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11. Victory as Defeat

Postwar Visualizations
of China's War of Resistance

Paul G. Pickowicz

There was an extraordinary amount of violence in China during the first fifty years of the twentieth century, but the War of Resistance was by far the worst instance. Tens of millions experienced that conflict as nothing less than a holocaust. Death, destruction, privation, and persecution were daily occurrences. Communities were ripped apart. Individual incidents of terror and agony were reported in the press, but, so long as the struggle was still unfolding, it was difficult for participants to evaluate the devastating impact of the war on Chinese society. Not until the defeat of Japan was it possible to craft epic narratives that reflected critically on the "national" meaning of the endless nightmare.

Elite nation builders had their own grand interpretations of the "meaning of the war." Their views, embodied in a variety of official mythologies, have been studied quite carefully. One wonders, however, how ordinary people, including those who lived in the vast areas under direct Japanese occupation and who were cut off from detailed news about the course of the war, thought about the hardships they had suffered during the long ordeal. Once the struggle was over, many prominent Chinese, including politicians, historians, novelists, and journalists, were eager to tell the people about the ultimate meaning of their sufferings. But few were as successful in the role of "voice of the people" as the leading filmmakers. In a word, they captured the imagination of the urban population. Visual images produced at this time were so potent that many decades later, elderly and middle-aged Chinese still remembered the holocaust in the vivid terms spelled out in highly popular postwar film epics.


In the mid-1930s the Chinese film industry was flourishing. Everything changed when the war spread to Shanghai in August 1937. Many film personalities fled into

the interior to aid the resistance. Those who stayed behind did the best they could to make "Orphan Island" films in Shanghai in the foreign concessions, which were beyond direct Japanese control, from 1937 to late 1941. For obvious reasons, however, these works did not deal explicitly with warrelated themes.

Throughout the war, and particularly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Chinese films were made under Japanese auspices in Shanghai and elsewhere. This work had entertainment value but was incapable of considering the impact of the war on ordinary citizens. By late 1944 and early 1945, as the Allies closed in on Japanese forces, relatively few Japanese-sponsored works were produced. Chinese who worked in that sector of the film industry were afraid of being accused of collaboration when the war was over. During the war the Nationalist government tried to encourage filmmaking in the interior. Due to poor production environments and inadequate means of distribution, however, these works, almost all of which fell into the category of patriotic mobilization propaganda, attracted little attention.[1] In short, none of the films made in China between 1937 and 1945 took a comprehensive look at the war and its social consequences. By the end of the conflict, Chinese filmmakers in both the interior and the occupied zones were almost completely idle.

Once victory was in hand, there was an enormous demand for new Chinese-made films, especially works that talked about the war. But the film world responded very slowly. In the twelve months that followed the Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945, not a single Chinese film was completed. Consumers demanded, but did not get, new Chinese productions. Instead, they got old Chinese films and American films.

The situation was so tense that in early June 1946 a riot broke out at the Strand Theater (Xinguang da xiyuan) on Ningbo Road in Shanghai, when patrons violently protested yet another screening of an old Charlie Chaplin movie.[2] Consumers looked forward to seeing new Hollywood films, but ticket prices were exceedingly high and lines unbearably long. As a result, there was a booming black market for tickets to the most popular American movies.[3] Local papers demanded to know why there were no new Chinese films.

The lack of new film production activity was related to the threat of full-scale civil war and frustrating delays in the takeover of Shanghai and other Japanese-occupied cities. It is sometimes forgotten that the government did not make an official return to its prewar capital in Nanjing until May 5, 1946.

Ordinary film fans had no way of knowing that both the state and private sectors had ambitious agendas for the postwar film industry. For the state, the first step involved nationalizing the Japanese-controlled film studios in Shanghai and Beijing and confiscating their equipment, by far the best moviemaking hardware available in China. By nationalizing these units and refusing to make the equipment available to private sector filmmakers, the state was declaring its intention of going into the postwar motion picture business. This was a first for China. The Nationalist state had been largely uninvolved in the sprawling prewar film industry.

When the state began taking over Japanese studios in late 1945, its filmmaking experience was limited to a few crude and highly forgettable wartime propaganda works turned out in Wuhan and Chongqing.

Two of the new state-owned units, China Film No. 1 and China Film No. 2, were located in Shanghai, and one studio, China Film No. 3, was set up in Beijing. To increase its chances of success, the state retained (and thus monopolized) the services of the Chinese technicians and production crews of the former Japanese studios.[4] Lists of Chinese stars who had worked with the Japanese were published, and a few high-profile arrests were made, but no one was tried for treason. Film workers who had cooperated with the Japanese were spared after the war.

The new state studios also offered employment to the many stage and film workers who had served the resistance so valiantly in the interior. With the war at an end, these people now needed jobs. As a rule, however, directors and film workers who had served in the interior were kept apart from those who had remained in Shanghai.

Filmmakers who desperately wanted to revive the private sector after the war had a hard time competing with the state. They had difficulty attracting investors, they had to order new equipment from abroad, and they were unable to offer immediate employment to film workers, most of whom had families to support.[5]

Well before any state or private-sector films were actually produced, there was a good deal of discussion in the popular press about the hopes of postwar filmmakers. Using time-honored neo-Confucian standards, some commentators argued that both state and private filmmakers had a moral obligation to play an uplifting role in the postwar industry. In general, there was a greater awareness of the extraordinary power of the film image than there had been before the war. In May 1946, for instance, one film writer asserted that there was "no agency in the world so capable of being used for adult education as the motion picture." The "propaganda possibilities" of film, he solemnly concluded, "make it one of the strongest and most penetrative influences in human history."[6]

Those who emphasized educational goals (and there were both conservatives and liberals in this camp) tended to be critical of the purely commercial orientation of most prewar private-sector filmmakers. When the overriding concern was moneymaking, critics said, the result was often worthless trash that weakened public morals. It was necessary to look upon films "as something aside from a means of entertainment."[7] In a word, filmmaking was too important to be left exclusively in the hands of greedy merchants and capitalists.

Although the rhetoric was high-minded, the first few postwar films, almost all produced in the new state-owned studios, failed to offer anything new or innovative. Disillusionment and despair were already facts of postwar life, but none of the new works confronted the problem of urban malaise and its connection to the dislocations of war. The very first state-funded postwar production, Loyal and Virtuous Family (Zhong yi zhi jia), released on August 27, 1946, was written and directed by Wu Yonggang (1907–82), a well-known leftist whose prewar work had been

praised by Communist critics. A one-dimensional story of the wartime sacrifices of a patriotic Shanghai family, it differed in no significant way from the simplistic pro-Guomindang and pro-American propaganda films produced by the state during the war. Another early postwar state project was Songbird on Earth (Ying fei renjian), directed by Fang Peilin and released on November 7. It was precisely the sort of formulaic entertainment musical churned out in large quantities by prewar commercial studios.

The box office success of some of these early postwar films was due, in large part, to their novelty. They were advertised in the newspapers as the "first" postwar this or the "first" postwar that, and people naturally turned out to take a look. Some critics complained that the films were poorly made imitations of Hollywood originals, but the film-hungry audience was understandably curious.

