangers of this kind of thinking, it has surely disregarded or obscured the rich dimensions history can reveal to us. In a rush toward endless tomorrows we overlooked the continuousness of history.

Rethinking the Eighties

Zhou: The eighties were a truly significant epoch. Many of us experienced, in some way, the intensity of its landmark events, and participated in making its epochal narratives. Reflecting on the cultural memory and intellectual resources that the eighties served up, your generation of scholars must have developed important insights. Would you care to offer your personal reflections?

Dai: Among all the visible and invisible themes of the eighties, one I find particularly significant is the question of history. I'm thinking, for instance, about movements for historical and cultural reflection, or cultural thoughts and movements like the one to rewrite literary history. A theme running through humanist thinking in the eighties, history emerged as a giant, invisible term sprawling beyond the phenomena of thought and movement, overwriting virtually everything. As I remember it, everyone was in some sense speaking to history, or speaking in the name of history. To describe it a bit simplistically, eighties culture was an attempt to rewrite history. Which is to say, history experienced reconstruction.

The reconstruction consisted of two major elements, in my view. One was what I would call recovery from history, or supplement to history. It proffered for reevaluation historical facts shrouded in specific political taboos. The other, I would term subversion of the existing canonical order, a rethinking and renaming of the canon, especially in art and cultural history. We all know that history writing is itself rather typically the operation of a discourse of power. "History," as Walter Benjamin says, “is the victor's inventory." Hence, the so-called supplement to history is not really a matter of writing into history's blank crevices. Except in extraordinary circumstances, historical writing never leaves a blank space or an obvious gap the way that Nationalist censors did in newspapers before 1949. So-called recovery or supplement does not actually fill up blanks to reveal a full historical picture. It is, on the contrary, a surfacing of factors formerly consigned to oblivion, a surfacing that contributes to altering the whole picture. The canonical rearticulation in the eighties, like the foregrounding of Shen Congwen and Zhang Ailing, even the extraordinary decision to substitute Jin Yong for Mao Dun, illustrates a de-ideologizing of culture and art, a reordering of canons, that is, with reference to transcendental aesthetic values. 1

In terms of my own engagement with Chinese film history in the eighties and my praxis then, I have two further observations. First, unlike other fields in the humanities, the arena of film during the eighties did witness tumultuous events, the advent of new talents, and a series of climactic incidents, but there never was an effort undertaken to rewrite film history. And this in spite of the fact that important papers on shadow plays did get written; the director Fei Mu was rediscovered; the film Shennü (The Goddess) was unearthed. This latter is quite impressive in and of itself, for although Chinese film was born in 1905, making it older than New Literature, even in the eighties it had not become a subject of study, reconsideration, or reflection. That belated task has consequently fallen to me.

I do not, however, intend to rewrite film history the way the history of literature was rewritten in the 1980s. This is of course due to the distance separating the media of literature and film from the specific cultural role each has played in modern China. If in the realm of literature one can regard practices of aesthetic judgement or criticism of pure literature as significant in themselves, establishing such coherent criteria would be difficult in the context of Chinese film history. As I said before, inasmuch as film is an art of modern industrial civilization, whatever remains — once we remove all "impurities” — as pure art may be so insignificant that we wouldn't be able to amass sufficient material for writing a history. It is really quite important, moreover, that people working on catching up maintain a sober, reflective mind.

Underlying the so-called revision of history in the eighties and the conceptualization of a twentieth-century China, I would argue, were efforts to establish continuity on the one hand and transcendence on the other, as if we could eliminate, by means of new interpretation and ellipsis, the internal disruptions of twentieth-century Chinese history. Rewriting history illuminates facts and truths that had been thrown into oblivion. It casts new shades and shadows. Today, we can more easily see, with the benefit of hindsight, that history is not a roll of film that can be freely montaged.

On my part, having endured rather painful changes in the transition from the eighties to the nineties, I have been able to clarify my own cultural position and have determined that I will not adopt methods into my historical film studies that subscribe to so-called transcendental objectivity and value. I adhere to the notion, now a cliché, that all histories are contemporary histories. The historian is not motivated by the will to return to the past. Similarly, despite people's expectations to the contrary, history writing is not motivated by the wish to make visible in its true colors that which has vanished forever. We all write history quite definitively for our living present. The anticipated reader is always a contemporary. It is the present we speak to when we are writing history.

Ruptured History and the Return of the Original Picture

Zhou: A hot topic since the nineties began has been the question of cultural transition, which assumes that big differences separate the eighties from the nineties. How do you relate your experience of the nineties to your idea about rewriting history?

Dai: On the cusp of the nineties, I experienced the phenomenon of the "return of the original picture” quite strongly. The nineties have indeed registered another cultural transition, but one that is in fact a variation on the passion and optimism of the eighties. Then people were once again periodizing, naming, applauding the emergence of ever more “new” trends one after another. Many observers have pointed out totally new cultural configurations, or a totally new attitude toward life, a new way of living. It really only takes a little basic historical understanding to discover that such things are not new at all, indeed they may have persisted within the great transformation in Chinese culture and history from late Qing to modern republic times. When history begins to repeat itself in some astounding way, an observer or a witness should remain vigilant. I see the act of uncovering the repetitive nature of the "new" as the beginning of genuine reflection. Yet while experiencing shocking similarities in history, we should also beware the trap of simplifying history. For history never, in any real sense, repeats itself. Recurring phenomena are always related to the specific context of past history.

