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Winter 2008, Volume 24.2



Greg LewisPhoto of Greg Lewis.

Between Moscow and Hollywood: China's National Cinema at Weber State University

Greg Lewis (PhD, Arizona State University) is an Associate Professor of History at Weber State University where he has taught Asian and world history since 1999. He is the director of the program "Translating New China’s Cinema for English-Speaking Audiences," which has resulted in the subtitling of twenty-two feature films made in China between 1947 and 1989. He is currently preparing to write a history of Maoist-era Chinese cinema and to assemble a documentary of the 50 Great Chinese Films program he organized at Weber State University (2003-06).


My path to learning about the fitful evolution of China’s national cinema began simply enough: with a story on the Korean War battlefront. Patrician actor-philosopher Sun Daolin, then 80, reflective and frail, spoke haltingly in his antiquated Shanghai apartment. Having just met him, I asked innocuously about his favorite film. Not one to mince words, Sun rejoined, "You should ask me about the one that changed my life and thinking." Sensing that this would be a substantive dialogue, I thought back on a dozen top films he had made between 1949 and 1963. Sun’s screen incarnations included intellectuals, soldiers, historic personages, and once even a bourgeois capitalist. But it was a Maoist vision and communist party-state that finally caused the thirty-year old Sun to identify with common workers, peasants, and soldiers and to make films which he believed portrayed their lives.Actor Sun Daolin as Commander Li in [Reconnaissance Across the Yangzi] (1954)

The film Sun spoke of in almost hushed tones became the kickoff venture in our 50 Great Chinese Films program. [Reconnaissance Across the Yangzi/Dujiang zhenchaji], produced by the Shanghai Film Studio in 1954, tells the story of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) scout team sent to discover enemy Nationalist artillery positions on the Yangzi riverbanks before the decisive civil war battle for Shanghai in May 1949. Sun Daolin starred in the film as the scout Commander Li and kindly agreed to introduce the newly-subtitled film at Ogden’s Peery’s Egyptian Theater in October 2003.

Further discussions about China’s cinema with Sun and thirty other invited guests provided the wellspring for a journey of discovery. Like Sun, who had studied philosophy at Yanjing University in Beijing before 1949, our guests wanted to engage faculty, students and friends in a dialogue about history and themes common to the human experience. Theirs were stories of place, leading from Shanghai to Changchun, Beijing, and Xi’an and, ultimately, Weber State University. They also spoke to the pride of collective and individual achievement, of overcoming obstacles, and especially, trying to find a balance between the demands of society and family.


Shanghai: Economic Treaty Port as Cultural Entrepot

Shanghai is a treaty port city, the product of an unwelcome foreign presence after the opium wars of the mid-19th century. Western culture soon followed the trade, and even in the 1920s Shanghai possessed an impressive multinational urban landscape, including French, British, American, and Chinese theaters playing mostly Hollywood films. The beginning of the Chinese film industry dates to 1905, but only in 1922 did feature film production commence. With several private companies and the Nationalist government established in nearby Nanking, Shanghai assumed the mantle as China’s film capital from the early 1930s. During the war years against Japan, Changchun in the northeast and Hong Kong rivaled Shanghai in film and documentary production, as did Nationalist Chongqing in far-off Sichuan province, but the city on the sea regained its preeminent status after 1945.

The communist takeover put Shanghai’s film industry on the spot. The most zealous revolutionary artists had gone north to Changchun before 1949, and many more from Shanghai and elsewhere followed after 1949. Although Changchun’s worker-peasant-soldier [gong-nong-bing] films initially served as the national model, Shanghai soon perfected them and from the time of [Reconnaissance Across the Yangzi] gained both CCP and popular acceptance for their films.


Wang Shizhen: Political Bonhomie Par Excellence

Wang Shizhen’s physical world consists of three square Shanghai blocks. Stooped over and moving slowly, Mr. Wang, 85, has lived with his wife Lin Yuzhen in the same Hengshan Road apartment for nearly a half-century. Materially, the ageing tenants of this dark, dilapidated 1928 French quarter building and their well-worn furnishings are the only visible remnants of the Maoist revolution. Yet Wang Shizhen’s sense of unfinished mission is as vigorous as any of his younger contemporaries.

According to his official entries, Wang Shizhen is a film critic [pinglunjia], a generalized term that says both too little and too much about his career. He came to films circuitously, like many of his generation. Born into a family of means in 1922, Wang gained exposure to Western language and culture in middle school, and subsequently pursued the study of economics at the nationally-recognized Yanjing University (now Beijing University) in Chengdu during the Anti-Japanese War. He bristled at the Nationalist government’s endemic corruption and joined the CCP at the height of the inflationary spiral in 1948. By then he had moved to Shanghai and joined the staff of Film and Theater [Yingju], a periodical that stoutly refused to advertise government-produced films. This experience facilitated Wang’s appointment in 1950 as co-editor of Popular Cinema [Dazhong dianying], new China’s first film magazine.1

Over the next ten years Wang Shizhen excelled as a problem solver, especially where questions about the quality, variety, and political viability of cinematic screenplays were concerned. He attempted to steer a middle course between the stricter CCP dictates regarding acceptable boundaries for worker-peasant-soldier themed films and his Shanghai Screenplay Institute’s leaders’ desire for varied and less formulaic features. During revolutionary high tides [gaochao] in 1951 and 1955, Wang reluctantly wrote vituperative editorials in Popular Cinema attacking film colleagues he admired.2 In the latter case, during the so called Anti-Rightist political campaign against wayward intellectuals, Wang’s fellow film critic Mei Duo was dismissed from his editor’s post at Popular Cinema and spent most of the next two decades exiled in China’s hinterlands.

When the political winds calmed, Wang Shizhen fostered a progression in screenplay development that in turn restored Shanghai as China’s film capital. Chinese audiences, particularly the growing urban population, had wearied from increasingly stereotypical worker-peasant-soldier films by the mid-1950s. As secretary of the Shanghai Screenplay Institute, Wang was sensitive to demands from his mentor-superiors for fresh material and so assiduously sought out promising literary talent in a series of nationwide workshops that conveyed to them the how to of screenplay writing. In this way, more than a dozen authors became playwrights, and aspects of Shanghai’s bourgeois urban landscape began appearing in films such as [Reconnaissance Across the Yangzi] (1954), [The City That Never Sleeps/Bu yecheng] (1957), [A Nurse’s Diary/Hushi riji] (1957), and [Woman Basketball Player No. 5/Nulan wuhao] (1957).

