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Chinese Ecocinema

Chinese Ecocinema: In the Age of Environmental Challenge

Sheldon H. Lu
Jiayan Mi
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Ecocinema
    Book Description:

    This anthology is the first book-length study of China's ecosystem through the lens of cinema. Proposing "ecocinema" as a new critical framework, the volume collectively investigates a wide range of urgent topics in today's world: Chinese and Western epistemes of nature and humanity; the dialect of socialist modernization amid capitalist globalization; shifting configurations of space, locale, cityscape, and natural landscape; gender, religion, and ethnic cultures; as well as bioethics and environmental politics. The individual chapters zero in on diverse Chinese-language films by talented directors such as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Jia Zhangke, Lou Ye, Fruit Chan, Wu Tianming, Tsai Mingliang, Li Yang, Feng Xiaogang, Zhang Yang, Wang Xiaoshuai, Wang Bing, Ning Hao, Zhang Ming, Dai Sijie, Wanma Caidan, and Huo Jianqi. The book is a timely engagement with Chinese cinema's ecological consciousness in a historic moment of unparalleled environmental crises and destruction. In the coming decades, film will be one of the primary ways in which China adopts and expands ecological consciousness. This book will interest scholars in film studies, environmental studies, ecocriticism, gender and cultural studies, Chinese studies, and globalization.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-537-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sheldon H. Lu and Jiayan Mi
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Introduction. Cinema, Ecology, Modernity
    (pp. 1-14)
    Sheldon H. Lu

    Following the economic boom in the post-Mao-Deng and late socialist era, China is now facing unprecedented environmental crises. Although Chinese cinema has given consistent attention to the grave ecological deterioration in this part of the planet, scholarly study of ecological consciousness in Chinese films has been largely neglected. In order to respond to an urgent issue as well as to fill a critical gap, this volume raises the concept of “Chinese ecocinema” as a new critical paradigm in Chinese film studies. The purpose of this volume is to investigate how Chinese films engage environmental and ecological issues in the active...

  6. Part I. Hydro-Politics:: Water, River, and National Trauma

    • 1 Framing Ambient Unheimlich: Ecoggedon, Ecological Unconscious, and Water Pathology in New Chinese Cinema
      (pp. 17-38)
      Jiayan Mi

      The above epigraph is taken from the well-known poem “Dead Water” (Sishui), written in 1925 by Wen Yiduo, a precursor of modern Chinese poetry, just after he had returned from his studies in America to a China torn by civil war. In this poem Wen expresses poignantly his anger, despair, and hopelessness over China’s poverty, corruption, misery, and chaos. Obviously “a ditch of dead water” stands for a China in which the poet can find neither hope for the Chinese people nor a sense of beauty in China’s natural environment, because the “water” that nurtures and sustains China is “dead.”...

    • 2 Gorgeous Three Gorges at Last Sight: Cinematic Remembrance and the Dialectic of Modernization
      (pp. 39-56)
      Sheldon H. Lu

      Toward the end of the film Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Balzac et Petite Tailleuse, Xiao caifeng 巴爾扎克與小裁縫, dir. Dai Sijie 戴思傑, 2002), Little Seamstress decides to leave her home village and go to the city, to face an unknown future. Her lover Luo Ming asks who has changed her. She answers: “Balzac.” Despite Honoré de Balzac’s antimodern inclinations and his nostalgia for the past, to the Chinese readers who were lucky enough to have access to his books, he represented the Other of the backward, enclosed, repressed life in the last years of the Mao era. The novels...

    • 3 Submerged Ecology and Depth Psychology in Wushan yunyu: Aesthetic Insight into National Development
      (pp. 57-72)
      Nick Kaldis

      The Three Gorges Dam project continues to generate debate among scholars, journalists, government officials, environmentalists, developers, and others. The magnitude of the project staggers the imagination: at a cost of over 20 billion dollars, it will be the largest and most expensive dam ever known;² several million people will be forcibly relocated by the 1,983-meter-wide, 185-meter-high dam; water levels between Wuhan and Chongqing will rise more than 500 feet, submerging “13 cities, 140 towns, 955 business enterprises, 1,352 villages, and 115,000 acres of prime agricultural land,” as well as countless archeological sites, historical, and artistic treasures (Berkman 1998: 31).³ Engineering,...