Only a relative handful of film-world insiders knew that, even as these disappointing early postwar movies were making the rounds, startlingly different works were already in production in the state-owned studios and, shortly thereafter, in the private studios. These stunning works, fashioned without exception by filmmakers who had worked in leading Nationalist cultural organizations during the war, boldly asserted that the social disruptions caused by the war were so severe that victory felt like defeat. Despite the depressing nature of these postwar epic narratives, the films were phenomenally popular. Indeed, they caused a sensation that propelled the film industry to the forefront of the Chinese cultural world in early 1947.


Chen Liting, Shi Dongshan, Cai Chusheng, and Zheng Junli were especially prominent among the screenwriters and directors responsible for the astonishing surge of creativity that swept through the Chinese film world in late 1946 and early 1947. The four men shared much in common. All four were veterans of the robust stage and screen worlds of prewar Shanghai. Chen Liting and Zheng Junli were leaders of the Shanghai Amateur Experimental Drama Troupe (Shanghai yeyu shiyan ju tuan) in the late 1930s, while Shi Dongshan, Cai Chusheng, and Zheng Junli were well-known film personalities associated with Shanghai's glamorous Lianhua Film Studio (Lianhua dianying zhipianchang) in the prewar years. All four had contacts in Nationalist government offices, in the business world, and in left-wing cultural circles. All four held moderate political views and refrained from joining political parties. All four fled Shanghai prior to the Japanese occupation in November 1937 and passed many difficult years in the interior working for various Nationalist cultural organizations engaged in resistance activities. All four spent considerable time in wartime Chongqing, returning to Shanghai by early 1946 to breathe life into a postwar reincarnation of the old Lianhua Film Studio called Kunlun (Kunlun yingye gongsi).[8] Most important, all four had ambitious plans to film unsettling accounts of the holocaust experience.


A native of Shanghai, Chen Liting (1910–), the most intellectual of the group, was swept up by the post–May Fourth surge of interest in modern drama. In 1931, while attending Daxia University in Shanghai, Chen translated The Rising of the Moon, a highly influential early-twentieth-century play by the noted Irish dramatist Lady Gregory.[9] This famous work helped launch a renaissance in Irish drama; it featured lively, direct, and powerful dialogue that was rooted in Ireland's rural folklore. Chen directed and acted in the first Chinese production of The Rising of the Moon.

In late 1931 and early 1932 Chen worked as an elementary schoolteacher in rural Nanhui county, east of central Shanghai. Chen began at once directing experimental "street theater" (jietou ju) that dispensed with stages, sets, artificial lighting, and other conventions. Actors and audience were in direct contact. Inspired by Lady Gregory's example, Chen emphasized simplicity and clarity of message. His most famous production, Lay Down Your Whip (Fang xia ni de bianzi), caused an immediate uproar. Years later, during the War of Resistance, it was performed countless times throughout China.[10]

Back in Shanghai by mid-1932, Chen worked for several years organizing and directing amateur theater groups that were loosely affiliated with the League of Left-Wing Dramatists. He also wrote film reviews for Chen bao and Ming bao, and translated a number of Soviet books on filmmaking, including Vsevolod Pudovkin's On Film Acting (Dianying yanyuan lun).[11] It was in the mid-1930s that Soviet films began to be screened in China.

When the war erupted, Chen was one of the primary leaders of the Shanghai Amateur Experimental Drama Troupe. His company immediately joined the resistance by breaking into two groups to form the third and fourth brigades of the Shanghai Salvation Drama Troupe (Shanghai jiuwang yanju). Chen served as the leader of the fourth brigade. After putting on numerous street performances, including Lay Down Your Whip, the troupe fled Shanghai before it fell, in September. For the next three years Chen and his compatriots traveled under harsh conditions through central and southwest China, performing innumerable patriotic plays.

In 1941 Chen arrived in Chongqing and was immediately invited by the Nationalist authorities to join the state-run China Film Studio (Zhongguo dianying zhipianchang) and the Central Cinematography Studio (Zhongyang sheying chang). But Chen's main contribution continued to be in the theater world. As a member of such state-sponsored groups as the China Art Theater Society (Zhongguo yishu ju she), Chen directed leading plays by Wu Zuguang (1917–), Xia Yan (1900–1995), and Chen Baichen (1908–). Chen Liting's most impressive wartime effort was his staging of Guo Moruo's (1892–1978) famous 1942 play, Qu Yuan.

Chen Liting was back in Shanghai by early 1946. He was invited to join the state's new China Film No. 2 Studio, and began at once to write and then direct Far Away Love (Yaoyuan de ai), the first in a series of controversial epics on the social dislocations caused by the holocaust. The premiere, held in Shanghai's well-known Huanghou Theater on January 18, 1947, was a landmark event in postwar filmmaking. Such

prominent actors and actresses as Zhao Dan (1915–80), Qin Yi (1922–), and Wu Yin (1909–91), all of whom had worked with Chen before or during the war, were recruited by the state-run studio to play leading roles. The Ministry of Defense supported the production by putting units of uniformed soldiers at Chen's disposal.

Chen Liting made a second film at China Film No. 2 Studio, Chen Baichen's A Rhapsody of Happiness (Xingf u kuangxiangqu), in late 1947, before moving on to Kunlun, the new private studio, to direct Women Side-by-Side (Liren xing) in early 1949, a work based on a screenplay cowritten by Chen and the noted dramatist Tian Han (1898–1968). After 1949 Chen served the new socialist regime in many capacities, including a long stint as director of the Haiyan Film Studio in Shanghai from 1957 to 1966. There is no evidence that Chen Liting ever joined the Communist Party, even though many leading film personalities did so in the 1950s.

Shi Dongshan (1902–55), whose original name was Shi Kuangshao, was raised in Hangzhou. His father was an accomplished local artist and musician, but the family was of modest means. Shi left Hangzhou in 1922, finding work as a set designer at the Shanghai Yingxi Film Company (Shanghai yingxi gongsi).[12] He directed his first film for Yingxi in 1925, at the age of twenty-three, and in 1930 Shi began working for the legendary Lianhua Film Studio, one of the two most important film companies of the 1930s. Prior to the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, Shi's finely crafted works did not have a particular political orientation. On the contrary, one of Shi's specialties was directing the sort of flashy martial arts thriller that was so popular in the late 1920s.

Beginning in 1931, however, his films took on a more pronounced patriotic tone as the Japanese threat intensified. In 1937 he fled Shanghai for Wuhan and later Chongqing, where he, like Chen Liting, worked for the China Film Studio, an arm of the Political Bureau of the Nationalist government's Military Affairs Commission (Junshi weiyuanhui zhengzhi bu). Shi produced a number of highly patriotic wartime propaganda films and directed a few stage plays.

In 1946 he returned to Shanghai and helped found the Kunlun Film Studio. In August 1946 he completed the controversial screenplay Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon (Ba qian li lu yun he yue), a narrative thematically consistent with Chen Liting's Far Away Love. It was Kunlun's first postwar production. This film, directed by Shi himself, was released simultaneously at the Carlton, Huguang, and Huanghou theaters in Shanghai on February 21, 1947, a month after the triumphant appearance of Far Away Love.

Shi Dongshan resided in Hong Kong in 1948, but returned to Beijing in 1949 after the revolution, and was appointed head of the Technology Committee of the Ministry of Culture's Film Bureau (Wenhua bu dianying ju jishu weiyuanhui).[13] After 1949 Shi's directorial activities were limited. Shi never joined the Communist Party, and by late 1951 he became the target of political criticism. On February 23, 1955, at the age of fifty-three, Shi Dongshan committed suicide. According to one of his sons, his farewell note was confiscated on the orders of Zhou Enlai, and news of the suicide was suppressed.


