CHNS324: Modern China through Film and Fiction

Syllabus Course Description Weekly Routine Weekly Calendar Film Showings
How to "Read" a film? Assessment/Grading Response Papers Disability Access Useful Links


Instructors: Dr. Ruth Dunnell (427-5323) and Dr. Jianhua Bai (427-5530)
Office: Dunnell, Seitz House; Bai, 112 Ascension Hall
Office Hours: Dunnell, Mon. 2-4 pm, Wed. 9-10 am, Fri. 10-noon. Bai, M.T.W. 11-12:00, Thur. 1:00--3:00
Schedule: 7:15 to 9:30, Wednesday Evenings, ASC 226

Required Texts
FAMILY by Ba, Jin (1932)
HUNGER TRILOGY by Wang, Ruowang (fictionalized memoir about imprisonment under GMD, Japanese, and CCP)
RUNNING WILD ed by Wang, David and Tai (short stories from '80s and '90s)
All other readings will be on regular (RR) or Electronic (ER) Reserves, and marked RR or ER. ERES password is: dianying.

Assignments and Evaluation
1.  Class participation: 30%
 Attendance & participation in class discussion.  Anticipated absence should be cleared with the instructors; absences which are not cleared with the instructors in advance and are not due to emergencies (e.g., a car accident) or sudden illness will affect the course grade.  More than two absences will have a serious impact on the final grade. Participation includes preparing to discuss the week’s film and readings, and turning in on time all written assignments. Willingness to engage new material, approaches, & interpretations, to listen to other students, & to share your own ideas are what this course seeks to encourage.

2. Weekly response papers:  40%
 For weeks 2-12, you will submit a short written paper (2-3 pages) which attempts to critique some aspect of the film, raise questions, and discuss the relationship between the reading and the film.  These papers will be shared with the other students before class, and provide a starting point for class discussion.  They should be mailed as an attached file (NOT COMPOSED IN E-MAIL!) to Prof. Bai, who will put them up on the web site for the course, where they can be read or printed out by everyone in the class.  In addition you should bring a printed copy to class.  The papers will be evaluated and returned. The section on "How to "Read" a film?" may be of help for analyzing and writing about films.

 3.  Group presentation: 10%

3.1. The presenting group members are not required to hand in a response paper that week. Their presentation, in a sense, stands in for the paper.
3.2. A good presentation will take more than a week to prepare. Groups should meet together to watch the film before the Sunday screening, if possible, and discuss the film, decide which themes to analyze, what kind of clips to make, and how to distribute the presentation of the analysis among group members.
3.3. Each member of the group should participate actively and independently in the presentation, i.e., contribute a distinct segment of the overall analysis. No one may simply be responsible for just technical work.
3.4. Group members should meet together as often as necessary and at least twice after their initial viewing of the film. They should be fully aware of each other’s contribution to the analysis, and if possible, attempt to develop coordinating or deliberately contrastive modes of analysis, i.e., work collaboratively even as you prepare to present individually.
3.5. The readings (for that and any previous week) should be fully incorporated into the analysis by each member, as appropriate.
3.6. Presentations should be SPOKEN, not READ.

Presentations will be evaluated according to the following criteria:
1) Clarity and depth of analysis of thematic and filmic elements.
2) Degree of incorporation of insights from readings (for that or previous weeks).
3) Attempts to draw comparisons with other films we have watched.
4) Awareness of historical context and its affect on the filmmaker and his/her presentation of the subject matter.
5) Effective use of illustrative clips.

4.  Individual paper: 20%
 Every student will submit a final paper, 10-15 pages, on a topic related to the film analyzed by the group.  The paper should present an argument that incorporates analysis of relevant readings along with a filmic analysis, but may focus on historical, literary, or cinematic issues.  Topics must be cleared with the instructors in advance.

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Course Description

This seminar will explore 20th century China through its cinematic and literary representation by Chinese who lived through or reflected back on the tumultuous and tragic events of their revolutionary history. Background readings and documentaries will provide basic historical narrative; class discussions will focus on Chinese representations of cultural, social, and political change in fiction and movies. We will divide the century into  three basic periods, and look at the May Fourth and Republican era (1919-1949), the Maoist era (1949-1978), and the Reform era (1979-present), with prominent films and short literary or performative works (fiction, memoir, drama, etc.) keyed to each era. We will also introduce some critical readings that address issues of gender & youth, the family, ethnicity, modernity & the nation, visuality and memory.