Poor health and advancing age caused Wang Shizhen to hesitate when we invited him to lecture at Weber State University. His obvious affinity for the United States and belief in cultural exchanges certainly helped offset personal concerns. However, I believe that the desire to see his son and daughter after being separated for twenty years finally outweighed other considerations. In our conversations we seldom broached personal topics, but I sensed that political turmoil had heavily impacted his family.

I sensed too that he wished to personally offer his own critique of Maoist-era cinema. Once arrived in Ogden (in April 2006), Wang argued that difficulties abounded for both the CCP and the film industry in creating a new Chinese national cinema because of decades-long wars, inflation, and destruction. He noted that the CCP model for film-making became Soviet-style socialist realism and included portrayals of ordinary Chinese people and everyday life as staples, further adding that, while these portrayals were initially welcomed by film audiences, both government and film makers adhered too literally in blindly following the Soviets. Wang concluded that it remained for the film industry itself to supply viable thematic directions and aesthetic standards. This movement began in 1956 with the Screenplay Institute’s recruitment efforts.

While Wang Shizhen’s compelling case for the self-policing capability of the Shanghai film industry was delivered in a steady monotone, his harsh criticism of political obstructions was not. These first brought the end of private film studios, which were merged with state-run film companies, and after 1952 created a climate of caution that prevented a national cinema from reaching its full potential. Wang Shizhen’s humility and his frank admission of complicity in political excesses like the Wu Xun zhuan movement in 1951 was evident. Said an emotional Wang, "I was fully aware of the harm [to film-making] brought by the movement."

Further insight toward the interplay of Chinese politics and cinema came with Wang’s on-campus introductions to [The City That Never Sleeps/Bu ye cheng]](1957), and [The Legend of Tianyun Mountain/Tianyunshan chuanqi](1979), both made by the Shanghai Film Studio. The former, the sole depiction of a red capitalist on celluloid in the entire Maoist era (1949-1976), encountered difficulties from the moment it was commissioned by the central government in 1955, causing sometimes rancorous debates between the film’s director, playwright, and capitalist-consultants over the portrayal of Zhang Bohan, the textile manufacturer who inherits his family business during the Anti-Japanese war. Victimized first by the Japanese and then the inflationary spiral that forced many capitalists into speculative rather than productive investments, Zhang in turn exploited his employees. He continued even after the communist victory, but reformed under the CCP’s guidance and eventually agreed to merge his private factory with the state.

At issue was the degree of sympathy shown toward the capitalist Zhang Bohan (played by Sun Daolin). Government officials felt that the screenplay glorified Zhang’s bourgeois Shanghai lifestyle and behavior. Capitalist consultants also criticized Zhang’s behavior, but for the fact that he failed to appear self-interested enough. Between these two poles lay the film makers, who sought to have Zhang evolve logically toward socialist reconstruction.

Breaking the impasse prior to filming was Wang Shizhen. As he indicated during his introductory remarks, because the script originated with Wang’s superior, Screenplay Institute vice-chairman Ke Ling, Wang was tapped to make revisions necessary before all would sign off on the project. He did so, and directly prior to the onset of the Anti-Rightist campaign. Wang did not elaborate which scenes in [The City That Never Sleeps] he altered, and because the film was shelved immediately upon completion and not shown in China for nearly three decades, his participation in the revisions have been nearly forgotten. And yet, [The City That Never Sleeps] is among the most historically significant films made prior to the Cultural Revolution, and aside from the director and playwright Ke Ling, no one besides Wang Shizhen could offer the inside story of its making.3

Distinct too was the second film Wang introduced, [The Legend of Tianyun Mountain] (1979), a story of a wronged intellectual exiled for two decades after the Anti-Rightist campaign. Wang Shizhen had recruited the playwright for this film years before, and acted as producer in putting the script into the hands of Shanghai’s most experienced director, Xie Jin. With a complex and controversial story in the hands of a director willing to take chances, [Legend] gained universal acclaim, and again, Wang’s key contribution has often been overlooked.


Qin Yi: Elegant Ambassador from Shanghai’s Bourgeois Culture

The actress Qin Yi is everyone’s favorite. To documentary makers in China, she is the last fully lucid interviewee of her generation, possessing both a memory for detail and a keen sensitivity about film and politics today. At the 7th Shanghai International Film Festival, her stature is such that the French actress Catherine Deneuve, recipient of the festival’s lifetime achievement award, insisted on sharing it with Qin Yi. With film audiences in dozens of countries over a career that reaches back more than sixty years, it is the same; demonstrative, measurable adulation.

Why do they love her? Elegance? Grace? Charm? Certainly, Qin Yi reflects all these qualities, and effortlessly. But more than anything, she is a survivor, a great personality, and so gained the empathy and respect even of people she has only just met.
Born in 1922, the same year as Wang Shizhen, Qin Yi has a very different story to tell from her Shanghai neighbor. For one, her fame and reputation predate the communist victory by a full decade, from 1939. She had split from her large family just ahead of the Japanese attack on Shanghai a year before, a frightened teenager ducking enemy gunshots across the bow of her boat which headed a thousand miles upriver to China’s wartime capital. In Chongqing and then Shanghai after the war, Qin Yi moved from stage to films. Playing patriotic roles and associated with progressive politics, her popularity grew as both a public figure and private figure. After 1949, she had no revelatory experience like Sun Daolin that transformed her as an artist or person, but cumulatively, she was well-qualified to adapt to worker-peasant-soldier roles. She mastered the details of film-making, which she characterized as more precise and unforgiving than the stage, through the successive influences of Hollywood, the Soviet Union, and finally, the Changchun-Shanghai nexus. Despite her experience and popularity, she counted few unforgettable roles or films to her credit after the communist takeover.

I glimpsed a side of Qin Yi after she visited Weber State in 2005 that helped explain the almost universal admiration in which she is held in China. Members of the Chinese film delegation to Utah had gathered for a reunion dinner at an elegant Shanghai restaurant, and as if to indicate that we were friends around whom she felt comfortable, Qin Yi brought her 56 year old son. Moderately autistic, he never appeared in public. Moreover, according to common lore, he was the product of an abusive marriage and alcoholic husband, a constant reminder of her personal tragedy. Yet even this potential disgrace became a triumph. Seated next to me, Qin Yi held an enormous syringe and explained that her son was severely diabetic and required insulin directly before each meal. She preferred giving him the shots herself and so seldom left her Shanghai home for more than a few days at a time.