This "return of the original picture" syndrome takes me back to the time of Chinese film's birth at the beginning of the twentieth century. In my view, tracing the tortuous transformations from the late Qing period (jindai) to modern times in the first half of the twentieth century (xiandai) 2 is actually a thoroughly contemporary topic, a way of reviewing and assessing modern Chinese history now, at the end of the twentieth century. My scholarly concern never exceeds my concern for the cultural reality of the China in which I live. All my scholarly research inevitably revolves around my concern for contemporary China, contemporary Chinese people, and contemporary Chinese intellectuals. Perhaps this is what I am good at as an intellectual and where, at the same time, I might possibly flounder as a scholar. The changes in China's society and culture in the eighties and the nineties have determined my decision to go further back to earlier periods in my choice of research topics. It is not a personal choice.

In addition I have taken on the task of reviewing the eighties from the perspective of the nineties. It is not a "revolutionary critique" sort of review, but more a self-reflection. And it has been a difficult and painful process. For me it is in fact an autocritique, even to a large extent a self-negation. I do not know how much I have accomplished, but this is what I have been doing. And what I've discovered is that when we spoke, in the eighties, we were speaking to the history of the Cultural Revolution, or the history that formed a breeding ground for the Cultural Revolution. At that time, our horizon was blocked and confined within the dividing line of political history. Familiar eighties narratives are extremely interesting in the sense that they actually mask singularities and differences in the history of modern China from the mid-nineteenth century to 1979, and consequently give little thought to how modernization processes have unfolded over the century as a whole — amidst much suffering and in a peculiar way — and how, in this history, the discourse of modernity has emerged in multifarious forms.

For instance, a consensus about history in the eighties held that the Cultural Revolution was feudal, fascist, and autocratic in nature and thus a kind of ultrastable structure of Chinese history. It was as if feudal autocratic history essentially continued unchanged up until 1976 (1979 was portrayed as inaugurating a new era); at that time, we entered the epoch of modernization. This transformed the entire discourse of the eighties into an enlightenment discourse: we were compelled to address an obscurantist, feudal, ultrastable, immutable, indestructible iron house, which had to be blown up before the process of modernization could be reinitiated.

This discourse of enlightenment was actually quite legitimate then, since it is itself an effective ideological strategy for de-ideologization. However, it eventually turned into a mainstream intellectual discourse. Looking at it now, we should reveal what such an enlightenment discourse so grossly conceals. We should reinvestigate the process of the transformation of modern China, beginning at the mid-nineteenth century and extending to the May Fourth Movement and beyond, and then reexamine the history and meaning of contemporary China. Undoubtedly, socialism is an integral part of modern Chinese history. It is an extension, rather than a rupture, of the historical mission of modernization, since its only distinction lies in its attempt to use noncapitalist means to modernize China.

Zhou: The periodization approach to history, which is still quite popular, sees history as a linear temporal flow of incessant transcendence and progression. Are you suggesting that we should take an approach that stresses disruption, discontinuity, or cyclical change in understanding historical development?

Dai: Regarding the development of academic scholarship in the eighties, running parallel to notions of periodization is the idea of rupture, as if Chinese history were divided by a series of splits into essentially different historical phases that have no relation to each other. This "othering" approach views history as consisting of disparate sections and never takes account of continuity, particularly in relation to the lengthy process of the construction of the discourse of modernity, the project of modernization in China.

On a whole other register is the transcendence-cum-continuity approach. This posture assumes that history is some sort of homogeneous medium and that, like a film director, a historian can produce a montage, cut and mix. In theory we could lightly dismiss or transcend an old era, old habits. Such rewriting of history performs precisely the same violence that is targeted for critique by those engaged in the rewriting of history.

For me, both linear and cyclical approaches to history are specific discursive constructions, rather than truths. In the attempt to rethink and comprehend questions of historical writing, I have sought to abandon two approaches. The first tries to articulate historical continuity on the basis of a presumed transcendent point extrinsic to history as a means of claiming an allegedly pure objectivity. The second is the idea of history as rupture. Ruptures have indeed frequently occurred in modern and contemporary China. But, like some futile attempt to divert the flow of a river using a knife, ruptures actually manifest themselves as the extension of history in another form. At each historical rupture distinct forkings or diversions appear, but these also uncover historical fault lines where layers of historical sediment that had been previously concealed are now exposed. Where fault lines appear, the original picture returns and the specters of history reemerge.

The Jindai China Fever in Academic Circles

Zhou: In fact, an important starting point for many scholars concerned with the study of transition is the cultural reality of the nineties. They have come to advocate different views of history through their different assessments of how the nineties relate to the past. In the last few years, research into cultural transition has been trendy. Are there more complex factors feeding into this theme that we should reconsider?

Dai: Every historical epoch is engaged in the construction of a peculiar version of breaks and connectedness out of its contemporary needs. This challenge has arisen in my academic research. I am aware that it may appear to a suspicious eye that my shift to considering changes in China at the turn of the last century is just falling into line behind a trend.

During the nineties the reconsideration of China's transition in the eighties and nineties yielded what I call the jindai fever and the Shanghai fever. These are hot research topics undertaken by overseas Chinese scholars and by eminent scholars in China. Two things account for this academic trend among China studies scholars in the States. One is specific to American academia, which has its own logic: its attempt at self-renewal and subversion gave rise to specific theoretical concerns like postcolonialism, orientalism, cultural studies, cultural criticism, reflections on or critiques of Eurocentrism, and the review of the discourse of modernity. In the context of such theoretical concerns, modern China was rediscovered as a site that offers myriad possibilities for studying how a resourceful, enclosed oriental empire was sucked into the global capitalist process, how the transformation took place. And how the richness, heterogeneity, contingency, and multiplicity of history have manifested themselves.