The course objectives are 1) To acquaint students with the dramatic impact of 20th century Chinese history on people's lives, thinking, modes of expression, and artistic conceptualization. 2) To introduce students to major works of fiction and filmmaking in 20th c. China, and to methods of analyzing and understanding Chinese film and fiction in both historical and artistic terms. 3) To enrich students' appreciation and critical understanding of the place of modern Chinese history and cultural expression in modern global history and culture.

Film viewing will  take place outside of the seminar meeting on Sunday evenings. Assignments will include short weekly papers, group analysis of a film and an individual seminar paper. The opportunity to read Chinese versions of assigned stories & submit short essays in Chinese also exists for advanced language students. Enrollment limited (20). No prerequisites, but a familiarity with Chinese history or a knowledge of Chinese or film studies will be helpful. Fulfills history seminar requirement.

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Weekly Routine

    Before coming to the Wednesday class you need to 1) watch the assigned film Sunday night (Tentatively 7:00-9:00) in ASC 226, 2) do the assigned readings, 3) write your weekly paper (2-3 pages) and send it to by noon of Tuesday,  4) read all the weekly papers of your classmates that will be available in the section of Response Papers on our web page later Tue.  and 5) be prepared for the class discussions.

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Weekly Calendar

Week 1
Jan. 17
Film: "Shadow Magic" (Xiyang Jing), dir. Ann Hu, 2000 
Documentaries: "China in Revolution, Battle for Survival, 1911-1936," Pt 1
Start reading Ba Jin
Tues. Jan. 23: Jaime FlorCruz, "Covering China, from Cultural Revolution to the Internet Age." 
Storer Recital Hall, 7:30 p.m.
Week 2
Jan 24
History and Indentity as Image
Film: "To Live" (Huozhe), dir Zhang Yimou, 1994
Documentaries: "China in Revolution, Battle for Survival, 1911-1936," Pt 2
(ER) Lu, "Historical Introduction," and ch. 4 "National Cinema, Cultural Critique, Transnational Capital. The film of Zhang Yimou."
Ba Jin, Family, continue
Week 3
Jan 31
May Fourth Critique: Family
Film: "The Family" (Jia), dir Chen Xihe, 1956
Ba Jin, Family, finish
(ER) Rey Chow, "Modernity and Narration-in Feminine Detail,” in Woman and Chinese Modernity, 96-102 
Week 4
Feb 7
May Fourth Critique: Social Class, Gender and Viduality
Film: The New Year Sacrifice" (Zhufu), dir. Sang Hu, 1956
(ER) Lu Xun, The New Year's Sacrifice” & Eileen Chang, “Sealed Off” 
Rey Chow, "Visuality, Modernity, and Primitive Passions," in Primitive Passions, 4-23, and "Modernity and Narration-in Feminine Detail," in Woman and Chinese Modernity, 84-96, 107-120
(ER) Paul Clark, "May Fourth Adaptations: Remembrance of times past," in Chinese Cinema:  Culture and Politics since 1949, 109-113
Week 5
Feb 14
May Fourth: Nostalgia, Memory and Cultural Roots
Film: "The Girl from Hunan" (Xiaoxiao), dir. Xie Jin, 1986
(ER) Shen Congwen, Xiao Xiao (1929) 
(ER) David Der-Wei Wang, "Imaginary Nostalgia: Shen Congwen, Song Zelai, Mo Yan, and Li Yongpin," in From May Fourth to June Fourth: Fiction and Film in Twentieth-Century China, 107-132
Week 6
Feb 21
May Fourth: Social Class and National Revolution
Film: "Crows and Sparrows" (Wuya yu Maque), dir. Zheng Junli, 1949
Wang Ruowang,  "Hunger Trilogy," pts. 1 & 2
(ER) Mao Zedong, "Talks at the Yanan Forum on Literature and Art,” excerpts
Week 7
Feb 28
The Maoist Revolution: Class Struggle, Gender, and the State
Film: "Two Stage Sisters" (Wutai Jiemei), dir. Xie Jin, 1964
Wang Ruowang, Hunger Trilogy, pt. 3
(RR) Gina Marchetti, “Two Stage Sisters:  The Blossoming of a Revolutionary Aesthetic,” in Transnational Chinese Cinemas, 59-80
Documentaries: "The Mao Years," pt. 1
Ma Ning, "Spatiality and subjectivity in Xie Jin's film melodramma of the new world.
Have a very happy spring break!
Week 8
March 21
Presentation by Hurteau, Bowen & Kinney
           Mao's Cultual Revolution in the New Chinese Cinema
           Film: "Hibiscus Town" (Furong Zhen), dir. Xie Jin, 1987 
           RaeYang, Spider Eaters, chs. 1-12 
(RR) Paul G. Pickowicz, "Melodramatic Representation and the May Fourth Tradition of Chinese Cinema," in From May Fourth to June Fourth, 295-326 
Week 9
March 28
Presentation by Gordon & Lehnhoff
           Mao's Cultural Revolution: Minority/Han discourse in a woman’s film
           Film: "Sacrificed Youth" (Qingchun Ji), dir. Zhang Nuanxin, 1987 
           Spider Eaters, chs. 13-end 
(ER) Esther Yau, "Is China the End of Hermeneutics?  Or Political and Cultural Usage of Non-Han Women in Mainland Chinese Films," Discourse 11.2 (1989), 115-36,  OR (RR) Yingjin Zhang, "From Minority Film  to Minority Discourse: Questions of Nationhood and Ethnicity in Chinese Cinema," in Transnational Chinese Cinemas, 81-104 
Week 10
April 4
Presentation by Williamson & O’Flinn
           Transnational Chinese Youth:  Guest Lecture by Taiwan director Huang Yushan
           Film:  “Spring Cactus” (Zheng qing kuang ai), dir. Huang Yushan, 1999
Running Wild, S.K. Chang, “The Amateur Cameraman”
Tam and Dissanayake, New Chinese Cinema, 1-10; Browne, “Introduction,” in New Chinese Cinemas, 1-11