This was true even when Qin Yi served as China’s most important cultural ambassador during the seventeen years before the Cultural Revolution in 1966. At home she was the people’s hostess, more approachable than either Sun Daolin or her equally famous contemporary, actress Zhang Ruifang, both of whom were more closely identified with the CCP and its patriarchal policies. Qin Yi herself joined the Party later, in 1961, mostly as a reward for her successes in cultural diplomacy. Traveling to more than a dozen countries in the Eastern bloc and from south to northeast Asia, she was recognized not so much as a political emissary, but rather as genuine movie royalty, married to the king of 1930s Chinese cinema, Jin Yan. These cultural exchanges sometimes produced unexpected results. For example, Qin Yi professed uncertainty regarding her initial visit to Japan (1960), which accompanied the first exhibition of Chinese films there since the 1930s. When her character Lin Hong, a patriotic leftist martyred in the film [Song of Youth/Qingchun zhige] (1959), appeared on screen—with Qin Yi in attendance—the unexpected outpouring of affection and apologies from the Japanese people generated enough goodwill that she made four additional trips there. In China as in Japan, these visits were favorably publicized and assisted in a general amelioration of tensions between the former combatants through the early 1960s.

Qin Yi even in her 80s remains sensitive to her surrounding environment. In China I had found her to be as compelling and witty a storyteller as Sun Daolin, and as determined in her own way to capture the feeling of life and work in Mao’s China. However, where Sun attempted to locate and then articulate the sources for film artists’ motives and inspiration, Qin Yi appeared less calculating and almost indifferent to political ideology. The ambiguities and complexities she referenced instead likely emerged from her hardscrabble upbringing in a family of two dozen. She expressed dissatisfaction with all of her Maoist-era films, including one from 1956, [Mo lan hua kai] that required her to drive a large tractor. As was customary in that era of living with and studying the people upon which parts were based, Qin Yi sought help from three different tractor operators and managed to humorously convey some shortfalls in the vaunted collective Maoist spirit in the process. The first, a woman, spent her time with the actress complaining rather than instructing. The second, a young man, did not realize Qin Yi was there to learn and queried, "why would you want to film us?" In the end, an experienced driver took Qin Yi out and had her learn on the job by taking the wheel and shifting gears as soon as they reached open ground. Although afraid, she did learn how to drive and gained an appreciation for the skill and efforts of tractor drivers.Actress Qin Yi in [Love Far Away]  (1947), directed by Chen Liting

The two Qin Yi films we screened when she came to Northern Utah (in April 2005) were [Love Far Away/Yaoyuande ai] from 1947, a story of Pygmalion set during the Anti-Japanese War, and [Woman Basketball Player #5], a contemporary story of Shanghai society and culture in 1957. As if to underscore the fact that her career transcended politics, Qin Yi spoke about the eight years of war against Japan, 1937-45. [Love Far Away] also predates the communist victory and arguably was Qin Yi’s most important film. She plays a peasant girl in the service of a university professor just prior to the outbreak of full-scale hostilities between China and Japan. Seeing her potential, the professor, played by the experienced 32 year-old actor Zhao Dan, takes considerable pains to reform her into a modern woman. Along the way, however, the peasant girl joins the war effort as a nurse while the professor retreats far from enemy lines to a desk job with the Nationalist government.

In contrast, [Woman Basketball Player #5] is a cinematic rarity, a post-liberation film known primarily for its entertainment value that focuses on the formation and training of the Chinese national women’s basketball team. Qin Yi’s role as the widowed mother of the team’s talented but selfish star player in spirit harkened back to her 1940s films. Rather than playing a worker, peasant, or soldier, Qin Yi’s homemaker lived a conspicuous bourgeois Shanghai life, one enabled by a corrupted father who had made his wealth in the days before the communist victory. Coincidentally, the national team’s coach had been her fiancé and a star player on her father’s team in the 1940s. They reunited with her daughter’s participation on the national team and the subsequent revelation of the father’s previous intrigues which had separated them.


Changchun: Unlikely Film Capital in Two Eras

The city of Changchun in northeast China is, to use the words of Emily Brontë ’s Heathcliff, "a curious place." The intersection of cultural and political power came here in the so-called republican era, with the installation of the last Qing emperor Puyi as puppet Japanese leader of Manchukuo, followed by construction of the largest film studio in East Asia in 1938. Known for making politically reliable worker-peasant-soldier films after the CCP takeover, the Changchun Studio nevertheless was an unlikely film capital, populated with an odd assortment of revolutionaries, army veterans, leftover Japanese cameramen, amateurs, and professionals. Still, Changchun’s numerous successes between 1949 and 1959 drew the attention of Shanghai film veterans, who acknowledged their compatriot’s stature with numerous pilgrimages to the northeast.

In time, Chinese audiences were drawn to depictions of more glamorous bourgeois Shanghai lifestyles, and Changchun faded from the public eye. Film output fell drastically, and the state-run industries that underpinned the socialist economy found themselves on life support once China put a premium on entrepreneurship in the 1990s. By the time I visited in 2002, only the numbers of unemployed workers and abandoned public works projects distinguished Changchun, and the studio was nearly defunct. Also striking were status differences between film people there and elsewhere. In Shanghai, meetings with a Sun Daolin, Qin Yi or even lesser film personages always took place in a five-star hotel or restaurant, an elegant high-rise apartment, or a prestigious inner city address. In Changchun I met the great third generation director Su Li in a modest flat adjacent to a malodorous trash bin in an alley. We then adjourned to a nearby family restaurant. No fabric tablecloth there, only plastic the thickness of Saran Wrap.

Su Li, director, [Guerrillas Across the Plain] (1955)

Su Li and Hu Chang: the Changchun Studio’s Lasting Monuments to Greatness

Su Li led an improbable life. Born in 1919, he joined the communist revolution and spent ten years in the army as a performing artist. Along the way he killed a Japanese in hand-to-hand combat and reached the CCP base area in Yanan in 1938. Still a relatively minor figure when he arrived in Changchun after the war, Su Li proved to be a quick study in learning film production, rising from actor to assistant director to directing his own films by 1955. He become the Changchun Film Studio’s most decorated director, placing three of his films—[Guerrillas Across the Plain/Pingyuan youjidui](1955), [Our Village Youth/Women cunlide nianqingren] (1959), and [Third Sister Liu/Liu san jie] (1960)—among China’s all-time top 100. However, for all of his achievements and loyalty to the studio after its heyday had passed, Su Li was as neglected as the oversized statue of Chairman Mao in the vacant studio courtyard. Only in the last years of his life did a special dispensation enable Su Li’s living standard to approach even middle class status.

