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Masculinity on the run: history, nation and subjectivity in contemporary mainland Chinese cinema

By Louise Ann Williams

Abstract

The study investigates representations of masculinities in modern Mainland Chinese cinema from the early reform period to the year 2000. It argues that masculinities from this era are `on the run'; that is, male protagonists' ambiguous relationships with dominant discourses of nation, history and new formulations of subjectivity cause them either to flee from Maoist collective identity categories or more actively to move towards discourses of the sovereignty of the individual brought into China with the `opening up' policies enacted after the Chairman's death. The social and cultural upheavals represented in these films create an atmosphere of uncertainty in which little is solid or settled: for example, although filmmakers may represent their male protagonists rushing from ideas of Maoist manhood, these ambitions and identity figurations, active in the public imagination for so long, still structure male identity, and even male rebellion, acting as reins pulling at the individual agency male filmmakers may try so hard to trace on screen. The result is a recent history of\ud representation in which male characters stand as symbols for their nation's central dilemma, as it wavers between a collective past and an unknown (both exciting and threatening) future.\ud \ud Whereas images of women have been analysed (especially those in the Fifth Generation cinema of the 1980s and 1990s), their male counterparts on the Chinese cinema screen have been largely ignored. This study redresses this imbalance and interprets the representation of men on screen through gender theory, cultural studies, and sources on Chinese society. The main chapters of the study concentrate on versions or expressions of masculinities, reflecting a society that has expressed its revolutionary aims through human models. The introduction to each chapter provides a contextualisation of the manner in which masculinities have been configured in other contemporary representational fields and will explain the relevance of the discussed ideas of masculinity in China's recent past. This study contributes both to conceptions of film and gender in China, and will widen the scope of cross-cultural\ud theorisations of masculinities

Publisher: East Asian Studies (Leeds)
Year: 2004
OAI identifier: oai:etheses.whiterose.ac.uk:752

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