DEFINING THE AUDIENCE AND ITS NEEDS
These three family narratives, and especially Eight Thousand Miles, were clearly inspired by the personal wartime experiences of the screenwriters and directors who had joined the resistance. Shi Dongshan, for instance, worked in a traveling theater troupe during the early years of the war and eventually reached Chongqing, just like the characters in his movie. It does not follow, however, that the primary audience for these films was people like themselves who had traveled to the interior.
By failing to ask questions about the audience, scholars have failed to note the obvious. The primary target audience for these films was people who stayed behind and endured the harsh Japanese occupation. In large cities like Shanghai, most people had stayed behind. After the war they were by far the largest potential audience for the new epic accounts of the war. They may not have participated
People returning from the interior had much to learn about how ordinary citizens had suffered under the occupation, and the movies under review provided such information. But it appears that these films primarily addressed the needs of the people who had stayed behind. Cut off from reliable news during the war, they had many questions about events that had unfolded "out of view" in the interior. Therefore, they were strongly attracted to epic narratives that "recreated" the war and, thus, allowed them to "see" the disorienting social forces that it had unleashed. They needed answers to nagging questions about family defeats that followed national victory.
After the war many ordinary Shanghai residents felt stigmatized by their decision to remain in Shanghai during the years of conflict. Many were defensive about their personal histories. Some of the people who returned from the interior felt superior and treated those who had remained behind in condescending fashion. One of the most striking things about the grand holocaust narratives under review here, and especially Eight Thousand Miles and A Spring River, is that they view the ordinary people who lived under the Japanese (the very same people who made up the audience for these films) in a sympathetic light. These narratives firmly rejected the view that people who had stayed behind were unpatriotic collaborators. It is easy to understand why such films were so popular.
This is not to say that these films contained no criticism of those who lived under the occupation. In Eight Thousand Miles the portrait of Lingyu's aunt and uncle is most unflattering. They are clearly greedy war profiteers. But more important are the sympathetic characterizations of the old woman (whose property is seized by Jiarong on the pretext that her husband was a traitor) and the patriotic classmates who are reunited with Lingyu and Libin after the war.
In A Spring River the brief representations of traitors like He Wenyan's husband are striking, but far more vivid are the visual portraits of those who were victimized by the foreign aggressors. Zhongliang's father and the other patriotic villagers are exploited mercilessly by the Japanese, and his mother and wife suffer unspeakably in urban Shanghai. They have atrocious housing, they lack adequate food supplies, and they are humiliated by the enemy time and again. These compassionate accounts of the misery of Sufen and her mother-in-law were warmly welcomed by postwar moviegoers. It was gratifying to "see" their own story on screen.
But postwar film fans saw much more on the screen than sympathetic images of their own wartime sufferings in occupied Shanghai. They also learned from these powerful narratives that not all the people who traveled to the interior were motivated by selfless patriotism. Professor Xiao Yuanxi is presented in Far Away Love as a cowardly man whose acceptance of a government desk job in Hankou is motivated more by fear than patriotism. The detailed accounts of the activities of