Su Li, director, [Third Sister Lui] (1960)In June 2005, Su Li’s biographer, the film historian Hu Chang, grieved, for an acute asthma attack had claimed the great director just weeks before the two men were to travel to Northern Utah. Hu Chang is the author of eleven books, including the definitive Changchun Film Studio history, [The Cradle of New China’s Cinema/Xin Zhongguo dianying de yaolan] in 1986, yet like Su Li he lived in relative obscurity. After I had invited the two men to visit, I was surprised at their financial predicament and the vast indifference surrounding their achievements. Now Su Li was gone, and with his widow’s request that we deliver his last speech at Weber State University, we dedicated the entire semester’s film program to his memory. I worried that Hu Chang, 73, could not fulfill more than a dozen obligations in two weeks. In addition to the lectures he and Su Li had prepared, we had selected three Changchun features from its heyday period (1949-1962): Su Li’s directorial debut from 1955, [Guerrillas Across the Plain], is notable for its protagonist guerrilla leader Li Xiangyang, who tactically frustrates his more numerous Japanese enemies with a series of well-timed maneuvers; [The Naval Battle of 1894], one of the last successful Changchun films before the onset of the Cultural Revolution (1966); and Su Li’s masterpiece, [Third Sister Liu] (1960), featuring a luminous peasant girl from the Tang dynasty who sings beautiful folk songs and rebels against an oppressive patriarchal society.

Hu Chang proved to be one of our most thought-provoking guests. His autobiographical lecture was that of a common man who became an intellectual in the best Chinese tradition. Born into a peasant family in 1933, Hu Chang showed enough academic potential to move from the farm at age 18 to work as a bank clerk in a nearby Jilin provincial town. The effects of China’s decade-long inflation (1937-49) were still being dealt with by the new government and deeply impressed Hu even fifty years later. He emphasized individual integrity over political ideology in explaining China’s successful economic recovery, noting that, "although I handled money in the bank all day long, I only regarded it as paper with colors." While in the bank, Hu married and had a son, and also supported the middle school education of two younger siblings back home.4

Despite these responsibilities, Hu Chang determined to get an education, and did so after he passed the national entrance examination for college in 1956. He excelled at the study of classic Chinese literature and, upon graduating at the tail end of the Great Leap Forward—China’s colossal failure to industrialize rapidly between 1958-60—gained employment in the president’s office at the Changchun Film Studio. Unfortunately, Hu Chang’s abundant writing skills could not mask a sometimes-abrasive demeanor that often put him at loggerheads with studio executives. Often passed over for promotions because of his self-described individualism, Hu applied himself assiduously to examining the studio’s archives. Two outstanding comprehensive histories of the Changchun studio during the Japanese (1938-45) and the communist (1949-85) eras followed. Ironically, although these works cemented Hu Chang’s status as a pioneer among film historians, no material benefits came his way then or later.

In retirement after four decades at the studio, Hu has remained intellectually if not economically productive. He completed two biographies and gathered controversial memoir accounts of Japanese film makers during the occupation years, reasoning that since it had taken place in our country, it is a part of our history. Hu Chang’s highly personal lecture at Weber State ended with him posing three questions to the audience. In contrast to the abstract importunities of some other guests, they implied a profound disappointment in the consequences of the Chinese revolution. Hu first asked whether he should have abandoned the bank for a college education, suggesting that, as a banking executive, he would now be living in a newer, larger flat, owning a car, dining and traveling in comfort. Next, should he have left the university, where he was an instructor, for administrative work at the film studio? With advanced degrees, and in an environment where intellectuals are formally recognized and compensated accordingly, again Hu would have prospered, instead of remaining an "amateur" historian unknown except at the film studio. And finally: "I have devoted my life to study the history of China’s films. I published two valuable books but I missed a few chances to profit from them. Now, I live in a small flat… [and] can only get my poor salary [about US$150] every other month. It is no more than half the other comrades’ salary…. Was it right or wrong for me to spend my career this way?"


Beijing: Bureaucratic Seat of Film and Government

Although Changchun served as the center for New China’s initial phase of film development, China’s new seat of government in Beijing became home to many of cinema’s most important organizations. These included the China Film Artists Association and key cinema periodicals like [Popular Cinema/Dazhong dianying] and [Film Art/Dianying yishu]. Beijing also opened two new studios in the decade after 1949, the August First [Bayi] Studio operated by the Chinese army, and the Children’s Film [Ertong dianying] Studio.


Wang Renyin: Chief Editor of [Film Art]

Wang Renyin’s ascension to a position of authority and influence rare for a woman in China were facilitated by pedigree, intelligence and a competitive spirit. Her revolutionary credentials include a famous leftist artist father and being born at the communist base area of Yanan at a low ebb in the Anti-Japanese War (in 1940). Unlike women of Qin Yi’s generation, Wang’s formative schooling was little hindered by war, and her success as a student gained her entry into a classic Chinese literature program at prestigious Beijing University. She graduated in 1964, just prior to the Cultural Revolution, and was assigned to be a junior editor of [Screenplay/Juben] in Beijing. An attentive and capable analyst, she moved on to [Film Art/Dianying yishu] magazine in 1978 and served as chief editor of this academically-oriented Beijing publication from 1991 until her retirement in 2005.

Wang Reyin’s first appearance on a U.S. campus (at Weber State in September 2005) came as a result of fortuitous circumstances; her mandatory retirement at age 65, coupled with a desire to see her only child in New York. As with Qin Yi, Wang’s maternal instincts were strengthened by unseen external dimensions. Widowed nearly two decades before when her husband died tragically in a pedestrian-vehicle mishap in Tokyo, she raised, first, a teenage daughter and then cared for her ageing mother after her father’s death. Now she was accompanied to Northern Utah by her daughter Wang Jiayin, 35, an Ernst & Young auditor in New York who was a precise and articulate interpreter. Wang’s contributions to Chinese cinema were indicated in a comprehensive lecture, "On the Research and Writing of Chinese Film History Since 1979," that also effectively summarized her four decades of work as an editor.

Like most film analysts whose intellectual and professional growth were stunted during the Cultural Revolution, Wang Renyin offered a harsh assessment of Maoist era film historiography (1949-76). Characterized by excessive political ideology, an artificial focus on class struggle, and ignorance of Western film theory and aesthetics, writing from this period also flaunted a disrespect for historical facts. Chinese cinema of the 1920s and 1940s was largely ignored, while writing on the so-called Leftist cinema of the 1930s emphasized communist politics over aesthetics. This proved to be the case also for the Maoist years prior to the Cultural Revolution, although Soviet-influenced socialist realism framed most theoretical discussions in the historiography. The culmination of narrowly conceived and written film scholarship came during the decade of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when the radical Maoist leadership (Gang of Four) eschewed making regular feature films for elaborate productions known as the eight "model operas" [yangbanxi].