Cai Chusheng (1906–68) was born in Shanghai, but returned with his parents to their native place, Chaoyang, Guangdong, when he was six. His formal education was limited to four years in an old-style private school. At age twelve Cai was sent by his father to Shantou to learn a trade, first in an old-style bank (qian zhuang) and then in a small shop. Cai was far more interested, however, in amateur theater activities. In 1926 he helped make local arrangements for a Shanghai film company that was shooting a movie in Shantou. In 1929 he moved to Shanghai and, like Shi Dongshan before him, worked at a number of odd jobs in the film industry. Cai's big break came in 1929, when at the age of twenty-three he met the famous actor and director Zheng Zhengqiu (1888–1935), who was also a native of Chaoyang. Zheng immediately brought his compatriot into the well-known Star Film Company (Mingxing yingpian gongsi), where Cai directed six pictures. In summer 1931 Cai Chusheng began working at the Lianhua Film Studio, where he met Shi Dongshan.[14] Like Shi, Cai's films of the early 1930s had no pronounced political characteristics. Works like A Dream in Pink (Fenhongse de meng, 1932) were the sort of mainstream butterfly works that Cai's mentor, Zheng Zhengqiu, had mastered years before. Some of his films were criticized by leftist writers.

It was only after the Japanese attack on Shanghai in 1932 that Cai's films became overtly patriotic. By the mid-1930s he was making a greater impact on the film world than Shi Dongshan was. Cai's masterpiece, Fisherman's Ballad (Yu guang qu, 1934), written and directed when he was twenty-eight, was the first Chinese film to win an international award.[15]

In 1937 Cai fled the occupation of Shanghai and spent more than four years making Cantonese-language resistance films in Hong Kong. Following the occupation of Hong Kong he fled to Guilin, and finally to Chongqing in late 1944, where he met up with his old friend Shi Dongshan. Cai was seriously weakened by tuberculosis following his departure from Hong Kong, but by February 1945 he was able to serve as a member of the committee on writing and directing of the Nationalist's Central Cinematography Studio. Chen Liting also served on that committee.

In January 1946 Cai returned to Shanghai to help organize the privately run Kunlun branch of the old Lianhua Film Studio. Kunlun's second film, A Spring River Flows East (Yi jiang chun shui xiang dong liu, 1947), a spectacular two-part account of holocaust dislocation released in three Shanghai theaters (Lidu, Huguang, and Meiqi) on October 9, 1947, on the eve of National Day, was written primarily by Cai Chusheng. The film was so popular it played continuously in Shanghai for almost a year.

Like Shi Dongshan, Cai Chusheng went to Beijing in 1949 and assumed a number of leadership positions in the new cultural organizations, including the vice directorship of the Film Bureau under the Ministry of Culture (Wenhua bu dianying ju). Cai did not join the Communist Party until 1956. Owing to harsh treatment during the Cultural Revolution, Cai Chusheng died on July 15, 1968, at the age of sixty-two.

Zheng Junli (1911–69), whose family hailed from Zhongshan county, Guang-dong, was born in Shanghai. Fond of art in his early years, Zheng dropped out of

middle school during his second year and eventually enrolled in the theater department of the famous Southern Art Institute (Nanguo yishu xueyuan). In the 1930s Zheng established himself as one of China's leading stage and screen actors. In 1932 he joined the Lianhua Film Studio, came into close contact with Shi Dongshan and Cai Chusheng, and appeared in many outstanding films. Some films, like The Big Road (Da lu, 1934, d. Sun Yu), were associated with the left, while others, like Filial Piety (Tian lun, 1935, d. Fei Mu), were associated with neoconservative causes. There can be no doubt, however, that Zheng was ardently patriotic. On the eve of the war Zheng, like Chen Liting, was a leader of the Shanghai Amateur Experimental Drama Troupe, which formed the third and fourth brigades of the Shanghai Salvation Drama Troupe once the war was under way. Zheng Junli was leader of the third brigade, which also included the well-known actor Zhao Dan. Chen Liting was in charge of the fourth brigade. After doing considerable propaganda work in Shanghai proper, these groups moved into the interior to do long-term resistance work once Shanghai fell.

At Guo Moruo's urging, Zheng served in Chongqing as director of China's wartime Children's Theater Troupe (Haizi jutuan). From 1940 to 1942 he worked outside the wartime capital on a documentary film project for the Nationalist government's China Film Studio, returning to Chongqing and the stage as a director and actor in the last few years of the war.[16]

Zheng Junli returned to Shanghai in 1946, joining immediately in the effort to establish the Kunlun branch of the old Lianhua Film Studio. There he worked with Cai Chusheng on the epic film A Spring River Flows East. The screenplay, written primarily by Cai, was finished in the summer of 1946. The direction of the film was left primarily to Zheng.

After 1949 Zheng Junli continued making films at the Kunlun Studio. In 1951 his movie Between Husband and Wife (Women fu fu zhi jian) was severely criticized for presenting a "distorted view of life in the liberated areas" after 1949, and Zheng was forced to write a self-criticism entitled "With Deep Remorse I Must Reform Myself" (Wo bixu tongqie gaizao ziji). Zheng was allowed to continue working, and he eventually joined the Communist Party in 1958. In 1961, however, his film on the life of Lu Xun was banned before its release, and in 1967, at the outset of the Cultural Revolution, Zheng was jailed. Owing to mistreatment, he died in prison in 1969 at the age of fifty-eight.


The remarkable postwar works of Chen Liting, Shi Dongshan, Cai Chusheng, and Zheng Junli pose a major question. How was it possible for films that treated victory as defeat to be so popular? To answer this question, it is extremely important to go over almost every detail of their elaborate narrative reconstructions of the war years. This method allows us to appreciate patterns of appeal that link the texts to the popular audience. As Robert Darnton has pointed out, reconstructions

of this sort are not objective, historically accurate, or "true" in any strict sense.[17] We study them because they are "meaningful fabrications" that often reveal much about popular perceptions. The point about these works is not that they were historically accurate accounts of the holocaust years, but rather that they were extremely influential and came to be accepted as valid representations by millions of ordinary urbanites in the postwar period. In a word, the films captured a psychological reality that was pervasive in urban society after the war.

The first narrative, an amusing satire called Far Away Love, opens in Shanghai in late 1927. Chen Liting believed that a full understanding of the disruptive social dynamics of the war years required a grasp of prewar conditions. As the account opens, the audience sees a respected young professor named Xiao Yuanxi lecturing on the subject of "women and society." Xiao presents himself as a modern-minded intellectual who supports the cause of women's rights.

One day Xiao catches a female servant named Yu Zhen taking a book from his study. She claims she is only borrowing it. Given her rural background, Xiao is amazed the young woman can read. Later he tells a female colleague named Wu Ya'nan that he has a grand experiment in mind. Xiao proposes to take personal charge of the servant's reeducation. He is confident he can mold such fine raw material into a "modern young lady" (modeng xiaojie). At first Yu Zhen misunderstands. When she was still in her village, a landlord's son wanted to convert her into a xiaojie, that is, his concubine. The two intellectuals convince her that Xiao has nothing but the best intentions.

