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Memory, Subjectivity and Independent Chinese Cinema

Qi Wang

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A historically informed examination of independent moving image works made between 1990 and 2010 in China

Memory, Subjectivity and Independent Chinese Cinema provides a historically informed examination of independent moving image works made between 1990 and 2010 in China. Showcasing an evolving personal mode of narrating memory, documenting reality, and inscribing subjectivity in over sixteen selected works that range from narrative film and documentary to experimental video and digital media (even including a multimedia avant-garde play), this book presents a provocative portrait of the independent filmmakers as a peculiarly pained yet active group of historical subjects of the transitional, post-socialist era.

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List of Figures

Understanding Postsocialism on a Personal Scale
Two Siblings or Generational Subjects of Chinese Postsocialism
The Forsaken Generation and Historical Consciousness
Material, Structure and Methodology

Part I From the Past: Subjectivity, Memory and Narrative
1 Toward the Figuration of a Postsocialist Subject
Subjectivity and Spatiality in Yangbanxi and 1980s Cinema
A Ship on a River: The Historical Space in Night Rain in Bashan
The Figure of a Forsaken Child
The Forsaken Generation: Take It Personally and Historically

2 For a Narration of One’s Own
Wilful Chance and Futile Subjects in To Live and Farewell, My Concubine
To Figure New Subjects: Independent Cinema and Personal Filmmaking
Self-narrative I: I Love XXX and a Radical Recollection of History
Self-narrative II: Fractured and Fragmented In the Heat of the Sun
The Delirium of a Fool: Narrative Excess and the Subject’s Alter Ego
Self-portraits of New Cinematic Subjects out of the Dirt of History

Part II In the Present: Camera, Documentary and Performance
3 Surface and Edge: The Cinema of Jia Zhangke and Lou Ye
Jia Zhangke: A Subjective Metanarrative Vision
Platform: Cinematic Space and Multivalent Subject Positions
Superficial Time: Writing on the Wall
Superficial Space: Debris, Wanderers and Vehicles
Lou Ye: Dwelling on the Edge of the Camera

4 Personal Documentary
Chinese Verité and Duan Jinchuan’s Invisible Gaze
Personal Documentary
I Graduated: Subject-ing the Past to the Present
West of the Tracks: Subject-ing the Present to History

5 Performing Bodies in Experimental and Digital Media
Nightingale, Not the Only Voice: A Performance of Inter-subjectivity
Shi Tou: Women, Bodies and Herself
Cui Zi’en: Embodying Realities and Performing Identities
Play with the Body of History: Experimental and Digital Media

Conclusion: China’s Luckless but Hopeful Angels of History
Selected Filmography and Bibliography

About the Author

Qi Wang is an associate professor of Film and Media Studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology


Qi Wang’s radical intervention revaluates Chinese independent cinema’s challenge to the official and commercial media. Instead of emphasizing the realist determination to document everyday life in contemporary China since the 1990s, she shows us how these films also invoke history through personal memory in their attempt to come to terms with the earthquakes in Chinese social, cultural, and political values of the last half century. Memory, Subjectivity and Independent Chinese Cinema is a dense, detailed, and riveting account of the postsocialist generation’s subjectivity. Richly illustrated and informed by new research and numerous interviews, its shining audacity takes my breath away.

- Chris Berry, Film Studies, King’s College London

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