The rest of Wang Renyin’s lecture emphasized strengths and suggested future directions for Chinese cinema history since 1979. As chief editor of [Film Art], a 150 page bi-monthly periodical, Wang acted as both a facilitator and beneficiary by publishing the essays of the best analysts from two generations. Cautiously articulated by established scholars, initial historical reassessments focused on Chinese cinema before 1949. Individual film-makers, film theory and technique also received extended treatment for the first time, and soon younger scholars like Li Daoxin and Ding Yaping were using film to introduce other aspects of the old society. Fresh perspectives on the early period seemed only logical given the recognition of China’s contemporary cinema internationally after 1990. Meanwhile, [Film Art] expanded its membership and academic discourse as Chinese and Western film analysts evaluated the achievements of the so-called Fifth Generation, or directors born around the time of the liberation and deprived of formal training due to the Cultural Revolution.Fei Mu, director, [Springtime in a Small Town]  (1948)

In introducing two films of her choosing, Wang Renyin practiced what she preached. The first was Fei Mu’s classic [Springtime in a Small Town] (1948), one of China’s most acclaimed films. With all that has been written about this romantic triangle, Wang Renyin instead discussed the tragic demise of Fei Mu. He was a pure film artist who wanted only to direct films but collapsed under the weight of competing political ideologies during and after the Chinese civil war (1945-49). He died in 1951. His greatest film, [Springtime] reflects perfectly Fei’s apolitical preferences and thus has a distinct timeless spirit about it. The second film, [Oh, Sweet Snow/E xiangxue] was made by the Children’s Film Studio in Beijing in 1989. It is a small instructive and realistic film, the story of five teenage village girls whose lives change with construction of a nearby railway stop and economic reforms.


Wu Tianming: Renegade Godfather of Fifth Generation Xi’an Films

While Wang Renyin began her retirement, her contemporary Wu Tianming visited Weber State with something yet to prove. Balding, wearing a baseball cap, and entirely unassuming, Wu’s contributions to Chinese cinema rate with any of our invited guests. Born in the rural west in 1939, he sat at the forefront of Fourth generation film-makers, with several path-breaking films that also capture the rustic quality of China’s frontier. [River Without Buoys/Meiyou hengbiaode heliu] (1982) ranked with the earliest films after 1978 to examine the Cultural Revolution and spoke frankly of the reality of this difficult period in modern China’s history. [Life/Rensheng] (1984) also broke ground as a rare film raising the possibility of the negative consequences of China’s post-1978 economic reforms. Portraying a love story between two village teenagers, [Life] reveled in its anti-urban spirit, celebrating instead rural values—including the enduring loyalty of the village girl who is spurned when her lover succumbs to the material culture of city life. [Old Well/Lao jing] (1986), meanwhile, offered a bleak view regarding village life in China’s mountainous west. The fight here was more against the elements than a clash of values, and finding a reliable water source would ultimately determine the village’s fate. Common to each of the above films is the fact that they could only have been made by a Fourth generation director like Wu Tianming. Fourth generation film makers paved the way for the Fifth generation’s much harsher criticisms of CCP leftism and Chinese traditional society by dealing with the subjects first, between 1978 and 1985, whereas the Fifth generation came to fruition directly after, from 1985 to 1991.

Beyond his individual films, Wu Tianming exerted additional influence upon China’s next generation of film makers through his administrative duties. These came via an improbable career path. Wu Tianming came up as an actor and, with his acumen for the details of filmmaking, advanced to assistant director before 1966. The timing of his progression was crucial, for, as he said, "I remembered some of the good things [in film] prior to the Cultural Revolution [unlike the Fifth generation]." With the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Wu not only prospered as a full-fledged director but also took charge as chairman of the Xi’an Film Studio. Xi’an in the west is a quiet, backwater place, historically important as an ancient capital dating back 2000 years, but had made nary a ripple in film. The Xi’an studio opened at the height of the Great Leap Forward but counted only [Peach Blossom Fan/Tao hua shan] as an important film prior to 1976. Wu Tianming’s successful films in the early 1980s brought attention to the studio by film critics and young film makers. One of them, cinematographer Zhang Yimou, agreed to appear as the lead actor in [Old Well] in exchange for Wu Tianming’s promise that he then be allowed to direct a film. Following the success of Zhang’s directorial debut in [Red Sorghum/Hong gao liang] (1987), the Xi’an studio subsequently produced a series of avant garde films by directors like Chen Kaige and Tian Zhuangzhuang.

By 1989 Wu Tianming seemingly sat on top of China’s film world, all the while wearing three hats: as godfather to a stable of internationally recognized directors; as chairman of the boldest and aesthetically daring studio in China; and as an influential director in his own right, recognized in Tokyo for his great film [Old Well] and for fostering genres and techniques adopted by the Fifth generation. Wu was also honored as a visiting scholar at UC-Davis, where he resided even through the long hot summer. On June 4, 1989, the Tiananmen Incident claimed hundreds if not thousands of lives when the Chinese government used armed force to clear the public square and surrounding Beijing sites. As a Chinese Communist Party member, Wu Tianming’s frank criticism of government actions brought him unintended publicity and warnings from friends not to return home. He remained in California for five years, eking out a living by operating an Asian video store. Expelled from the CCP and his positions in Xi’an, he returned from exile to an uncertain future. Wu gained partial reinstatement by directing two successful films [King of Masks/Bian lian] in 1995, and [CEO/Shouxi zhixingguan] in 2002, and a television series. Today Wu is an entrepreneur with a startup film production company, and his exemplary record as director means necessary investment funds should be within reach, but his personal fight against the unfair label of industry exile will likely continue.


Yang Yang and Wang Meibiao: Maoist Youth Must Be Served

Our youngest guests, like the others, shared the brilliance of significant individual achievement even as they differed in age and perspective. Yang Yang (born 1963) is an associate professor of Chinese literature at Shanghai’s East China Normal University, from which school he also holds a Ph.D. Wang Meibiao (born 1965) is a director at the China Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio in Beijing. He has a B.S. degree in French from Fudan University in Shanghai. Unimpeded by war or revolution, notable achievements came readily for these two following their formal education. Yang Yang has published six books and scores of articles and is a long-time doctoral student advisor at his university. As a tribute to his growing international reputation in his field, he was invited to be a visiting scholar to Harvard University. In 18 years at his film studio, meanwhile, Wang Meibiao produced eight documentaries and two television series, including the fifteen-volume [Discovery and Creation–the Cinema of New China]. Following completion of this comprehensive examination of PRC cinema, Wang was made Dean of the studio’s Television Drama Group.