Yu Zhen finally agrees, and Professor Xiao lectures her on the role of women in modern society. Since "modern" is defined as "Western," the servant is taught Western table manners and the correct way to shake hands with men. Her peasant garb is exchanged for modern, urban clothes. Still, throughout her rigorous training, Yu Zhen continues to function as a servant. For example, Xiao insists that Yu Zhen sit with him at the breakfast table, but he still expects her to serve the meal.

The professor eventually writes a book entitled On New Women (Xin funü lun) about his experiment, and his fame spreads. He confesses to Yu Zhen, however, that her progress has not been totally satisfactory. She is not an "ideal" woman, he proclaims, because she is insufficiently "independent." Xiao complains that she obeys his commands a bit too mechanically. That problem is addressed, however, when Wu Ya'nan, known throughout the picture as Big Sister Wu, convinces Yu Zhen to go to a public meeting (on the Japanese threat) that the busy professor has no time to attend. Yu Zhen goes in order to show more "independence."

The narrative leaps ahead to 1931. Xiao has married his "ideal" woman and a son is born. Unfortunately, their domestic tranquillity is disturbed by the Mukden Incident. Influenced by Big Sister Wu, Yu Zhen attends ever more meetings. She also enrolls in a class that provides her with some leadership training. Xiao begins to resent the fact that his wife is never home. She justifies her absences by referring to his own remarks about the need for women to show "independence." When Japanese forces attack Shanghai in January 1932, Yu Zhen's father is killed in a

bombing raid. Her brother joins the Nationalist army and is killed in the fierce fighting. Throughout the struggle Yu Zhen works as a volunteer nurse. When an armistice brings the fighting to an end in May, the professor is delighted that Yu Zhen will be returning home. But Yu Zhen is depressed because there was no clear victory. She says her brother "died for nothing." Eager to regain control of his wife, Xiao orders Big Sister Wu to keep away from the family.

The narrative leaps ahead to July 1937. The couple has another son and war threatens once again. And once again Wu Ya'nan shows up to recruit Yu Zhen for war preparation. Xiao claims that the war will never reach Shanghai, and when it does he is shaken to the core. When a friend offers him a comfortable military desk job in Hankou, Xiao agrees to flee the city. Yu Zhen insists on staying in Shanghai as long as possible to do dangerous work at the front. Husband and wife separate, but Xiao refuses to take either of the children, even though he is headed for a safe rear area.

Xiao lives a life of great comfort in Hankou. He wears a fancy Nationalist uniform and lives in a spacious home once occupied by Japanese residents. He has servants and an expense account. When he is not attending meaningless meetings, he plays cards in his office. Enthusiastic young people plead for a chance to go to the front, but Xiao urges them to be "logical" and refuses to process their papers. At night Xiao spends his time in Hankou's best nightclubs.

When the Japanese occupy Shanghai, Yu Zhen retreats with other resistance activists. Along the way her infant child is killed in a Japanese strafing assault. Yu Zhen later joins a Nationalist military unit and puts on the crude uniform of infantry regulars. Every day she hikes along with the troops, helping wounded soldiers, refugees, and orphans.

One of the most visually interesting sequences in the film involves the reunion in Hankou between Xiao and Yu Zhen. The gap that now separates them is apparent in everything that happens. She is wearing rough straw sandals and a tattered uniform; he has expensive leather shoes and a full cape. He wants to pay for a rickshaw; she prefers to walk. He wants her to wear women's clothing; she insists on staying in her battle fatigues. He takes her to Hankou's most elegant restaurant; she says she is not hungry. (See figure 11.1.)

The restaurant scene is especially effective. Xiao spends a small fortune on a wasteful dinner while starving children gape through the window. Yu Zhen is appalled by the decadence of the restaurant culture. She asks Xiao when he started smoking and drinking so much. When the bill comes, Yu Zhen says that a soldier at the front could live for a month on what Xiao has spent.

Back in his lavish home, Xiao tries to tell Yu Zhen that life in the rear is different from life at the front and urges her to adjust. But even Xiao's pet dog does not like Yu Zhen. The dog smells Yu Zhen's feet and immediately begins an angry bark before jumping up on Xiao's lap. One evening they go out to a dazzling nightclub for an evening of drinking and dancing to Western music. The party ends abruptly when Yu Zhen slaps a man who is harassing her.


Figure 11.1. Wearing battle fatigues and straw sandals, an embarrassed Yu Zhen (left) enters an elegant Hankou restaurant with her corrupt husband (center), in Far Away Love (d. Chen Liting, China Film No. 2, 1947). Courtesy of the Film Archive of China, Beijing.

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As the war gets closer to Hankou, Yu Zhen wants to return to the front. Xiao is opposed to her plan. Late one night her thoughts return to the warm feelings of community she enjoyed with her comrades in the army. Before dawn she slips out and returns to the "women's work brigade" at the front, leaving a note that tells Xiao she will return whenever she can.

The war drags on and the paths of husband and wife do not cross. With the fall of Hankou, Xiao drifts to Guilin, where he takes up a minor teaching post. Xiao's dignity continues to slip away. Students sneak out of his meaningless lectures, and a new article of his, entitled "Women's Heaven and Earth Is Still in the Family," is severely criticized in the press.

Yu Zhen, it seems, has a new family. She is working feverishly on the outskirts of Guilin with Big Sister Wu and many others who comprise a wartime Nationalist military collective. The group treats the elderly like parents, soldiers like brothers, and orphans like their own children.

The film ends when a Japanese assault on Guilin leads to a mass exodus of terrified refugees, including Professor Xiao, who looks quite pathetic. His clothes are

disheveled, his glasses are broken, and he has lost almost all his personal possessions. Worst of all, he is not getting the respect he thinks he deserves. He complains that being in a refugee column is like being in the army: "There is no individual freedom!" Actually, the column consists primarily of women, children, and the elderly. Xiao is one of the few adult males in the group.

The refugees finally make it to an evacuation center where Yu Zhen's women's brigade has arranged for a caravan of trucks to take the women and children to safety. It is here that Big Sister Wu spots the wretched Professor Xiao among the women and children. She then brings Yu Zhen and Xiao together in the final scene of the movie.

Xiao wants to get back together with Yu Zhen. He says he needs her and cannot understand how she can get along without her husband and family. He wants her to go to Chongqing with him. When she declines, he asks if she has another man. She answers that she "loves all of those who have died and all who are still fighting." She pities him because he "loves only himself." His is a "selfish love." Still, she promises to talk to him about their relationship once the war is over. Xiao then jumps on a truck and goes off with the women and children.


The second narrative, Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon, begins in Shanghai in the summer of 1937, immediately following the Japanese invasion.[18] Like Far Away Love, this account of the holocaust is particularly interesting because it dwells on the experiences of a young woman, this time a seventeen-year-old college student named Jiang Lingyu. Inspired by the patriotic appeals of actors who visit her campus, she wants to join a mobile drama troupe being put together by resistance organizers. She is both innocent and idealistic, and never asks how she can gain by actively supporting the war effort.[19]

Lingyu, a native of Jiangxi, lives in Shanghai with her aunt (her mother's sister), uncle, and two cousins (one is a female, a bit younger than Lingyu, and the other, Zhou Jiarong, a male, is older). The problem for Lingyu, played by the famous actress Bai Yang (1920–96), who spent the war doing cultural work in the interior, is that her relatives firmly oppose her plan to join the troupe and leave Shanghai. Lingyu's uncle expresses negative stereotypes of actors and stage people. He protests that it is immoral for young men and women to be thrown together in this fashion beyond the supervision of their families, and sternly warns that "good people will be transformed into bad people" in such circumstances. Lingyu's aunt asserts that the theater people have unacceptably low social and cultural status. Lingyu insists that they are people of "learning" (xuewen) and "standing" (diwei). Even her cousin, Jiarong, is opposed. He says the issue is not patriotism ("We are all patriotic"), but rather the illogic of running off with a bunch of "stars" (mingxing).