N.b.  This week’s Wednesday class will take the form of a guest lecture by Huang Yushan that will be open to the public, and held in Olin Aud.  The class presentation will take place after the public presentation in the same place.

Week 11
April 11
Presentation by Andris, Schwartz & Leong
           Deng’s China: Rural/Urban Divide
           Film: "Woman's Story" (Nuren de Gushi), dir. Peng Xiaolian, 1987 
Running Wild, Tang Min, “I am Not a Cat,” Li Peifu, “The Adulterers”
(ER) Peng X., “Hopes Worn Away,” in Contemporary Chinese Women Writers 
(ER) Dai Jinhua, “Invisible Women: Contemporary Chinese Cinema and Women’s film,” positions east asia cultures critique 3:1 (spring 1995), 255-280
Week 12
April 18
Presentation by Fuller, Davolos & Gahagan
           Deng’s China: Critiquing Modernity
           Film: “Dislocation” (Cuowei), dir. Huang Jianxin, 1987 
Running Wild, Yang Zhao “Our Childhood” 
(ER) Paul Pickowicz, “Huang Jianxin and the Notion of Postsocialism,” in New Chinese Cinemas, 57-87 
Week 13
April 25
Presentations by Roote, Reinhardt, Torre & by Rudolph, Corey, Mayer
           Transnational Chinese Society in the 1990s:   Modern Families
           Films:  “Shower” (Xizao), dir. Zhang Yang, 1998
                      “Eat Drink Man Woman,” dir. Ang Lee, 1994 
(RR) Wei Ming Dariotis & Eileen Fung, “Breaking the Soy Sauce Jar:  Diaspora and Displacement in the Film of Ang Lee,” in Transnational Chinese Cinemas, 187-220; 
Running Wild, Zhong Ling, “The Isle of Wang’an”
Week 14
May 2
Presentation by Maya, Evener, MacDonald
          Hong Kong in Chinese Cinema
          Film:   “Rouge,” dir. Stanley Kwan, 1988  (Hong Kong)
Running Wild,  Ye Se, “Transcendence…”, Xi Xi, “Mother Fish”
Leo Ou-fan Lee, ‘Two Films from Hong Kong:  Parody and Allegory” in New Chinese Cinemas, 202-215; and Tam & Dissanayake, “Stanley Kwan:  Narratives of Feminine Anguish,” in New Chinese Cinema, 72-82; Chiao Hsiung-Ping, “The Distinct Taiwanese and Hong Kong Cinemas,” in Chinese Cinema, 155-165

Final papers due:  Wednesday, May 9, by noon.