Though they shared the distinctive recognition that comes with individual achievements, the career paths of these two men indicate that film industry insiders still fight institutional battles outsider commentators, especially those within academic confines, do not. Yang Yang’s inclusion with Qin Yi’s group coming to Weber State in Spring 2005 also served as a telling example of the autonomy he enjoys as an outsider. Our original hope was that the delegation be limited to four members, all of whom happened to be 55 years or older. However, delegation organizer Wu Yigong, chairman of the China Film Artists Association, insisted that a younger scholar participate too. Wu, 66, has published several of Yang’s articles and admires him for his scholarship; he is brilliant raconteur able to discourse on an impressive variety of subjects, widely read, sensitive to the didactic responsibilities of his position, and yet an unsparing critic of government shortcomings. In fact, Yang Yang’s intellectual and personal trajectory is so filled with curricular activity that politics seem to be merely a sideline in his life. He comes from an academic family and exuded a matter-of-fact self-confidence even when discussing the Cultural Revolution. Fending for himself and a sibling at age eight after his parents were removed from their home, Yang Yang’s memory of the years of chaos was of learning to cook and to live independently. His recent successes as a guest commentator on the Chinese equivalent of National Public Radio or as visiting scholar at Harvard only enhanced his autonomy and independence as a creative intellect.

By contrast, Wang Meibiao’s successes did not correlate to greater professional autonomy or personal tranquility. Possessing the same keen wit and curiosity as Yang Yang, Wang Meibiao was a joy to host and first came to Weber State University in October 2002. His newly-completed documentary, [Discovery and Creation], stand as the most comprehensive examination of PRC cinema. As director, Meibiao is justifiably proud of having filmed, written the text, and then editing hundreds of hours of interviews, film excerpts, and background material into a compelling twelve hour drama. His Northern Utah lectures revealed the complicated perspectives of an intellectual by training and temperament who, as a CCP member, felt even more compelled to scrutinize his government critically than did Yang Yang. Further, Meibiao’s sense of obligation was compounded by the fact that he is a film maker, and moreover, a documentary maker, with nearly 100 individual stories to tell.

It was my privilege to join Wang Meibiao on one of these soirées, a filmed interview in Shanghai with former Shanghai Film Studio chairman Xu Sangchu, then 85. I was curious at his appearance, for in cutoffs and pony tail he certainly looked the part of young film artist. Substantively, Meibiao’s preparation as an interviewer paid off with Xu Sangchu’s frank reminiscences. This was no ordinary historiography, and I wondered how many of Xu’s sulfuric pronouncements on Maoist cinema would find their way into the final documentary. Meibiao was impassive, however, with only the measured rings of smoke blown from his cigarette afterwards hinting slightly at his satisfaction.

Wang Meibiao returned to Ogden in March 2006 to exhibit portions of his documentary [Discovery and Creation] in what should have been an hour of great triumph for him. He was, however, understandably exasperated. His studio, among the wealthiest and most powerful in China, approved [Discovery and Creation] to be nationally broadcast only in fall 2005. More than three years passed since Meibiao delivered the finished product for review. Simple neglect was followed by multiple rounds of sometimes testy discussions about what should be included or excluded. Fortunately, Wang’s successful completion of [Discovery and Creation] led to other assignments, but these often only reminded him of the ongoing impasse. He filmed a documentary on natural disasters without controversy in 2004, but withdrew from directing a prestigious biopic on former leader Deng Xiaoping due to creative differences he had with the producers.

Then in 2005 he co-authored a lengthy twenty-six episode television series on the actions of the pioneering Yanan Film Troupe during the war years (1938-1946). The Troupe was responsible for the first official visual images of the Chinese revolution and as such, their hagiography has been carefully preserved by the CCP. Now its members are all gone, and Meibiao’s more compelling treatment of the challenges they encountered promised to provoke discussions in both academic and popular circles. The script, however, was not approved, nor was Meibiao advised to make particular revisions.

Given their demonstrated ability to provoke and question the accepted norms of PRC cinema, a certain anticipation accompanied Yang Yang and Wang Meibiao when they came to Weber State. Yang Yang’s two lectures on contemporary Chinese cinema suggested that aesthetic and narrative shifts occurring between the Fifth and Sixth generation film makers in the 1990s were even more pronounced than those between the Fifth generation and earlier generation film makers after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. Actually, Fifth generation directors seemed practically tradition-bound in their approach when compared to younger film makers of the last decade. Since they grew up "on the shoulders" of literature and knew nothing about film before entering the academy, Yang Yang sees their films primarily as "an explanation of the [adapted] literature using cameras." To be sure, their narrative style and film content differ dramatically from earlier film makers based on their life experiences and education. Yang noted that their childhood memories in the late Mao period (1958-76) "are in fact memories of political terror," and that critical views they hold of contemporary life "came from values they were informed of in college." Narrative style meanwhile, evolved from merely transmitting the writer’s external forms of story, thoughts, and emotions to directors expressing a personal film language that reflects their own thoughts about life.

Tian Zhuangzhuang’s [The Blue Kite/Lan feng zheng] provided Yang Yang with a combination of outstanding Fifth generation film-making and political intrigue upon which to discourse. A moving story of family life and politics in China between 1953 and 1967 as told through the eyes of a ten year-old boy, Tietou, [The Blue Kite](1993) has never been shown publicly in China. It did receive international recognition and confirms Tian Zhuangzhuang as a major directing talent, yet he mysteriously absented himself from film-making for ten years after. In his remarks Yang Yang compared [The Blue Kite] to two other politically controversial films made by Fifth generation directors, [To Live/Huozhe] (1994) and [Farewell My Concubine/Ba wang bie ji] (1993). Each of these films derives from "trauma literature," and as such offered "no false pictures of peace and prosperity," as did Maoist-era cinema. Of [The Blue Kite], Yang Yang asked rhetorically, after we see Tietou’s life (which includes the deaths of his father and two stepfathers due to political conflicts), who else will say that was a pure time?

Even while acknowledging the attributes of Tian Zhuangzhuang and the Fifth generation, Yang Yang saw the subsequent Sixth generation as a more relevant springboard for future PRC cinema. The trauma literature of the past "feels not too fresh," he said, nor were the films. "We have seen enough of these," he declared, adding that young Chinese today think about more important problems than the Cultural Revolution. For Sixth generation directors, contemporary daily life replaced literature as the source for their visual art. As Yang Yang noted, this generation of film makers was the first to grow up with access to television, computers, and an international visual popular culture. For Li Yang, director of the gloomy 2003 drama [Blind Shaft/Mangjing], Henan mining provided the backdrop for new aesthetic forms. By using language with a local dialect, non-professional actors, and unfamiliar sights and sounds, he gave a visual shock to audiences while at the same time arousing their interest in seeing life in northwest China.