But the narrative strongly suggests that the issue is, in fact, patriotism. The choice seems to be between family and country, an extremely complicated choice for most people. In this blatantly manipulative account, as in Far Away Love, the characterizations of the family members are so uniformly negative that the choice is easy. The narrative applauds Lingyu, a teenage female, when, to the shock and dismay of her relatives, she sneaks out to run away with the troupe of actors, a group that is clearly linked to the Nationalist government and military. Indeed, during much of the story troupe members wear Nationalist military uniforms. They regard themselves as "cultural soldiers" (wenhua zhanshi).

The story follows the troupe as they move from Shanghai to Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, and Wuhan. Although the material living conditions of the troupe are austere, its sense of solidarity is great. In a word, the troupe is Lingyu's new family, a family born of wartime privation. The group tirelessly performs outdoor skits (including a fascinating production of Chen Liting's Lay Down Your Whip) to arouse the anti-Japanese indignation of the masses. They also do indoor patriotic plays for the enjoyment of infantry soldiers. Great pains are taken to show that the actors are not at all like the stereotypes imagined by Lingyu's relatives. They are cultured, disciplined, and selflessly dedicated to national salvation.

During the course of the struggle a love relationship develops between Lingyu and a classmate named Gao Libin, who also joined the drama troupe. It is a special love, born of war and sacrifice. Their bond is based on mutual respect and their united contributions to the resistance. As they move farther inland the couple experience every imaginable warrelated hardship. One time they see a member of their troupe shot dead by the enemy. Another time Lingyu falls ill and is cared for by Libin and the group.

After the troupe arrives in Chongqing, Lingyu receives a letter from her father in rural Jiangxi. In sharp contrast to the maternal relatives in Shanghai, her father writes approvingly of her patriotic activities and her relationship with Libin. He agrees that they should marry, but urges them to wait until the war is over. The couple accepts his view. "China's victory will be our victory!" they say. Libin, played by the popular actor Tao Jin (1916–86), who spent most of the war doing cultural work in Chongqing, fantasizes about what China will be like when victory is achieved. The country, he predicts, will be peaceful (heping), democratic (minzhu), and free (ziyou), and the people will be happy (xingf u). Filial to the core, they plan to invite her father to live with them, and to produce a grandson for his enjoyment.

Suddenly Lingyu's cousin, Jiarong, played by the young actor Gao Zheng, shows up in Chongqing.[20] He claims that he, too, is participating in the resistance, but it is clear from his comments that he is enriching himself by engaging in war profiteering. He even offers to supply Lingyu with coffee, powdered milk, candy, and other delicacies. Jiarong is shocked to find that Lingyu and Libin are not benefiting personally from the war. He cannot understand their selfless dedication. For her part, Lingyu is repulsed by Jiarong's animated description of Chongqing's lively (renao) dance and party scene. Interestingly, the growing gap between the two

cousins has pronounced "national" and cultural dimensions. The filmmakers take pains to show that Jiarong and his corrupted friends (like Professor Xiao and his cronies in Far Away Love) live, dress, and socialize in what is portrayed as the Western manner, while the members of the Nationalist drama troupe (like Yu Zhen's medical team in Far Away Love) live and work in ways that are shown to be consistent with essentialistic Chinese customs and morality.

As soon as Japan surrenders in August 1945, Lingyu and Libin get married in a ceremony attended by all their resistance-war comrades. Jiarong stumbles, uninvited, into the wedding party, dressed in a Western suit and tie. Disappointed to learn that Lingyu has married Libin, he invites Lingyu to join him on a special early flight back to liberated Shanghai, where new "postwar" business opportunities await. Needless to say, Lingyu declines.

But the end of the war brings nothing but difficulties for the newlyweds. First, dressed in simple Nationalist military uniforms, they travel to Jiangxi to see Lingyu's father. The couple is shocked to discover that Lingyu's father is dead and the family property has been sold. Morale in her native village is low.

Later, in Shanghai, they visit her aunt and uncle, who now live with Lingyu's cousins in a splendid foreign-style house that Jiarong got from a German national whom he protected just after the war. The reunion does not go well. Jiarong is now dressed in a fancy Western-style military uniform that suggests he is an officer involved in the postwar government takeover of Shanghai. His new girlfriend, shallow and stupid, spends most of her time applying makeup. Lingyu's female cousin has married a well-dressed businessman.

Lingyu and Libin are embarrassed by the comments of their relatives. During a majiang game, Lingyu's aunt asks how much money they made during the war performing plays. Jiarong says that people like them who got nothing for "serving the people" (wei renmin fuwu) were fools. The uncle adds that many people who lived in the interior (houfang) made money. The couple missed one golden opportunity during the war, he points out, but they should not miss another one in postwar Shanghai. Jobless and without the means to secure housing of their own, Lingyu and Libin are forced to live with their relatives for a time, but their relations with the family steadily decline.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is its perspective on the lives of people who remained in Japanese-occupied areas during the war. With the important exception of Lingyu's relatives and their circle of friends, the portrayal of those who lived under the occupation is surprisingly sympathetic. For instance, Lingyu and Libin are thrilled when they reestablish contact with a group of former classmates who remained in Shanghai during the war. A number of them now work as respected journalists and teachers. Indeed, their close relations with this group of people who suffered under the occupation reminds one of the intimate collectivistic bonds that united resistance activists in the interior. In the end, Lingyu takes a job as a journalist and Libin works as a primary school teacher. (See figure 11.2.)


Figure 11.2. Lingyu (center right) and Libin (center left) are among disillusioned youth who experience hopelessness in postwar Shanghai, in Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon (d. Shi Dongshan, Kunlun Film Studio, 1947). Courtesy of the Film Archive of China, Beijing.

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In an especially graphic episode, Lingyu shows great compassion for a desperate widow whose home and property have been confiscated by Lingyu's cousin, Jiarong, in the postwar takeover. Because the widow's husband died at the end of the war, she is now easy prey for people like Jiarong, who use any excuse to charge that people who lived in Shanghai during the occupation are traitors (hanjian) who deserve punishment. The homeless widow insists that her husband was not a collaborator. "You think that anyone who remained in Shanghai must have been a traitor!" she cries. Jiarong responds that the old man sold goods to Japanese consumers in his shop and rented rooms to Japanese tenants. The issue in the narrative is not so much the innocence or guilt of the accused traitor's family, but the perspective that the audience is being encouraged to accept. The morally upright Lingyu and Libin show compassion for the plight of the woman. They seem to be saying that ordinary people who remained in Shanghai and who encountered the Japanese every day ought to be viewed sympathetically, while those like Jiarong who pretended to "participate in the resistance" in the interior deserve to be scorned.[21]

Lingyu and Libin decide to move from their relative's luxurious home to a dilapidated one-room flat. Still, their postwar difficulties mount. Lingyu's work as a

journalist gets her involved in the effort to expose people like Jiarong and, thus, intensifies family conflict. At one point she confronts her cousin: "Even though you are a relative, I'll write about all your activities unless you return the things you took." Libin works hard as a teacher, but, weakened by years of wartime hardship and postwar scarcity, he contracts tuberculosis.

