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Uneven Modernity

Uneven Modernity: Literature, Film, and Intellectual Discourse in Postsocialist China

Haomin Gong
Copyright Date: 2012
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    Uneven Modernity
    Book Description:

    Postsocialist China is marked by paradoxes: economic boom, political conservatism, cultural complexity. Haomin Gong’s dynamic study of these paradoxes, or “unevenness,” provides a unique and seminal approach to contemporary China. Reading unevenness as a problem and an opportunity simultaneously, Gong investigates how this dialectical social situation shapes cultural production. He begins his investigation of “uneven modernity” in China by constructing a critical framework of unevenness among different theoretical schools and expounding on how dialectical thinking points to a metaphysical paradox in capitalism and modernity: the inevitable tension between a constant pursuit of infinite fullness and a break of fullness (unevenness) as the means of this pursuit. In the Chinese context, this paradox is created in the “uneven developmentalism” that most manifestly characterizes the postsocialist period. Gong goes on to investigate manifestations of the dialectics of unevenness in specific cultural events. Four case studies address respectively but not exclusively literature (the prose of Yu Qiuyu), popular fiction (Chi Li’s neorealist fiction), commercial cinema (the movies of Feng Xiaogang), and art-house cinema (Wang Xiaoshuai’s filmmaking). Representing different aspects of cultural production in postsocialist China, these writers and directors deal with the same social condition of uneven development, and their works clearly exhibit the problematics of this age. Uneven Modernity makes a significant contribution to the burgeoning field of China studies as well as the study of uneven development in general. It addresses some of the most popular, yet understudied, cultural phenomena in contemporary China. Specialists and students will find its insights admirable and its style accessible.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6040-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: China, Uneven Development, and Global Modernity
    (pp. 1-10)

    This project is concerned with literature, film, critical discourses, and intellectual formation in contemporary China. It investigates the cultural problematics of unevenness in China’s pursuit of modernity in the postsocialist period.¹ I look at literary and cinematic practices in contemporary China from the paradigm of uneven modernity, and examine unevenness and its effects on literature and film from a dialectical perspective: on the one hand, the uneven social, economic, and cultural developments in contemporary China generate intellectual and existential problems for writers and directors; on the other hand, they also offer essential opportunities for their cultural interventions. Rather than attempting...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Uneven Modernity in Postsocialist China: A Critical Inquiry
    (pp. 11-31)

    On March 16, 2007, after numerous readings and revisions on large and small scales over fourteen years, the Property Law (Wuquan fa) was finally passed by the People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This law, the first such in the judicial history of the PRC, formally and explicitly legitimized the ownership of private property. Before this law took effect, only public property had been legally protected; such public ownership served as the foundational concept of China’s socialist polity. The claim of the Property Law to offer legal protection to public and private properties alike legitimized private ownership,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Popularization of Traditional Culture in Postsocialist China: A Study of the Yu Qiuyu Phenomenon
    (pp. 32-56)

    For more than two millennia, the prose(sanwen)of traditional literati has played a central role in both culture and politics in China. Over the centuries, such figures as Zhuang Zi, Zuo Qiuming, Sima Qian, Han Yu, Liu Zongyuan, Su Shi, Ouyang Xiu, Li Zhi, Yuan Hongdao, Zhang Dai, Huang Zongxi, Gu Yanwu, and Yao Nai have served to shape a significant part of Chinese culture and society. The prose of Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Bing Xin, Zhu Ziqing, Lin Yutang, Liang Shiqiu, Yang Shuo, Liu Baiyu, Qin Mu, and so on, have contributed in disparate ways to the dynamic...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Constructing a Neorealist Reality: Petty Urbanites, Mundaneness, and Chi Li’s Fiction
    (pp. 57-84)

    In this chapter, I investigate the problematics of neorealism (xin xieshizhuyi) through a case study of Chi Li, a prominent Wuhan-based writer widely regarded as one of the most successful neorealist writers working in China today.¹ When rapid commercialization began in the late 1980s, interest in serious experimental literature began to wane; neorealism emerged to largely reshape the literary scene in the 1990s, replacing the populist stance of a by-now obsolete socialist realism, as well as the avant-garde and roots literary styles of the 1980s. The politics of this process are complicated and have fueled much debate and controversy; although...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Commerce and the Critical Edge: The Politics of Postsocialist Film and the Case of Feng Xiaogang
    (pp. 85-107)

    In this chapter, I will investigate how the uneven social and cultural conditions in postsocialist China shape the field of commercial filmmaking. Arguably, Feng Xiaogang may appear to be one of the most relevant cases in point, since his filmmaking is regarded as a typical example of Chinese commercial cinema. In studying Feng’s filmmaking, I will concentrate more on the internal problems of his films than on external problems. This is mainly because since the 1990s, commercial filmmaking has become a burgeoning field in Mainland China, and many studies have been completed to explain how social and institutional changes have...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Geopolitics in Postsocialist Art Film and Beyond: Reading Wang Xiaoshuai’s Films
    (pp. 108-132)

    Among the important members of the controversial group known as the Sixth Generation directors, including Jia Zhangke, Wang Xiaoshuai, Lou Ye, and Zhang Yuan, Wang attracts the least scholarly attention, especially in English. However, his productions register some significant problematics of the art cinema in contemporary China. Textual and contextual problems in Wang’s filmmaking, including cinematic techniques, stylistic transformations, and the dialogical relationships with the Fifth Generation, with the West, and with the changing market and politics, are symptomatic of the problems Chinese art film faces at the turn of the twenty-first century.

    In Chapter 4, I have discussed commercial...

  10. Postscript: Is an “Even Modernity” Possible in China?
    (pp. 133-138)

    In this study, I have undertaken to analyze the condition of unevenness and its many cultural manifestations in a postsocialist China, a condition, that is, of radical and widespread social, economic, and geographical inequality. As we have seen, this unevenness has not only shaped the sociocultural scenes of contemporary China, but also has become a major theme around the world in this period of late capitalism. For instance, facing the unprecedented global financial crisis, Chinese President Hu Jintao, in his speech delivered at the Group of 20 (G20) Financial Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September 2009, called on world leaders...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 139-172)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-186)
  13. Index
    (pp. 187-192)