With his comprehensive look at PRC cinema, Wang Meibiao could choose any era between 1949 and 2001 to discuss. As noted above, he faced heavy constraints in what he has portrayed because of the relative influence and exposure the documentary received. After a three year review, [Discovery and Creation] was finally broadcast nationally in China over a two week period to coincide with the centennial celebration of Chinese cinema in 2005. Given the large viewing audience and the fact that he represented an official point of view, Wang was able to moderate existing accepted viewpoints only by degrees. In the end, he spoke on the least-researched period of Chinese cinema, the Cultural Revolution (GPCR). He proffered predictably harsh criticisms of now-discredited Maoist leaders, noting that China’s film industry was cast adrift for seven years (1966-73) and that earlier revolutionary war films remade in the GPCR’s last years were filled with falsehoods. Other films were classified as poisonous weeds and withdrawn from circulation, leaving only the so-called eight "model operas" to be screened over and over again.


Li Suyuan: the Cheshire Cat as Film Historian

A former classmate of Wang Renyin, our final guest, Li Suyuan (born 1940), seems to have led a life parallel to hers. Like Wang, Li Suyuan was an outstanding student, scoring in the top 1% of the national examination at the height of the Great Leap Forward. He thus entered Beijing University’s Chinese literature department as Wang’s classmate and they both graduated in 1964. Here their paths diverged, for while Wang Renyin worked her way through the ranks as an editor, Li Suyuan (without her revolutionary family pedigree) experienced multiple professional lives as film critic, theorist, and, finally, as respected historian at the China Film Archives.

My first contact with Li Suyuan came at an academic gathering of some 300 film scholars in Beijing and Shanghai in 2005. As the conference to celebrate the centennial of Chinese cinema, its roster included the who’s who of Chinese cinema, and Li Suyuan was the last of only eight speakers chosen to address the entire conference. The other speakers came from prestigious universities in the United States, Britain, and China. Each of them made remarks on different aspects of cinema as carefully prepped as their meticulous dress—all except Li Suyuan, whose attitude seemed faintly insolent as he strolled to the podium with his unkempt hair and untucked shirt-tail. Then it occurred to me that Li had been both an industry "insider" like Wang Meibiao and an "outsider" like Yang Yang. Since he retired from the China Film Archives after more than twenty-seven years as a researcher in 2000, he had taught a comprehensive course on the history of Chinese cinema and served as doctoral advisor for film studies students at the China School of Broadcasting and Film.

Despite his informal appearance and an equally plain speaking style, Li Suyuan served up nothing but verbal thunderbolts in both Shanghai and Northern Utah. Moreover, his broad palette readily embraced the external and the internal elements that he sees forming a complete cinema history. He offered several examples that indicate how he has come to his outspoken position on cinema in the last ten years. One was screenwriter and theorist Liu Na’ou (1900-40), who unfortunately was labeled "traitor" because of long-standing ties to Japan. Li Suyuan’s best-known monograph, [China’s Silent Film History/Zhongguo wusheng dianyingshi] (1996), briefly noted Liu’s contribution to Chinese aesthetics while a part of the progressive left-wing film movement in the 1930s. As his own harshest critic, Li faulted himself later for not achieving more of a breakthrough with his monograph, and especially with regard to Liu Na’ou, whom he asserted, wrote about film art "at a rather high level" without once mentioning his own politics. To Li Suyuan, the individual’s history and what he or she wrote about cinema were issues to be treated separately, and Liu Na’ou thus should not be considered a forbidden subject for researchers today.

A second example involving Maoist era cinema also contemplated the relationship between art and politics. Li Suyuan’s early writing on this era came in a comprehensive account of PRC cinema that became a standard, [Contemporary Chinese Cinema/Dangdai Zhongguo dianying] (1989). Li recognized that while the new face of Chinese film emerging after 1949 featured new roles and ideas, fundamentally it portrayed a song of revolution. Further, as the redemptive father of liberation, the CCP believed that individuals should obey mainstream collective ideology. Thus, artistic issues linked themselves inextricably to politics, and critiques on particular films became political events. In fact, misguided film critiques and wrong conclusions plagued most PRC cinema history even ten years ago, with the result that research usually emphasized external elements at the expense of what Li calls the internal world of cinema.5

The prescriptive message on cinema research Li Suyuan put forth represented a final notable parallel to his former classmate, Wang Renyin. Like Wang, Li Suyuan grew up with Fourth generation film makers who celebrated the relative openness of the second liberation after the Cultural Revolution. He also became a pioneer in this so-called new era (1978-84) in creating publishing opportunities for scholars as one of the founders of [Film Theory/Dianying lilun], which as [Contemporary Cinema/ Dangdai dianying] grew into one of the three established academic film journals in China in the 1990s. For all they share, the two former classmates differed from each other in style and approach. Wang Renyin, with blood-red revolutionary roots and a career built on successful "insider" industry networks, addressed contemporary PRC cinema strengths and weaknesses with a cautious subtlety. By contrast, Li Suyuan’s recent second career as a professor of film studies led to an agreeable indifference to authority. As he did in Shanghai, he dressed with blue-collar simplicity in Northern Utah and tied his advocacy of competitive, unencumbered research explicitly to tangible academic standards, emphasizing above all the necessity of distinguishing between reliable and fake history of Chinese cinema.



WSU’s program 50 Great Chinese Films ended in December 2006 and illuminated many aspects of Chinese history, culture, and politics. Although the film industry and stories of place provided a vehicle for this examination, discussions invariably centered on the behavior of individuals as much as the vaunted Chinese collective. This included their achievements, the obstacles they encountered, and how they worked through and weighed the relative demands of family and state. The actor Sun Daolin provided the initial impetus and scope for the entire dialogue, and his intellectual intensity and sense of urgency added gravity and dramatic flair to the project. His successful visit also dispelled lingering Cold War fears that frankly ideological discussions would subvert our goal of creating a constructive cultural exchange. Sun remains a dedicated communist who believes film art should be both didactic and in the service of the masses. Nevertheless, he readily acknowledged that some scholars already adjudged Maoist cinema, the era of all his great triumphs, a failure.