Toward the end of the narrative Lingyu discovers she is pregnant. Normally this would be a joyous way to begin postwar life. But given the unexpected circumstances, she wonders whether it is a good thing. For a time, their spirits are buoyed by the return to Shanghai of the rest of their comrades in the drama troupe.

The narrative ends months later when Lingyu, alone at night, collapses on a rain-soaked street. Libin panics when she fails to return, and mobilizes the wartime veterans, most of whom are still wearing rough military garb, to fan out through the city to find her. They finally locate her and bring her to a hospital. The cost for her care and the delivery of the baby is five hundred thousand yuan. The leader of the troupe has two hundred thousand yuan, and the rest of the members contribute the remainder. Libin finally arrives at the hospital as a healthy baby is born. But the story closes on a highly ambiguous note. It is not at all clear that Lingyu will survive. The doctor says her only hope is to rest for a year in "a place where the air is clean." The group resolves to care for the baby. "This child is our child," they pledge. Still, the final image is a huge question mark on an otherwise blank screen, followed by a text that invites the audience to participate in the resolution of the problem. It asserts that the actions of the audience will determine whether people like Lingyu live or die.


The third and most powerful narrative, a two-part film entitled A Spring River Flows East, features many of the same lead actors and actresses, but this account of the holocaust experience heads in a number of new directions.[22] The first part, "Eight Years of Separation and Chaos" (Ba nian li luan), begins not in 1937, but on National Day, October 10, 1931, in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. As in Far Away Love, a serious effort is made to locate warrelated issues in the broader context of prewar conditions. In this story the protagonist is a young man named Zhang Zhongliang, who works as a night-school teacher in a class attended by female textile workers in Shanghai.

Zhang, an ardent patriot who advocates immediate resistance to Japanese aggression, has organized a gala National Day talent show in a factory union hall. At the end of the show he is urged by young workers to make some patriotic remarks. His passionate anti-Japanese speech elicits two different responses. The majority applauds wildly and throws money on the stage; one female worker, Sufen, idolizes the dashing and heroic teacher. But a small minority seated at the front, consisting

of management and staff, is alarmed by the spontaneous political demonstration. Zhang (played by Tao Jin) is summoned by the factory's manager, who claims to be as patriotic as the next fellow. He insists, however, that Zhang's political activities will irritate the Japanese and bring unwanted attention to the factory, thus threatening the livelihood of the workers.

After this opening tone is set, the narrative turns to the romantic relationship between Zhang Zhongliang and Sufen. Showing the utmost respect for the family matriarch, Zhang invites Sufen to come home for dinner one night to meet his mother. Naturally, the mother takes an immediate liking to the shy and highly "traditionalistic" young woman (played by Bai Yang). Zhang proposes marriage to Sufen later that night and, as he presents her with a ring, is heard promising that the couple will "be together forever" (yongyuan zai yiqi). The couple get married and before long a son is born.

Unfortunately for them, full-scale war breaks out in mid-1937, and Japanese forces are fast approaching Shanghai. Their dreams of family unity are smashed. Determined to join a Red Cross unit, Zhang tells his mother and wife that they should stay behind in Shanghai, but that if the situation becomes intolerable, they should flee to their native village in the countryside, where Zhang's father and younger brother, Zhongmin, are living. "I'm leaving you only because of the resistance war," Zhang tells Sufen.

Zhang's Red Cross group gets caught in the middle of the bloody struggle for Shanghai and then retreats west when the city is lost. His family flees to the countryside and links up with Zhongmin and his fiancée, who belong to a guerrilla unit based in the hills. Zhongmin, played by Gao Zheng (the evil cousin in Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon!), is a paragon of Confucian virtue. When the Japanese close in on the village, Zhongmin respectfully asks his father's permission before escaping with his fiancée to the guerrilla base.

In 1938–39 Zhongliang travels with Nationalist units to Hankou and then Nanchang, all the while doing exhausting and dangerous Red Cross work. But life is much worse for his family under the Japanese occupation. Japanese forces confiscate grain, property, and livestock and require the people to do backbreaking forced labor. When a merciless new grain tax is announced, villagers plead with Zhongliang's father, the village school principal, to appeal to the enemy. Instead of reconsidering, the Japanese execute the old man. The local guerrilla unit gets revenge by wiping out the Japanese post in the village, but Sufen, her son, and mother-in-law decide to return to Shanghai to wait out the war.

Meanwhile, Zhang Zhongliang has been captured by the Japanese in the interior and forced to do slave labor. He escapes, however, and, dressed in rags and penniless, arrives in Chongqing in 1941. He tries to find resistance-related work, but fails. He is also frustrated in an attempt to secure factory work in one of the war industries. In a deep depression, he looks up an acquaintance from Shanghai by the name of Wang Lizhen, played by the famous actress Shu Xiuwen (1915–69), who made resistance movies in Chongqing during the war. Wang offers

to let Zhang live in her spacious house and promises to use her influence with a wealthy businessman named Pang Haogong to get him a meaningful job.

Zhang is shocked to discover, however, that Pang's company is not helping the resistance at all. Pang is a war profiteer. His employees hang around all day, while his lieutenants enjoy a carefree life of dancing, partying, eating, drinking, and romancing. Zhang complains to Wang Lizhen that "there's not an iota of resistance spirit at the company." Wang laughs hysterically and tells him he needs to relax and adjust to life in Chongqing. His spirit weakened, Zhang finally gives in to temptation. Not only does he accept her advice, he also succumbs to her seductions. After several rounds of heavy drinking, Zhang ends up in Wang's bed. Wang is unaware that Zhang is married.

At the end of part one the story returns briefly to Shanghai, where Sufen and Zhang's son and mother are struggling to survive under a cruel occupation. Even though they live in a simple shack and have barely enough to eat, Sufen and her mother-in-law help out at a school that tends to war orphans. One night, at a moment when Zhang is in bed with Wang in Chongqing, Sufen wonders why the family has not heard anything from him for years.

Unlike the first part of this epic narrative, which covers the period from 1931 to 1944, the second part, entitled "Before and after Dawn" (Tian liang qian hou), takes place almost entirely in the summer and autumn months of 1945. The beginning of this segment is dominated by the story of Zhang Zhongliang's meteoric rise in the ranks of Pang Haogong's elaborate business organization. Before long he becomes Pang's chief aide, fully complicitous in a web of corrupt wartime profiteering and influence peddling. While Zhang and his new friends and cohorts feast on lobsters and crabs flown into Chongqing from occupied Shanghai, Zhang's mother, wife, and son are barely managing to make ends meet under the Japanese occupation. To make matters worse, toward the end of the war Zhang decides to marry Wang Lizhen at a lavish wedding ceremony in Chongqing. During the wedding feast a letter addressed to Zhang arrives from his wife. Fearful that his prewar past will be revealed, he destroys the letter.