The other factor is the issue of contemporaneity. Changes in Chinese society in the eighties and nineties and our frontal reencounter with the world cannot but compel us to reexamine the past. Specifically in Chinese academic circles, some eminent scholars have chosen to return to academic research at the end of the 1980s. Accompanying their return was an advocacy for academic norms and serious reflection on these norms. Discussion invariably had to begin with the historical moment when the modern disciplines were born in China. Or shall we say that a sorting out and establishing of the academic history of each discipline invariably accompanied those debates. Besides, each scholar has his or her own specific cultural or academic reason for choosing which specific path to take.

I have mentioned my own route and motivations. An academic friend once questioned my research, suggesting that it deviated from Chinese academic topics and discourses. The subtext as I understood it was, Are you trying to ride a wave, to echo academic topics that are hot in the West? He may very well be right in that my present theoretical background and chosen topics may, in some respects, fail to tie in with some aspects of the domestic academic agenda and therefore may convey the impression that my research agenda is more closely linked to the West. Yet, on the other hand, I sense that my topics are immediately relevant to Chinese realities. I feel comfortable with that. And that is because I am propelled in my turn toward history by my concern for contemporary social and cultural problems and my urge to respond particularly to contemporary issues. I take this to be a meaningful challenge at both the personal and academic levels. So I am by no means abandoning the contemporary in favor of jindai. Rather I am pursuing the meaning of jindai along different lines.

Zhou: What does the word cultural mean when you talk about the cultural history of Chinese film?

Dai: You know as well as I do that works on Chinese film history are scarce. Zhongguo dianying fazhanshi (A History of the Development of Chinese Film), a volume that Cheng Jihua and his collaborators edited in 1963, brought the review of Chinese film up to the 1950s. It remains the most authoritative history available. Since 1979 several books have been published on Chinese film which, I feel, have not yet managed to surpass Cheng's officially authorized book in terms of historical material and critical perspective. Lately, Zhongguo wusheng dianying shi (A History of Silent Film in China) has come out and its materials are remarkably substantial, yet in terms of historical coverage it stops at the 1930s. 3

Two considerations went into the title Zhongguo dianying wenhua shi (The Cultural History of Chinese Film), which I gave to the course I am now teaching and to my forthcoming book. I will not be able to surpass Cheng Jihua and his collaborators in terms of the richness of historical materials they considered for the era between 1905 and 1949. However, my genuine concern with film history is not really with film per se. In my view one cannot confine oneself to the film itself or to film auteurs when analyzing or writing film history, for this would never lead to an adequate explanation of film as a medium or a phenomenon. Such an approach cannot provide the outline of an adequate picture of Chinese film history, nor can it offer an adequate interpretation of the problems that such a history of film may present to us contemporaries.

I know it sounds funny, but I initiated my course on the cultural history of Chinese film for overseas students while I was at the film academy. Later, it took shape as an intensive summer course offered to young professors and doctoral candidates from American academies, at Ohio State University. This is the first time I have offered this attempt to incorporate cultural studies approaches into Chinese film history to Chinese students. Of course I'll put my training as a film specialist to good use. But here my emphasis is more on the rich cultural meanings I discern in film artists, works, and phenomena. I would like to show how film, as mass culture, commercial culture, popular culture, and high culture all at once manifests to us complicated cultural meanings in a complex and intertwining context. I hope to include in this study processes of production, distribution, and film screening, and to examine their relationship and multiple links to contiguous areas of cultural formations, such as the production and reception of other genres of mass culture. Through film history, I am hoping to draw a profile for Chinese contemporary cultural geography. This is what I mean when I refer to the cultural history of film. Frankly speaking, I doubt I can command sufficient academic resources to meet the incredible demands of such a task.

Zhou: Could you briefly compare A History of the Development of Chinese Film and A History of Silent Film in China?

Dai: Both are still very useful today for readers because they give the basics of Chinese film history. The problem with Development is that its emphasis on the political significance and social function of film prevents it from giving an adequate assessment of film aesthetics. But interestingly, opposing or different approaches still might not yield a different conclusion than the one the book reaches. If we examine the leftist film movement of the thirties, in terms of artistic achievement it constitutes a Chinese art film movement, though not in a pure sense. If we refrain from pruning history in obscurantist ways or fitting it into a homogeneous narrative coherent with one's own view, we may see that few commercial or "soft" films of the thirties are as artistically sophisticated as the leftist films. As for Silent Film, the data are very solid. Unlike the former volume's omniscient authoritative manner, this book was written in an academic, exploratory style and attempts to clarify historical issues. It is an interesting reading experience to compare the parts on silent film in each book.

Film Theory and Cultural Studies

Zhou: You mentioned that Western film theory developed in the sixties and seventies. What about Chinese film theory?

Dai: My sense is that, regrettably, Chinese film theory in the strict sense has yet to develop. As in many places in the world, in China film theory began in a fragmentary way when enthusiasts began writing impression pieces that weren't particularly systematic or academic. These could be film criticism, a simple film textbook, or an essay on how films are made. Such products do not constitute what we would call a discipline today. But, in some sense, this is “clean” theory because it is not institutionalized. What motivated such work was simple love of film rather than the need to get an academic degree or promotion. To this moment, Chinese film theory remains, on the one hand, ideas about scriptwriting and directing or studies of filmmakers, and, on the other, studies of cinematic technology. In the mid eighties some of us undertook some attempts at theorizing. In retrospect, I think we have only managed to introduce Western film theory into China in a systematic fashion and apply it to reading Chinese films. That does not constitute our own film theory.

Zhou: Earlier in this interview, you mentioned that cultural studies provides the indispensable theoretical framework for film studies. When you used the concept of "shadow play" (yingxi) in the study of film history, you resorted to Raymond Williams' method in Keywords. 4 I have gotten a lot out of this genealogy of concepts. What is cultural studies for you? A methodology? A position? Or what?