The Shanghai of Sun Daolin, Wang Shizhen, and Qin Yi will be transformed in the next decade. Their dilapidated buildings and antiquated furnishings are similar to Changchun in their faded glory, but—unlike that northeastern Chinese city—self-evidently predate the communist revolution. Brisk commercial activity and rising property values ensure the future viability of their real estate, but what of their living remembrances of past experiences, of their values, hopes, and how they lived their lives as models for hundreds of millions of Chinese over two generations or more? Wang Shizhen never received the individual recognition for his work, but is still known and recognized as the conduit to the Third generation Shanghai film industry. He presided over the heyday of Shanghai filmmaking before the Cultural Revolution, which included a revival on celluloid of its urban bourgeois culture and restoration of Hollywood-style narratives favored in 1930s Chinese cinema. Both Wang Shizhen and Qin Yi made their individual achievements part of collective success seamlessly. Qin Yi, especially, served her country and family both capably and well, and in overcoming significant obstacles along the way gained the admiration of Chinese across generations.

Su Li and Hu Chang are as naturally identified with Changchun as others are with Shanghai, not as converts to revolution, but coming from the crucible itself. In fact, Changchun was replete with artists who were active participants in the revolution prior to 1949: the actor-director-playwright Yuan Muzhi and his wife, actress and administrator Chen Bo’er, the actress-administrator Yu Lan, and Su Li’s mentor, the actor-director-writer Lu Ban. By contrast, Sun Daolin’s storied visit to the Korean battlefront took place with numerous other Shanghai Film Studio actors as observers. This became the source of Sun’s conviction to serve the people, as he drew inspiration from the tragic death of the film troupe’s supervisor, a common man who, apparently willingly, sacrificed himself rather than see any of his troops put in harm’s way.

Analysts Wang Renyin and Li Suyuan, residing in Beijing, not surprisingly offered the strongest negative commentary on the PRC’s post-1949 bureaucratic machinery, as did Beijing documentary maker Wang Meibiao. Their personal sacrifices also stand out, although Wang Renyin and Li Suyuan’s experiences are atypical for the Fourth generation. Although they experienced the Cultural Revolution from their mid-20s to mid-30s, their great personal crises came later.

The importance of Beijing’s bureaucratic machinery cannot be discounted. Despite Wang Renyin’s and Li Suyuan’s straightforward criticism of past government mistakes, they have managed to avoid the professional exile that Yang Yang referred to with Tian Zhuangzhuang, or that plagued another would-be guest who never reached Northern Utah, film critic and historian Meng Liye. Like his acquaintance Hu Chang, Meng Liye is a keen observer of the human condition and a prolific historian. He was a promising screenplay writer and film critic in the 1950s. Meng’s sometimes intemperate honesty served him badly during the Anti-Rightist campaign against intellectuals, and he spent 23 years away from Beijing, in far-away Qinghai, as a result. When he returned in 1981 he was among the first to reflect balanced scholarship on Maoist cinema before the Cultural Revolution, and as a rehabilitated CCP member rose to the position of secretary in the Chinese Film Artists Association. He continued to battle authorities, however, who indicated their displeasure with several of his recent article-length publications by neglecting to include him in any of the 2005 centennial year gatherings in China.

Whether Wu Tianming knew exactly what the rules were in 1989, he did not say. His dismissal from the CCP and ambiguous official status makes him an outsider in Beijing circles, yet his legacy in PRC cinema history is secure. Yet, knowing how Western audiences love his protégé Zhang Yimou and the Fifth Generation directors Wu cultivated, his remarks focused on them more than himself. Wu also spent more time than any of our other guests living in the U.S. and, as such, seemed less closely identified with Xi’an or even China.

Finally, it is difficult to characterize China’s film industry via any single individual or place. The temporal mosaic of WSU’s program on Chinese Film included all eras dating back to Qin Yi in 1939, and the quality of the presentations suggested that Chinese cinema, including its critics and scholars, generally served people everywhere competently and well. Places too, will endure, although the heyday of studio production in Shanghai, Changchun, Beijing, and even Xi’an has no doubt passed. The particular culture that marked these film centers is gone, too. Whether China’s cinema will become more localized and more international in years to come, only the future can tell.


A list of all the films screened at Weber State University’s program, 50 Great Chinese Films: A Celebration of Chinese Cinema 1933-present, as well as a list of all the videotaped interviews with Chinese directors, scholars, and actors is available at All films (subtitled in English) and interviews are available in DVD format from Weber State University’s Stewart Library. All the posters illustrating this essay are of films shown during the 50 Great Chinese Films program.


1 See The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cinema [Zhongguo dianying dacidian] (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe, 1994), 1000, and Biographical [Dictionary] of Chinese Cinema [Zhongguo dianyingjia liezhuan] (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1986), 7: 37-43.

2 The highly politicized context in which Wang Shizhen wrote his editorials can be gleaned from the pages of Popular Cinema [Dazhong dianying]. A discussion of The Story of Wu Xun [Wu Xun zhuan], a so-called ‘defeatist’ film about a peasant begging for educational funding for his village which drew the ire of Mao Zedong himself, filled fully nine pages (or about one third) of the May 25, 1951 issue (1:22), 2-10.

3 The much remarked-upon episode of revising and converting the screenplay of The City That Never Sleeps [Bu ye cheng] to finished film takes up full chapters in the autobiographies of playwright Ke Ling and director Tang Xiaodan. See Ke Ling, With Pen in Hand: the Reminiscences of Ke Ling [You bi ru chuan: Ke Ling jishi] (Shanghai: Xuexiao chubanshe, 2004), 1-9; and Tang Xiaodan, Tidbits from the Road: the Memoirs of Tang Xiaodan [Shiling lubian: Tang Xiaodan huiyilu] (Taiyuan: Shanxi jiaoyu chubanshe, 1993), 279-286.

4 See Hu Chang’s WSU lecture as well as his excellent histories of the Changchun and Manzhou Film Studios respectively; The Cradle of New China’s Cinema [Xin Zhongguo dianying de yaolan] (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe, 1986), and Manzhou Films: the Face of National Film Policy [Manying: Guoce dianyingmian mianshi] (Changchun:Zhonghua shuju, 1990). Hu Chang also wrote movingly of his Utah visit in his autobiography Hu Chang, Stories of a Hanchang life [Hanchang rensheng xie zhenji] (Jilin: Renmin chubanshe, 2006), especially 235-303.

5 Li Suyuan was recently recognized by the Asian Cinema Studies Society as one of seven pioneers of Asian Film Studies. See his articles, "Reflections on the Literary Tendencies of Chinese Film History," Asian Cinema 17:1 (Spring 2006), 25-34, and "The Story of a Researcher of Chinese Film History," Asian Cinema 17:1 (Spring 2006), 48-54.


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