In his capacity as Pang's most trusted assistant, Zhang is among the first to fly back to Shanghai when the war ends. Pang has used his influence to get Zhang designated as a "takeover official" (jieshou dayuan). Their goal is to get off to a fast start in exploiting postwar economic opportunities. In liberated Shanghai, arrangements have been made for Zhang to live in the home of Wang Lizhen's cousin (biaojie) He Wenyan, played by the well-known actress Shangguan Yunzhu (1920–68). At first, He Wenyan courts Zhang's favor because she wants him to help get her husband, who has been arrested for collaborating with the Japanese, released from jail. Later she discovers that her husband has been seeing other women, so she allows him to languish in prison while she focuses on yet another seduction of Zhang, the rich newcomer from Chongqing. Zhang instantly agrees to the new arrangement but asks Wenyan what they will do when Lizhen arrives

from Chongqing. Wenyan says it will be no problem: Lizhen will be his "resistance-war wife" (kangzhan furen); she will be his "secret wife" (mimi furen).

Zhang's first wife, Sufen, and his mother and son are worried sick because they have heard nothing from him in the first few weeks of the postwar period. Although the war is over, the family's economic situation steadily worsens. Desperate for work, Sufen looks for a job as a domestic servant. As fate would have it, she gains employment as a day worker in the large house run by He Wenyan. Indeed, her husband is in bed with Wenyan on the morning Sufen arrives to be interviewed for the job. The lipstick-stained bed clothes she will have to hand wash belong to her own husband, who once promised her that they would be together for eternity.

Soon thereafter Wang Lizhen arrives from Chongqing and takes up residence with Zhang at Wenyan's house. Now, for the first time, all three of Zhang's women are under the same roof. Wenyan knows about Lizhen, but not about Sufen. Lizhen knows nothing of Zhang's connections to Sufen or Wenyan. Sufen knows nothing about her husband's presence in the house. Zhang, of course, is unaware of Sufen's work in the servants' quarters.

A major crisis explodes at a sumptuous National Day banquet held at the house on October 10, 1945. The guest of honor is Pang Haogong. Just as Pang is about to force Zhang and Lizhen to do a tango for everyone, Sufen, who is serving drinks to the guests, spots Zhang. A major scandal then erupts in front of all the guests. Sufen collapses on the dance floor, Lizhen screams hysterically, and Wenyan cracks a wicked smile when it becomes clear that Zhang is indeed married to the servant. Lizhen runs upstairs, threatening suicide if Zhang does not divorce Sufen. Zhang promises her he will get a divorce. Sufen runs home to break the bad news to her son and mother-in-law. The mother is numbed by Sufen's disclosures. By coincidence, the old lady has just received a letter from her younger son, Zhongmin, the upright guerrilla fighter who sacrificed for the nation throughout the war. He has written to announce his marriage to his prewar sweetheart, who worked alongside him throughout the difficult years of national struggle. Zhang's mother pulls her grandson over and tearfully tells him to learn from the example of his uncle Zhongmin rather than his father. (See figure 11.3.)

In a highly emotional final sequence, the old lady takes Sufen and the young boy to a confrontational meeting with Zhongliang, who is now caught in the middle; his mother, wife, and son are downstairs, while his second wife and mistress are upstairs. At this point the narrative centers on the issue of Zhang's choice. Will he go back to his old life or continue to embrace his new life?

Disgraced by her husband's conduct, Sufen commits suicide by jumping into a nearby river. The old lady and the young boy rush to the waterfront, but it is too late. A distraught Zhongliang arrives on the scene, but seems incapable of assuming responsibility for his grieving family members. Before long, Lizhen and Wenyan arrive in a fancy American automobile to urge Zhongliang to leave with them. Viewers are not allowed to learn what Zhongliang decides to do. As the


Figure 11.3. Postwar dreams are shattered when Zhang Zhongliang's "wartime" wife (right) contemplates suicide after discovering that he has a "prewar" family, in A Spring River Flows East (d. Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli, Kunlun Film Studio, 1947). Courtesy of the Film Archive of China, Beijing.

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story ends, his mother looks into the camera, as if addressing the audience, and wails, "In times like these, decent people can't survive, while villains live for a thousand years!"


One of the first (and rather odd) things one notices about these popular resistance-war narratives is that very little is said about the massive violence of the war itself. The enemy is almost never seen. No Japanese appear in either Far Away Love or Eight Thousand Miles. In A Spring River, Japanese atrocities are shown in detail only in the relatively brief episodes involving Zhang Zhongliang's capture, the occupation of his native village, and the closing of the school for orphans in Shanghai. Postwar Japanese films like The Human Condition (Ningen no joken, d. Masaki Kobayashi, 1959) contain many more details about the brutality of Japanese forces in China.

The most obvious explanation for such an omission is that postwar filmmakers simply did not have the budgets or the technical means to recreate the sort of

large-scale battle scenes one normally associates with war epics. Instead, the directors of these works skillfully inserted bits of wartime documentary footage in a few strategic places to give a graphic sense of the terror that engulfed combatants and noncombatants alike. But it is not these explicit treatments of violence that make the three films successful and convincing as holocaust narratives.

Rather than focus on violence, these directors, and the many who followed their lead in 1947 and 1948, decided to emphasize the social consequences of protracted war. This appears to be what the postwar audience wanted. More specifically, all three films dwell almost exclusively on the fate of the family unit in the holocaust environment. Telling the story of the war in the form of family histories made sense in basic production terms. Postwar filmmakers had the means of executing such a plan. More important, however, the decision resonated with a long family-centered tradition of Chinese cinema.[23] Nothing was more important in the mid-twentieth-century social structure of China than the family unit. And, more than anything else, ordinary people experienced the war as members of family groups.

All three films adopt the view that in experiential terms it was not the nation as a whole that suffered during the war, it was Chinese families that suffered. And the losses were staggering. Families were ripped apart and then reconfigured in a variety of unfamiliar ways. In Far Away Love, Yu Zhen loses her father, her brother, and her son. Morover, the war forces her to confront issues of legitimate and illegitimate authority in family life. In the end her marriage is destroyed. In Eight Thousand Miles, Jiang Lingyu's family disintegrates before her eyes. When she returns to her native village, her father is dead and the family dwelling has been sold. During the course of the war she loses all respect for her relatives in Shanghai, who fail to support her plan to join the resistance. Her cousin Jiarong becomes a war profiteer.

Wartime dreams about reuniting families are dashed when the war is over. Lingyu's family exists in name only. When Lingyu learns of her family's corrupt and exploitative postwar activities, she moves out and rejects her relatives. Indeed, when she turns to journalistic work, her own family becomes a target of her scathing investigative reporting.

Lingyu's attempt to start a family of her own is frustrated. She has a child, but it is by no means clear that she will live to see the child grow up. The prewar Chinese family seems to have no future. For people like Yu Zhen (in Far Away Love), Lingyu, and Libin, its role has been assumed by the collective surrogate family of friends and comrades that evolved in the interior during the war. It is this group that plays the nurturing and support roles normally associated with the consanguine family, and that commands the loyalty and respect of people like Yu Zhen, Lingyu, and Libin.