Dai: Maybe it is easier to see cultural studies as a series of changes in theoretical positions, perspectives, and horizons. To see it, that is, as an interdisciplinary field rather than a methodology. Cultural studies is a quasi-discipline. It is at the very least a popular element in the Euro-American academy. Cultural studies for me is first of all anchored at a theoretical position where the critic makes no attempt at concealing the self-critical stance, the political and ideological make-up of his or her own cultural positioning. One unequivocal aspect of my cultural studies position is also a return to Marxism. Not just Western Marxism, but rather a return to classic Marxism. I don't mean to say that this is a panacea; it is, rather, ammunition. I am also quite certain on another point, which is that in using a critical weapon one does not abandon the critique of the weapon itself. So my premise may not rest on any transcendental aesthetic judgement, but neither does it imply a radical abandonment of aesthetics.

My work has always delivered cultural criticism, even ideological judgements. And yet therein I confront a dilemma, which is how do I relate to questions that the art film presents? How will I be able to sustain the critical edge of an aesthetic judgement so that my concern, my recognition, that film is an art will not be lost? On the other hand, cultural studies also involves the shift of perspectives and horizons, beyond an exclusive concern with cinema in general, specific films, or specific filmmakers. Of course we need to avoid formulaic, simplistic political readings, but this does not mean that we introduce an omnipotent artistic judgement or make a cultural judgement based on a close reading of the text.

Though I am good at close reading, bringing in the perspective of cultural studies means breaking the self-containment and closure of the text, even extending the concept of the text to cover more objects. We need to contextualize the text. That is, we need to read texts in their specific contexts, as well as to textualize the context, which is to say that changes in the social context must also be taken as texts for close reading.

For instance, the text that requires close reading is both itself a film phenomenon and the specific social context in which the phenomenon as such arises. To read closely then requires studying the means of production of film and the changing modes of production, the establishment of film capital, box-office income, and even a history of the cinema — that is, sites and ways of screening, modes of watching a film, and audience stratification (for instance, were film audiences in early times stratified, and if so, how?). My Chinese film study cannot focus on only domestically produced films, either. I also need to find out whether at any specific period Chinese films ever dominated the Chinese market, or whether American or French films always did, and what the relative proportions were. These are all things I must include in my studies.

The bringing in of cultural studies also means a change of method. For instance, the genealogy of keywords you mentioned can help us ascertain whether certain concepts have recurred throughout the entire history of film and whether these remain constant or undergo changes over the course of time and, if the latter, what their determining contexts are. In light of poststructuralism, I do not think one can reproduce the truth of a certain period in a film history, though of course I hope I can uncover more historical materials, fill in some of the blank places. But I am actually more concerned with unveiling the multiplicity and diversity of culture and cultural discourses. So importing cultural studies does not mean bringing in a whole set of definite approaches or methodologies, but encountering the complexity of history, accepting the challenges it presents us, and allowing my scholarship to embrace them. I may not be able to achieve this entirely, but I am willing to give it a try.

Film History and the Discussion of Modernity

Zhou: You have been examining the theme of modernity in the last few years. What in Chinese film history do you connect to your modernity studies? Could you elaborate your views on modernity from the perspective of film history?

Dai: My concern with modernity is one major reason I have been looking back further into film history. As far as the problematic of the construction and expansion of the discourse of modernity in China is concerned, film history offers the best research material. Of course, this may just reflect my predilection for the subject of my study.

Once warships and cannons forced open the doors, China was thrown into a process of modernization in the face of imperialism's military, political oppression and economic infiltration, which is to say that modernity is no simple matter. Indeed, modernity is no simple matter in any country in any historical period. In China, too, modernity is beyond the ken of any one single discipline within the humanities, and its explanations can only be found at the very least in the course of interdisciplinary research.

So, in a sense, film has a natural advantage over other subjects of study. For not only is it both a commercial and an industrial system, it is also both a mass culture as well as a cultural field that elite, serious culture has chronically interpenetrated. Finally, film is a stage on which distinct, intense political struggles play themselves out. Confronting this subject of study is the very best possible situation for problematizing, inspecting, and even clarifying the discourse of modernity.

My concerns about modernity are related to a reconsideration that those bold steps taken in the eighties and the nineties commercial tide have forced me to make. Frankly, I have reservations about people's grand optimism and enthusiasm for modernization. Even if we grant that its benefits outweigh its demerits for today's China, I think we run many implicit risks for tomorrow. If today, in the midst of radical changes and reconstruction, we do not retain our sobriety about the modernization process and the expansion of the discourse of modernity, we are risking a lot. Maybe this sounds unduly alarmist. But the theme of modernity that is drawing increasingly more and more attention is still new, indeed as unfamiliar to many people as it is to me. In Western academic circles, this notion is already outmoded. Or, should I say, modernization is still important but its focus is differently placed. Modernity aroused general concern for some time in the West because of its centrality to Western intellectual thought and the academy. Soon people realized, however, that discussion of the question of modernity in itself does not really offer any solutions, since modernity turns out to be an all-embracing theme, a cultural reality any country that is voluntarily or involuntarily going through modernization will have to encounter.

The word itself accommodates too many varying realities. In each developing, modern state or nation, the construction and expansion of a modernist discourse will be different. So-called wholesale Westernization has always been a myth; it has never occurred in any country or region. Yet modernization is indeed Westernization or globalization, a process of enforced emulation of the West. The more important problematic then is how each different country has appropriated Western forms, and how it deals with its own tradition, culture, and national survival in the larger landscape of globalization. Of course, necessarily and as part of our effort to sort things out, we must undertake an archaeology of knowledge. Such an approach enables us to understand the production and development of the modernity discourse in Western academic history and in the history of Western intellectual thought. Though I shall try my best, this is truly beyond the reach of my capacities.