    • 4 Floating Consciousness: The Cinematic Confluence of Ecological Aesthetics in Suzhou River
      (pp. 73-92)
      Andrew Hageman

      The astonishing critical and commercial success of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) has revealed to an unprecedented degree the potential power of uniting cinema and ecological thought. In addition to boosting popular environmental awareness and activism globally, this film has helped open a significant space for ecocinema studies: the critical analysis of the intersections where cinema and ecology meet. While the field of ecological criticism (ecocriticism) has been growing since the 1980s, the scope of these studies has heretofore focused primarily on literature.² But, in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth, the scope is widening, so that the central...

  7. Part II. Eco-Aesthetics, Heteroscape, and Manufactured Landscape

    • 5 The Idea-Image: Conceptualizing Landscape in Recent Martial Arts Movies
      (pp. 95-112)
      Mary Farquhar

      In the famous birch forest scene in the martial arts film Hero (Yingxiong, Zhang Yimou, 2002), two women warriors dressed in red fight among golden autumn leaves. Moon says that she will kill Flying Snow to avenge the death of her warrior master. She leaps high above the forest and dives with drawn sword towards Flying Snow, who summons the wind and a storm of swirling leaves to blow her away. Flying Snow kills Moon and the forest turns blood red. In this scene, the birch forest is more than mere setting. The forest leaves become weapons, foiling Moon’s sword-strike...

    • 6 Façades: The New Beijing and the Unsettled Ecology of Jia Zhangkeʹs The World
      (pp. 113-128)
      Jerome Silbergeld

      For many, the cute nine-year-old Lin Miaoke, who lip-synched to the lovely voice of seven-year-old Yang Peiyi (Figure 6.1), encapsulated the story of the Beijing Olympics ceremonies. Instigated by a member of the Communist Party Politburo in the name of “national interest” to project a “flawless image” of the nation on opening night, according to the event’s music designer Chen Qigang, this unacknowledged teamwork of young talent was cited immediately afterward by the opening ceremony’s organizer Zhang Yimou as the high point of the event, saying he was “moved” by it “from the bottom of my heart.”¹ For others, it...

    • 7 Ruins and Grassroots: Jia Zhangkeʹs Cinematic Discontents in the Age of Globalization
      (pp. 129-154)
      Hongbing Zhang

      Produced at a time when China was being swept deeper and deeper into the currents of globalization, Jia Zhangke’s films can be viewed today almost as an impossible effort to arrest that flow, as at once a cinematic reconstruction, a comment, and an intervention toward that very historical process. They can be taken simultaneously as important and active participants of the ongoing debates on the process of globalization in China today. Recent Chinese theories and comments on globalization are as ideologically different as one could imagine, but we can still stake out, with the audacity of theorization and historicizing at...

  8. Part III. Urban Space in Production and Disappearance

    • 8 Of Humans and Nature in Documentary: The Logic of Capital in West of the Tracks and Blind Shaft
      (pp. 157-170)
      Ban Wang

      The deteriorating natural environment in China has gripped the attention of social scientists, humanists, and observers. Some blame environmental disasters on China’s runaway economic growth, industrialization, and unregulated manufacturing practices. In the single-minded pursuit of growth and productivity, pollutants dumped into rivers and the air are causing egregious health and ecological consequences. In her book The Rivers Runs Black: The Environmental Challenges to China’s Future, Elizabeth Economy vividly portrays the ravages inflicted on the valley of the Huai River in Anhui Province. Criticizing the government’s failure to regulate the economy and to protect the environment, she tells a crisis story...

    • 9 Toward a Hong Kong Ecocinema: The Dis-appearance of ʺNatureʺ in Three Films by Fruit Chan
      (pp. 171-194)
      Chris Tong

      On November 10, 2006, the International Herald Tribune published an article titled “Not even HK’s storied Star Ferry can face down developers.”¹ The article referred to the Hong Kong government’s plan to demolish the historic Star Ferry terminal to create space for an expressway and a shopping mall. Concerned citizens, urban planners, legislators, and celebrities such as John Woo and Chow Yun Fat participated in petitions and protests as a last-ditch effort to stall the project. Against overwhelming public opinion, the government demolished the structure and eventually built a new Star Ferry terminal farther out in the harbor. This is...

