Visual Memories: Cultural Revolution and Cinema

Apr 16, 2016 | 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Sponsored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University; the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; the Harvard-Yenching Institute; and the CCK Foundation

What was cultural about the Cultural Revolution, or was the decade only a cultural desert? Upon the fiftieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, this symposium considers the cinematic production and reception, practices and legacies of that tumultuous decade. The mass criticism of several “poisonous weed” films in the mid-1960s helped to launch the Cultural Revolution, and the 1970s saw the expansion of the film exhibition network and radical growth of film audiences. If film was the mass medium that reached the most number of people, were these people simply “brainwashed” by what they saw, or were there more alternative modes of reception? With the censorship and rejection of nearly all films made before 1966, what special film aesthetics and genres emerged in the Cultural Revolution? How did cinema interact with other propaganda media? What was the political role of film production, exhibition, and criticism, especially given the intense involvement of top political leaders? What has been the afterlife of Cultural Revolution cinema, and how are the decade’s films and everyday movie- going remembered today? These questions will be addressed in the three panels—Revolution through Cinema, Revolutionary Aesthetics, and Cinematic Memories—plus a roundtable discussion.


9:30am –  Welcome and Opening Remarks
David Der-wei WANG, Harvard University

9:40-11:10am Revolution through Cinema
Chair: David Der-wei WANG, Harvard University

Poisonous Weeds and “Correct” Artistic Practices: on Xie Jin’s Two Stage Sisters
Richard PEÑA, Columbia University

The Red Guards as Film Critics
Yomi BRAESTER, University of Washington, Seattle

Friends vs. Enemies: Diplomacy and Documentary Cinema in the Cultural Revolution
Ying QIAN, Columbia University

11:30-12:30 Revolutionary Aesthetics
Chair: Jie LI, Harvard University

The Production and Reception of Female Ballet Characters in the Cultural Revolution
Laikwan PANG, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Chinese Socialist Formalism and the End(s) of Revolutionary Cinema in the Cultural Revolution
Jason MCGRATH, University of Minnesota

1:30-3:30 Cinematic Memories
Chair: Richard PEÑA, Columbia University

Models on Film: On the Docks and the Geopolitics of Remediation
Laurence CODERRE, University of Michigan

From Paean for “Barefoot doctor” to “Conspiracy Art”: The 1975 Film Chunmiao
Rudolf WAGNER, University of Heidelberg

Why Remember Everyday Movie-Going in Cultural Revolution Shanghai?
Chris BERRY, King’s College London

Rural Movie Projectionists: Maoist Cinema as a Material and Spirit Medium
Jie LI, Harvard University

4:00-5:30 Roundtable Discussion
Chair: Eugene WANG, Harvard University

Carma HINTON, George Mason University
Catherine YEH, Boston University
Yomi BRAESTER, University of Seattle, Washington
Chris BERRY, King’s College London