What concerns me more is the formation and rewriting of the discourse of modernity in China. At the beginning of Chinese film history, we can see how people borrow an imported form, an art form that is industrial, technological, scientific, and modern. With this art form they tried to incorporate the life experience and representation of different social groups in premodern China. For discussion's sake let's take a real classic, the first commercially successful, domestic production, Gu'er jiuzu ji (The Story of the Orphan Saving the Grandparents, 1923). Films like it fold premodern narratives and moral values into a modern narrative, reconstructing it so that it becomes an effective component of modern experience. The film is a typical story of the Qin Xianglian or Zhao Wuniang type: a woman is wronged and endures all sorts of suffering in order eventually to have the wrong redressed. A happy ending is transplanted into the perfectly representative space of the modern school: grandparent and grandchild are reunited in mutual recognition after a separation. The suffering daughter-in-law, who is consequently vindicated, donates half her property to run a school because she believes firmly that the family will survive its ordeal if it relies on education. Obviously, this is a classic enlightenment discourse in which education saves China in its entirety and each individual Chinese person as well. The film also raises issues such as the legal system of inheritance, the camera, and modern welfare. That makes it an appropriate subject for my reflections on the heterogeneity of modernity.

Theoretical Resources and Rethinking

Zhou: What is the relation of the theoretical approaches informing your scholarly work to such intellectual resources as poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and Western Marxism that were introduced into China in the eighties and nineties? What insights do you have in regard to your own reception of imported theory?

Dai: It is an embarrassing thing to discuss. I began establishing my epistemological and theoretical framework and deciding on the course my scholarship would eventually take in the eighties. My key resources were Western film theory and, in a natural extension, poststructuralism. For me the two most influential theories have been poststructuralism and Western Marxism. During the nineties, the influence of Marxism on my work, the importance I place on it, and its weight in my academic research have all become more prominent. Poststructuralism was my biggest influence in the eighties. Then I was mainly engaged in two tasks: learning to use Western theory and film; and participating in translating and introducing Western film theory. I benefitted greatly from that process.

My training in theory has been haphazard, but quite effective. I never received any rigorous academic or disciplinary training. My choice of theories has been governed by a pragmatic criterion: whether or not a theory was inspiring or useful. Consequently it has all been quite subjective. There was a lot of misreading in the process and some serious decontextualization. I neither knew nor particularly cared about how theories were generated in their own specific contexts or what scholarly or ideological purposes they were brought to serve. So I was also doing a lot of quoting out of context. The change at the turn of the eighties and in the nineties compelled me to rethink and critically reflect on Western theory and film theory. As I have frequently said, rethinking does not mean a rejection of theory or a return to a pretheoretical state. To this point, structuralism and poststructuralism have been important intellectual resources for me. In fact, in the West the discipline of cultural studies evolved out of the very process of reflecting on theory. What has struck me over the course of the nineties is a growing sense of a lack of continuity in contemporary Chinese scholarly tradition. Each generation thinks it is creating an original new world, unconcerned with what has previously been accomplished. I think this is what motivated eminent scholars at the beginning of the nineties to propose investigating the norms of academic practice, which means, on the one hand, sorting out the history of disciplinary practices and nurturing the consciousness of problematization and, on the other hand, understanding what scholars in and outside China in the same field may already have done, whether their work and ours intersect, and whether dialogues are a possibility. I think that with advancing modernization, more and more channels for dialogue are opening up and spatial distance is being continuously compressed. We are no longer wanting in terms of information resources and can establish relations of exchange, even challenge others in our fields in other places all over the world. So, at the very least, we can now avoid inventing calculus before modern mathematics, that is, we need not repeat the foundational work that has already been done.

Postcolonial theory had a powerful impact on me at the beginning of the nineties. As transnational capital entered China, intensifying the globalization and marketization of Chinese culture, China's Third World cultural status became more and more obvious. Sensitive intellectuals were aware of this. My partial grasp of postcolonial theories nonetheless did offer me a new perspective, new spaces. Now, with better understanding and more reconsideration over the years, it seems to me that we should not apply postcolonial theories in a simplistic way. One obvious reason is that China has not undergone a colonial history in the strict sense of the word. Hence "postcolonial culture" in China must be considered in relation to its formation, features, and implications. Each needs to be systematically examined and thought through. At the same time, strictly speaking, postcolonial theory is a leftist resistance theory generated by Third World scholars in the US academy. Our reception of this Western theory cannot proceed in a vacuum; rather, we must try to understand what the conditions generating the theory have been, what the theorists' speaking positions are, and who their audience is. Once decontextualized, postcolonialism tends to be essentialized, simplified, and objectified into truth. Postcolonial theories still concern me, but in a more prudent way now. In the broadest sense, orientalism and postcolonial theories belong in the same camp.

Feminism and the Writing of Film History

Zhou: How does your feminism figure in the study of the cultural history of Chinese film?

Dai: In a disciplinary sense, feminist theory and a feminist position are fundamental and imperative to film study. I have noted that where scholars totally reject feminism, as some eminent scholars do, they run the unnecessary risk of blind spots in their film analyses. Feminism is also a central component of cultural studies. And gender studies shares many spaces with cultural studies. The study of women per se — the study of women directors or women staff or the image of women in film — is only one part of what constitutes gender studies, and these issues are not the most important component in my work. Women's discourse and the study of discourse on women, that is, how gender as a discourse is effectively organized in the mainstream, peripheral, or resistance discourses, are more relevant. Are the worlds these discourses inhabit related to the worlds inhabited by women, and if so, how? These are some of my concerns.