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How to "Read" and Write about a Film?

I. McCormick, R. Instructions for Sequence Analysis

1. State the “message(s) of the sequence, i.e. what is the filmmaker trying to communicate.
2. Explain how the message(s) are communicated by such channels as image, speech, music, sound effect and etc.
3. Sequence Analysis Worksheet:
A. Describe briefly what you see in the selected sequence.
B. What is the filmmaker trying to communicate in the segment?
C. How do the five channels of information in film, visual image, print, speech, music, sound effect, and work together to communicate the message? Is space—landscape or interior—used as a “comment” on the character’s inner state of mind? Does the use of space exude a certain atmosphere? Are there any symbolic uses of props? How are focus, angles, lighting, color and sound effect used to help communicate? What are some of the social and cultural codes?
D. Try to determine what function and significance this segment has for the film as a whole?

II. Viewing and reading share the same basic interactive process of getting the meaning across.
Playwrite    --->
Text ---->
Film ---->
<---->Film audience

Active reading and viewing involves constant interacting with the text and the film, analyzing how the messages are communicated via various channels. What broad statement is the film director trying to make? How is character portrayal is done to help communicate the director’s message(s)? How does the setting and time period shape or contribute to the film’s thematic structure or messages? Are certain cultural values (virtues) singled out for critical examination or upheld for emulation? How are cultural or social messages conveyed? How imagery is used? Such as camera angles and shots, lighting, color, focus, sounds, etc. Can you watch the movie and watch yourself watching the movie at the same time, i.e. critical reading/viewing?

III. Writing about a film.
    When you write about movies,  “it is insufficient to convince others to like or dislike the film, but to add to their understanding of the film… personal feelings, expectations and reactions may be the beginning of an intelligent critique, but they must be balanced with rigorous reflection on where those feelings and expectations and reactions come from and how they relate to more objective factors concerning the movie in question: its place in film history, its cultural background, its formal strategies… what is interesting is not pronouncing a film good or bad but explaining why (T. Corrigan)."

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Useful Links

1. Click here you will go to Dr. Shaoyi Sun's web site on Chinese cinema at USC

2. Click here you will be able to visit the China section of the Asian Films Connections

3. Click here for another site on Chinese films

4. Click here for a website on Chinese history

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Schedule for Film Showings

Students need to watch the films (Tetatively scheduled for Sunday 7:00 pm in ASC 226) and write short response papers before coming to each class on Wednday. The following is a tentative list of Chinese films that are going to be used for this course.

1. Shadow Magic (Xiyang Jing) 2000
Directed by Hu An, this historical comedy tells when and how film making was introduced to China at the beginning of the 20th century.

2. To Live (Huozhe) 1994
Directed by Zhang Yimou, To Live follows a contemporary family across the turbulent face of modern China, from the Japanese invasion through Mao's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. 132 min. This might be a good film to start the course since it covers almost the entire time period that we want to discuss. English Sub. MLL and Olin 950368.

3. Family (Jia)  1956
Directed by Chen Xihe & Ye Ming. Through the bitter experiences of the three brothers, the family contradictions , changes and finally declines, this film has vividly depicted the life of a wealthy family in the early years of Shanghai.  MLL

4. New Year Sacrifice (Zhufu)  1959
Directed by Sang Hu, New Year Sacrifice tells a tragic story on the life of a mid-aged village woman who was widowed twice and whose last hope was shattered by the news that her son was torn apart by a group of wolves.  MLL

5. A Girl from Hunan  (Xiang Nu Xiaoxiao) 1986
Directed by  Xie Fei and Wu Lan, A Girl From Hunan  is about a poor girl's miserable life as a child bride (at the turn of the century) and her happiness and bitterness in life as she falls in love with a young man. 99 min. English Sub.  Olin 920005

6. Crows and Sparrows  (Wuya yu Maque) 1949
Directed by Zheng Junyi, regarded as "a milestone in Chinese film history," this pre-revolution film (1949) portrays a group of characters, accurately representing various types among the working people in the lower social strata in 1949. 111 min. English Sub available.