    • 10 A City of Disappearance: Trauma, Displacement, and Spectral Cityscape in Contemporary Chinese Cinema
      (pp. 195-214)
      Jing Nie

      China has been undergoing enormous changes since the social and economic reforms unleashed by Deng Xiaoping. These changes are represented in various spaces, the most noticeable of which is cityscape, which has been commercialized, monumentalized, and globalized. This chapter will relate Henri Lefebvre’s space theory to contemporary Chinese economy and urban landscape, and then examine the manifestations of space as represented in four Chinese films: Shower (Xizao, dir. Zhang Yang, 1999), Beijing Bicycle (Shiqisui de danche, dir. Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001), The World (Shijie, dir. Jia Zhangke, 2004), and Cell Phone (Shouji, dir. Feng Xiaogang, 2004). All four of these films...

  9. Part IV. Bioethics, Non-Anthropocentrism, and Green Sovereignty

    • 11 In the Face of Developmental Ruins: Place Attachment and Its Ethical Claims
      (pp. 217-234)
      Xinmin Liu

      Like ecocriticism, ecocinema asserts its ethical claim. Yet how it does so in the context of China’s environmentalism remains intriguing and disputable. Facing the sound and fury of China’s urbanizing and market-driven economic boom, whatever sociological and cultural roles ecocinema can play must at once help China press on with progress and steer away from pitfalls. Should Chinese cinema, for instance, continue to make films of idyllic simplicity of rural China or ethnic diversity and exotica of the frontiers in the vein of memory retreats or imagined nostalgia? There has been, admittedly, abundant footage of these in recent Chinese films,...

    • 12 Ning Haoʹs Incense: A Curious Tale of Earthly Buddhism
      (pp. 235-254)
      Xiaoping Lin

      In summer 2006, Crazy Stone, a low-budget black comedy directed by Ning Hao, was an enormous success in China’s domestic movie market and “an unlikely mainland hit” which “even brushed aside” Hollywood blockbusters such as Superman Returns and Mission: Impossible III released in the country at that time.¹ China Daily, the Chinese government’s English language newspaper, hailed Crazy Stone as a film that “makes audiences laugh” and “Hollywood cry.”² Ning Hao is a talented young filmmaker who, before his triumph of Crazy Stone, was actually unknown to a Chinese audience that had been bombarded with Hollywood offerings in the past...

    • 13 Putting Back the Animals: Woman-Animal Meme in Contemporary Taiwanese Ecofeminist Imagination
      (pp. 255-270)
      Chia-ju Chang

      The invisibility of nonhuman animals (except pets) in our post-industrial society and our indifference to animal suffering reveal much about humanity as a species in relation to the current environmental crisis.¹ Our stubborn negligence is a powerful defense mechanism when facing daily life encounters with animals either at the dinner table or the department store, whether their body parts are used for food, clothing, or decoration. We shy away from talking about animal suffering, in part due to the extent to which human civilization has benefited, and continues to profit from their usage, capture, and decimation. Ingrained speciesism and utilitarian...

    • 14 ʺReconstructing the God-Fearing Communityʺ: Filming Tibet in the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 271-288)
      Donghui He

      Since the turn of the new millennium, Tibet has been a popular filming location for Chinese filmmakers of all stripes — mainstream or independent, commercial or art house, fiction or documentary. In part because of environmental issues and energy problems that have snowballed in China since the 1990s, Tibet, located far away from China’s industrialized center, has increasingly demanded public attention as an example of ecological stability. This new endorsement of ecological ethics in the Chinese public media has contributed to a recently acquired Chinese conviction in the Tibetan religion, a conviction that is mutually illuminative with an appreciation of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 289-324)
  11. Chinese Glossary
    (pp. 325-328)
  12. Filmography
    (pp. 329-332)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 333-352)
  14. Index
    (pp. 353-370)