Take for example, The Story of the Orphan Saving the Grandparents. Wang Hanlun, who played the film's woman protagonist, Yu Weiru, was the first prominent actress in the history of Chinese film, as well as its first film star of the tragic type. At the time Wang was called “Number One Tragic Female Role.” Her experiences as a film star could serve as a subject for women's studies. But what also concerns me is how the director, Zheng Zhengqiu, modernized a premodern narrative and temporal experience by way of subjecting his female character to a series of tragic outcomes: she loses her husband, is slandered, gets banished from her husband's family, loses her father, and is impoverished. Fashioning a Chinese-style tragicomedy through the characterization of a suffering woman produced an effective mode of narration for Chinese filmmakers — and an archetypal tragic drama.

In other instances, the influence of enlightenment culture on early Chinese film culture was complex, its infiltration of gender concepts in many films quite chaotic. We could say that early film culture maintained what could be called an anti-feudal gesture in the best sense. There is indeed substantial premodern, feudalistic writing. But, on the other hand, there is sufficient sobriety and vigilance in the construction of gender imagery. Take as an example the subversive use of the idea of virginity in a very traditional story. During the silent film era, in the martial art film Hong xia (Red Chivalrous Heroine, 1929), much plotting concerns a villain's attempts to possess by force a lovely girl, and suspense is constructed around whether or not the girl loses her virginity. The villain eventually gets what he wants. But the story ends with the chivalrous heroine using her authority to marry the girl off to a good man, as though the girl's compromised virginity is a negligible matter. The narrative's two cultural logics are contradictory. These complex gender representations also characterize the diversity of the entire contemporary cultural construct, in which interweaving of the different representations of modern and premodern experiences coexist with crisscrossed popular and enlightenment discourse.

Another good example is the film Nü xia bai meigui (White Rose, the Chivalrous Heroine, 1929). As the film opens, we see a girl in a sports uniform performing in a modern space, the playground of a women's college. Upon winning the championship, her reward is a set of clothes decorated with the words "A manly heroine." In the next scene, she appears transformed into precisely this "manly heroine," like a Hua Mulan, and is drawing her bow to shoot an arrow. Her family is then overwhelmed by a crisis that is constructed in the genre of the the American Western: some villains forcibly seize the family "ranch." Just then White Rose's elder brother gets sick, so she dresses herself up as a man, all decked out like a cowboy, and sets out to resolve the family crisis. She straps on a Chinese sword that has a Western saber hilt, and she wields her sword in the style of a Western swordsman. When she arrives back at the ranch, the villains are Indians played by Chinese actors with faces smeared black. Villains and heroes enter into a life-and-death combat at close quarters. When she clothes herself as a woman again, White Rose appears in a low-cut, long Western dress. You can see how the woman's image traverses diverse discursive systems, as a sign that sutures a discursive system fraught with gaps and fissures, enabling the constitution of a modern Chinese narrative. Of course, the filmmakers at the time were not making a conscious effort to get this effect. Possibly they were only concerned with box-office returns and mass entertainment. Nonetheless, their film's gender discourse is truly interesting.

Since I became engaged in film study, feminism has been my basic position and research method, though this seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Only when I proclaimed myself to be a feminist and conducted research on women writers and female directors did I encounter loud applause and condemnation. I find this truly interesting. It is as if feminism cannot be recognized (or maliciously resisted) until it comes out on a banner. For me, feminism is an important position, an integral part of my theoretical position. More importantly, it is an experience and a way of life.

Zhou: Will your study of film history pay attention to the significance of art in the development of Chinese film? Also, do you intend to uncover previously unknown films and directors as part of the film history you are describing?

Dai: As a specific artistic genre with its own development, changes, and evolution, Chinese film has its own peculiar history, and within that history, aesthetic concepts and creative principles that change. I am skeptical of the authority of canons, at least from the point of view of my current position. I do realize, however, that I am vested with the power and the obligation to reiterate canons. Of course, revisiting the history of film again will certainly involve a reassessment of directors and works that have been previously neglected. Still I am not fully confident in this regard because the most difficult thing about working on a film history is access to film materials. And that depends on non-academic, non-cultural factors like money and power. I will try my best in this endeavor, of course. Reassessment of works and directors is an inevitable process, not an end in itself.

Film, Literature, and Personal Habit

Zhou: The relation of film and literature has been highly entangled, especially in the history of Chinese film. How do you approach this problem? 

Dai: Except for the period from 1949 to 1979, film and literature have always poached on each other's preserves. They are neither as close nor as distant as many people imagine. If we take the view that there are seven great arts, then among them the relationship of film and literature is most intimate. Film is also closely related to art, music, and in a sense even to architecture and drama. Yet film and literature, and I mean fiction here, are both narrative modes generated in the modern context and inscribed with elements of mass culture. As widely received forms, their influences were mutual and direct.

We are all familiar with films adapted from great literary works. Not all of us are very familiar with the fact that many popular novels in the post-industrial era are written for films. Many best sellers are produced in order to promote the film. I just read a book review of The Horse Whisperer (Mayuzhe) that advised against spending twelve bucks for a badly written best seller, because eventually it will turn into a thrilling Hollywood film that one can enjoy for just a few dollars. You can find piles of paperbacks in American supermarkets with titles like The Bridges of Madison County (translated into Chinese under the title Langqiao yimeng) which generally speaking are written for Hollywood. Hence, in the twentieth century, film has to a large extent reversed the equation to exert an influence on literature — at least, on popular literature.