7. Two Stage Sisters (Wutai Jiemei) 1965.
Directed by Xie Jin, this film contrasts the lives of two actresses, one who seeks happiness and fulfilment through family life, and the other through political activism. You probably can guess who will be happier.

8. Hibiscus Town (Furong Zhen) 1986
Directed by Xie Jin. During the "cultural revolution", Hibiscus Town is filled with darkness and terror. Hu Yuyin, a diligent country woman, is sentenced to sweep the streets every day together with the "Rightist" Qin Shutian. They helped each other and gradually fall in love. They got married, but misfortunes never come singly. 143 min. MLL

9. Sacrificed Youth (Qingchun Ji) 1985
A story of a youth sent to live with the Miao people in southern China. The Cha1-dui4-luo4-hu4 experience during the cultural revolution. English Sub. Olin 900080

10. WOMEN'S STORY (Nuren de Gushi)1988
Directed by Peng Xiaolian, the plight of Chinese women seen from their point of view in this poignant tale of three peasant women who flee their village to taste freedom in the big city and escape the sexist oppression of rural China. 96 min. MLL
(Economy reform and social change in recent China)

11. Black Canon Incident" (Heipao Shijian), dir Huang Jianxin, 1985

12. Shower (Xizao) 1999
Directed by Zhang Yuan, one of the sixth generations of Chinese directors, The old and new worlds collide in this charming tale of a family divided, then brought together by a traditional bathhouse. The successful, career-minded son of the bathhouse's owner first sees the establishment as outdated, but as he spends more time with his family and friends, and as the threat of its destruction draws near, he begins to see its worth. "...a delicate, lyrical case for the importance of holding on to small traditions" (Desson Howe, Washington Post).

13. EAT, DRINK, MAN, WOMAN (Yinshi Nannu) 1994
Directed by Ang Lee, this film tells a story about  Master Chef Chu who attempts to maintain family unity with ritual Sunday dinners as he comes to terms with his three daughters' growing independence. 104 min. Olin

More Recently-released Good Films:
Rouge 1987
Directed by Stanley Kwan (Hong Kong)
The popular singers/actors Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung are paired in this supernatural love story which alternates between the brothels, theaters and opium dens of Hong Kong in the Thirties, and the cool, detached world of the present day. The ghost of a courtesan appeals to a young journalist to help her find her lost lover who recovered from their joint suicide attempt and thus failed to join her in the spirit world. Cantonese with English. 99 min.

Not One Less (yi ge dou bu neng shao)       1999
From the celebrated director of Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern comes this warm, witty and touching comic fable about a thirteen-year-old girl who is chosen to serve as a substitute teacher when her poor village's elder schoolmaster is away. Her troubles teaching children not much younger than herself are nothing compared to the trouble she finds in th city when she travels to find a missing student. "Not One Less is a movie whose humanity is irresistibly, even joyfully, accessible" (Andrew O'Hehir, A Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival. In Mandarin with English subtitles. 106 min

Yi Yi (A One and a Two)  2000
Edward Yang's profound and beautiful film conveys the powerful emotional truths of everyday life as it depicts the struggles, hopes and dreams of a middle-class family in Taipei. "...a wonderfully engrossing experience--a lucid, elegant, nuanced, humorous movie that's never nearly as sentimental as it might have been...Yang orchestrates a soap opera season's worth of family crises with virtuoso discretion" (J. Hoberman, The Village Voice). Yang won Best Director honors at the Cannes Film Festival and Yi Yi was named Best Film of 2000 by the National Society of Film Critics and Best Foreign Language Film by the New York Film Critics' Circle. In Mandarin with English subtitles. 173 min.

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Disability Access Statement
If you have a hidden or visible disability which may require classroom or test accommodations please see me as soon as possible during a scheduled office hour. If you have not already done so, you must register with the Coordinator of Disability Services (Erin Salva,, x5145), who is the individual responsible for coordinating accommodations and
services for students with disabilities. All information and documentation of disability is strictly confidential. No accommodations will be granted in this course without notification from the Office of Disability Services.

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