Regarding serious literature in the early twentieth century, the modernist literary movement as a reference point for film art, and under competitive pressure from it, could not avoid reflecting on its own medium in order to contemplate what it might accomplish on its own and in conjunction with film. Language experimentation had already emerged in serious literature for some time, making modern fiction closer to poetry than to more conventional narrative prose. As the sixties began, literature's unilateral impact on film ended. But in the seventies and eighties, when film theory became the cutting-edge theory in Europe, an adverse theoretical current occurred. Film theory began to impact literary theory. For example, Teresa de Lauretis, an eminent contemporary scholar and feminist from the United States, is a specialist working on film theory. But her book Alice Doesn't begins with film theory and then reviews the work of almost all structuralist and poststructuralist masters as well. It is a pioneer work for the humanities.

This relationship between literature and film has not yet drawn much attention in China. The historical situation of contemporary Chinese film is rather unique. The stress on film's social function and the demand that film be an instrument of socialist realism have resulted in a disproportionate emphasis on literature in the field of contemporary Chinese film. Indeed, the dominance of the script over the visual and the influence of literature on film in the fifties and sixties manifest themselves in two aspects: one is the literariness of film, and the other is the dramatic form film takes. These constitute the specific legacy passed on to us from a specific history. Yet ironically in the period when script and dramatic film enjoyed such unshakable status, Chinese film was most deficient in literary terms. Richness of narration and the complexity of characterization were far from adequately developed. So the alleged dramatic quality of these films completely squandered the artistic power of the drama as such — its self-reflexive quality and its capacity for cross-fertilization with other art forms. In this predicament, film art entered into a stage of total loss.

Over the eighties and nineties that old quest for literary film, dramatized film, the emphasis on the script have all fallen under multidirectional attacks from the Fourth and Fifth Generation filmmakers, whose portentous agenda became the purism of pure film, film as experimentation in film language. The sad thing for so many generations of modern Chinese people is that history leaves us transitional moments that are all too brief. We always seem to be in a state of longing for a period of stability, so we can find time to reflect, ponder, and explore as we are implicated in yet another portentous event.

The experimental period for Chinese art film and film language, and film language's self-conscious reflection on itself, was very brief. Commercialization began soon after. As if goaded by commercialization, many films took off again in uncritical pursuit or courtship of literature, seeking sensational plots, narrativity, and entertainment value. Adaptation from literary works became trendy again, ushering in another trend I would call literature for translation. This phenomenon, in which writers produce works for "translation" into film, has not been discussed much. The Zhang Yimou phenomenon strongly influenced the literary arena in the early nineties. It reached its extreme point in 1993, when it was said that the whole literary world had been roped into film and TV production, with the sole exceptions of Wang Anyi and Zhang Chengzhi. Soon after that, of course, Zhang himself adapted his own Hei junma (Beautiful Black Horse) and Wang Anyi signed on as scriptwriter for Fengyue (Romance). So film captured everyone in the end.

This is not salubrious for either film or literature. It's the sad outcome of market pressure and the general cultural condition of being in the Third World. With the onset of the era of mass media, postindustrial media such as TV have transformed our lifestyle and marginalized film as well. Ideally, film should continue to survive like any other ancient genre of art. When it is no longer authoritative and all-encompassing, infiltrating the everyday life of every modern being, perhaps film will enact a new dialogue with literature as their destinies draw closer together.

Zhou: Would you please talk about how your reading and personal interests related to your academic research

Dai: I remember when I graduated from university, I read a short essay by Xu Chi, which impressed me very strongly. He was advocating a reading campaign for the whole populace, under the slogan Bolan quanshu, buqiu shenjie (Reading Extensively without Depth). He wanted to see how much reading people could do in ten years, and he hoped it would have good effects. He inspired me. I was a teenager during the Cultural Revolution when there was not much around to read. So I allowed myself the privilege of believing that all books are good. Consequently, I read virtually anything I could lay my hands on without any discretion whatever and in a very promiscuous and disorganized fashion. Looking back, this is quite a spiritual treasure trove but also a deeply rooted bad habit that prevents me from making myself into a modern scholar who specializes in a discipline.

Xu Chi's advice and my choice were premised on a sort of elitist reverence for culture, a belief that all books are beneficial, so I read all sorts of books in the humanities and beyond. It was also possible to do this sort of thing because there weren't many books available at the time, and I was a fast reader. So I read a lot of mixed stuff. Now, with the boom in the book market and voluminous publications pouring off the press of a truly mixed quality, I wouldn't dare claim that reading any book is good. I remember in the mid eighties when China suddenly went on a cultural kick and everyone was reading something on the bus: martial arts, romance novels by Jin Yong, Gu Long, Qiong Yao, Yi Shu, Xi Juan, and so on. Popular reading does not resemble the sort of early eighties beneficial reading. It is cultural consumption, no different from buying fashionable clothes or eating an ice cream. Of course, I am not saying that Jin Yong and others have no worth. What I mean is that the modes of production and reception are recognized and confirmed in terms of consumption.

On the other hand, I myself have been forced to be more disposed to the disciplines. I cannot afford to read so extensively on different subjects anymore. Still, reading is the most important part of my life and the most enjoyable. My friends long ago nicknamed me "the book hedonist." Then I read a lot and wrote little. Now I write more and have little time for reading. Both are problematic. The dilemma that scholars in the humanities face is that society is more and more professionalized, and the disciplines, more and more specialized. I do not think this is good. Extensive reading is one possible way for a good scholar in the humanities to resist and escape being captured by her discipline and her profession. Every scholar in the humanities has his or her own taste, though we know after Bourdieu's critical work that "taste" is an indicator of class or caste.

I think what truly challenges thought is perhaps not only the latest developments in the discipline, but academic events of all sorts in related disciplines. I take up cultural studies because it is interdisciplinary. My sense is that in the twenty-first century what the humanities have to offer will derive from their professionalization, despite China's current problem of inadequate specialization and disciplinarity. In terms of the future directions for the humanities both in the domestic Chinese context and globally, interdisciplinary attempts will undoubtedly emerge to provide an alternative.

Zhou: Your textual analyses of novels and films are very thorough and delicate. How many times must you read a film text for such a task?

Dai: I don't dare open my mouth until I've watched a film at least three times; I see it at least five times before writing about it. The Dianying yu shisu shenhua (Film and Popular Myth) essays are based on films I saw at least twenty times. I often joke that I've destroyed two possible entertainments in life: novel reading and film watching. That is why I will never try my hand at music. Otherwise, I will be left with no pleasures at all.

I've gotten to the state where I cannot watch a movie or read a novel for fun. There is a big difference between the experience of watching a movie the first time around and then watching it again later. I agree wholeheartedly with a visiting American professor at the film academy who said as a critique of film theory that its reading of film is actually anti-filmic. That is truly the case in the sense that general audiences see a movie once, since so few films deserve or attract people for a second viewing. When I was at university, I encountered the latest Western literary theory, New Criticism, and learned that the best experience is close reading — a lesson I was actually learning myself from translating and reading on my own.

Zhou: Let's get to some personal questions. How do you work? Late at night?

Dai: That is difficult to answer. I used to pull all-nighters. I'd wake up at ten in the evening and start working. But as I enter middle age and have more social obligations, there is no way I could go to sleep at 5 A.M. and get up at 2 P.M. My lazy, sloppy lifestyle is no longer possible. Also, I recognize the need to be more disciplined, like requiring myself to write one or two thousand words a day. Otherwise I will never complete what I want to get done. With more projects but less energy than I used to have, I seem to have lost my capacity to rush deadlines. It may not just be capability. Facing more complex conditions, I have become more prudent, less willing to exhaust myself with one sensational event and miss out on others at any given moment. I want to be more cool and careful. Also, I am working on changing my florid and free-flowing writing style of the eighties. A plain, simple, and lucid style is more difficult to achieve.

Zhou: Do you rely much on the computer?

Dai: Absolutely. In 1992, I spent my entire fortune on a Stone word processor but, alas, it became totally obsolete very rapidly. My reason for using the computer is highly personal. In high school, I developed a special type of longhand that is not quite the same as anyone else's. My handwriting is consequently unintelligible to the workers at the presses. I cannot really change my handwriting at this stage, so I started using a computer and very rapidly became so dependent on it that I now basically cannot compose by hand. It is terrible. A true nightmare of modernism.

There is something symbolic here. Our lives are more and more deeply immersed in our modern urban milieu. There is no need to deny that we are, or at least I am, infatuated with the various conveniences of modern life. Recently I wrote in an essay that as Third World intellectuals we are confronted with a three-fold role: participate in and promote China's modernization; suffer the pain that without question accompanies modernization; and reflexively criticize China's modernization and discourses of modernity.

In the modern West and even post-democratized Taiwan the financial crisis that nearly devastated Southeast Asian countries this year keeps reminding us that a modernized future is no utopia. This is even more true for China, which is just entering globalization at an accelerated pace as the century turns. To exaggerate a bit, whether China, at this critical juncture and with its 1.4 billion people, can choose a better, more appropriate path is a matter of consequence for the China of tomorrow but for the world as well. We may offer a better alternative to Europe and particularly to the United States. On the other hand, we may also be a disaster for the world.

This is not, of course, the question of "who will feed China?" The question is more complex and serious than that. To identify China's future path and affirm our role as intellectuals, we need a frame of reference that not only acknowledges the recent historical experience but also incorporates China's modern experience. We cannot just caress the scars that history has left and daydream about some idyllic future. We must embrace a truly global perspective, a system of multiple references, a visionary mode of thinking and observation. I believe not just in promoting China's modernization today. We must also join in considering what kinds of intellectual resources we offer the China of tomorrow. This is intellectual work that each of us needs to engage in today. That will require formulating our agenda concretely and with keen insight.


1 The novels of Jin Yong — martial arts fiction — were imported into mainland China from Hong Kong in the early 1980s. They soon gained popularity and a huge readership that included elite intellectuals, college students, young workers, and peasants. So-called Jin Yong fever persists to this day. The Joint Publishing Co. brought out The Complete Works of Jin Yong, a best seller reprinted in serial editions, including pirate editions. Wang Yichuan, professor at Beijing Normal University, put Jin Yong into the twentieth-century Chinese literary canon, displacing Mao Dun.

2. Whereas the Chinese terms jindai and xiandai are customarily translated into English as "modern," they refer to two different periods. Jindai refers to the late Qing dynasty, from the Opium War in the 1940s to the setting up of the Republic in 1911. Xiandai refers basically to the first half of the twentieth century.

3. Cheng Jihua, Li Shaobai, Xing Zuwen, eds, Zhongguo dianying fazhanshi (A history of the development of Chinese film) (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1963); Li Suyuan and Hu Jubin, Zhongguo wusheng dianying shi (A history of silent film in China) (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1996).

4. "Shadow play" (yingxi) was the initial translation into Chinese of the term movie. In 1984 and 1985, writings and discussions on rewriting film history used "shadow play" as a keyword to critique the so-called errors or demerits in Chinese culture. It was argued that the introduction of movies into China was merely to record or rewrite traditional Chinese opera, hence a continuation, in both form and content, of the last vestiges of feudalism. When these writings were translated into English, the special term "shadow play" was used. Dai Jinhua used the term as an entry point to discussing the features and problems of the study of film history and the entire historical and cultural rethinking movement of the 1980s. — Trans.