The account of wartime family breakup in A Spring River is even more devastating. This is because the fascinating protagonist, Zhang Zhongliang, is markedly different from the positive characters (Lingyu and Libin) that one encounters in

Eight Thousand Miles. The story of Zhang Zhongliang and his family is more interesting and more painful precisely because Zhang appears first in "Eight Years of Separation and Chaos" as a heroic figure. His heroism has two interrelated dimensions. First, he is an ardent patriot, willing to sacrifice to defend the nation from Japanese aggression. Second, despite his youth, he is an old-fashioned, Confucianstyle family man. He is devoted to his equally traditionalistic wife and son (promising that they will be together "forever") and profoundly filial in his interactions with his kindly mother. Zhang's excellent relations with his family are central to the subsequent development of the narrative. He is willing to sacrifice for the nation-state because, by doing so, he will be protecting and defending his family way of life. In this film (and in Eight Thousand Miles) the dominant vision that positive characters have of postwar life entails a "great reunion" that will bring decent families back to where they were in the prewar period. Victory meant family restoration.

One of the greatest tragedies of the war is that for millions of people the "great reunion" never happened. There was no return to prewar modes. Indeed, in Far Away Love, hopes for a family reunion are dashed well before the end of the war. The case of Zhang Zhongliang in A Spring River is particularly poignant (and more complex than the cases of Lingyu and Libin in Eight Thousand Miles) because he is a "good" man who went "bad" during the war itself. The visions he had of a "great reunion" are not simply denied to him (as they were to Lingyu and Libin), but he abandons them once he becomes entangled in a web of wartime corruption, greed, and moral depravity. Most disturbing of all, it is by no means clear at the end of the narrative that the corrupted hero can be reformed and returned "home" to his mother and son. The whole meaning of the term "family" has been distorted beyond recognition when Zhang, confused and panicky, is shown together on (of all days) National Day with his prewar wife, his wartime wife, and his postwar "secret" wife.


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.[24] 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

in the resistance, but they too experienced the war as separation and deprivation. They too experienced the immediate postwar period as disappointment and disillusionment.[25] Victory did not feel like victory when families remained fragmented and when innocent people were accused of collaboration.

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

Pang Haogong and his corrupt associates in A Spring River revealed a disgraceful life of wartime comfort and privilege. The tales of the moral decline of people like Zhang Zhongliang in A Spring River and Xiao Yuanxi in Far Away Love are particularly gripping because they make it clear that many well-regarded citizens who traveled to the interior did not behave patriotically. One of the most effective editing techniques used in A Spring River to accentuate the failings of people like Zhang Zhongliang in the interior involved a constant cutting back and forth from scenes of brutality and hardship in occupied Shanghai to scenes of luxury and decadence in Chongqing. This allowed the audience to "see" what was blocked from view during the war. After viewing these movies it was easy to conclude that people who lived in the occupied areas sacrificed more than those who sat out the war in the interior.


Characterizations such as good and evil, strong and weak, selfless and selfish had definite class and gender dimensions in these popular family narratives. In terms of social class, intellectuals (with the important exception of Professor Xiao), artists, factory workers, and peasants are cast in an exceedingly positive light in all three films. The urban bourgeoisie, however, is treated very harshly in all three narratives. It is to this class that Professor Xiao is assigned. In Far Away Love he is cast as a self-centered, petty bourgeois snob. In Eight Thousand Miles, Jiarong, his parents, and friends are revealed as wartime and postwar profiteers who have no patriotic inclinations whatsoever. In A Spring River, the factory owner who is upset by Zhongliang's patriotic speech on National Day, the businessman Pang Hao-gong, and, finally, Zhang Zhongliang himself are portrayed as greedy and heartless opportunists who prey on the poor and defenseless. None of the films offers even one example of a patriotic capitalist. Most interesting of all, the bourgeoisie is indicted as a class not because it is incompetent in professional terms, but rather because of its moral failings. In the end, the problem of the bourgeoisie in Chinese society is treated more as a moral problem than as an economic or political problem. The individualism of businessmen and petty bourgeois professors prevents them from behaving patriotically. These sorts of representations of class are, of course, quite familiar. Prewar films and fiction were filled with similar images of upright working people, patriotic students, and selfish bourgeois elements.

A far more provocative aspect of these grand narratives is their treatment of gender issues. Indeed, the characterizations of men, and particularly men in the prime of life, are highly critical. The narratives seem to hold men responsible for China's plight: men were not able to prevent the Japanese invasion and, after the war, were not able to reunite the nation. The failings of China, in this controversial reading, are the failings of its men. Some men, like Jiarong, the young businessman, are greedy and corrupt. Some, like Pang Haogong, are crude bullies. Some, like Professor Xiao, are shameless hypocrites. Others, like Zhang Zhongliang

are simply weak, indecisive, and ineffectual until they link up with people like Pang. They value a social life that stresses the pleasures of wine, women, and song.

According to patriarchal norms, men are ultimately responsible for the well-being of the family, and by extension, the nation. But in these family narratives most of the males who are central to the stories are not seen in such time-honored roles. Very little information is supplied about their family life: nothing is known about Professor Xiao's background, Jiarong has no wife or children, nothing is known about Pan Haogong's family, and Zhang Zhongliang's relations with women are motivated primarily by lust once he leaves his family. In short, the viewer is led to believe that wartime conditions brought out the worst in China's men. There are positive portrayals of men in these narratives, including the characterizations of Libin in Eight Thousand Miles and Zhang Zhongmin in A Spring River, but in both films these attractive male figures are of secondary importance.

If war brought out the worst in men, it appears to have brought out the best in Chinese women, at least according to these popular postwar visualizations. On the whole, women seem stronger and more capable than men under wartime circumstances. In Far Away Love, Yu Zhen, a rural servant "trained" to be a middle-class housewife, sacrifices everything for the resistance while her cowardly husband runs away. In Eight Thousand Miles the entire story of the holocaust and its social consequences is seen from the perspective of a remarkably resilient and persistent young intellectual woman, Jiang Lingyu. In A Spring River, the most important women, Sufen and her mother-in-law, are not at all like the modern and progressive-thinking Lingyu, but, like Lingyu, they have a remarkable ability to endure hardship and survive without the help of their husbands and adult sons. These images of strong, independent, and patriotic women are among the most intriguing aspects of postwar cinema. Characters like Yu Zhen, Lingyu, and Sufen stand in sharp contrast to the negative and threatening images of the femme fatale that were so prevalent in prewar cinema.

Even the negative female figures, the bourgeois women, are not exactly a recycled version of the 1930s screen vamp. They too seem stunningly independent and resourceful in the harsh wartime environment. Confused and weak, Zhang Zhongliang is no match for the tough-minded Wang Lizhen. Similarly, He Wenyan proves to be unusually capable of adjusting and adapting to a wartime and postwar world in which relations with men are fleeting and unreliable.

Given the highly patriarchal norms of Chinese society in the mid-twentieth century, it is striking to see the extent to which cultural decency, wartime strength, and anticolonialism are gendered female in these films, all of which were written and directed by men. Similarly, it is surprising to see the extent to which cultural degeneration, weakness under wartime conditions, and the failure to resist colonialism are gendered male. This picture of wartime China shows patriarchal norms and the family institution itself to be in serious disarray. With a couple of important exceptions (Libin and Zhang Zhongmin), men are irresponsible and unpredictable, while women are strong and capable.



For decades the classic films Far Away Love, Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon, and A Spring River Flows East have been thought of as "leftist" works fashioned by filmmakers who supposedly were under the control of the Communist Party. Critics close to the Nationalist Party accepted this view and, thus, questioned the credibility of the filmmakers and dismissed the films.[26] They never attempted to explain the astounding popularity of the movies or, more important, to appreciate the extent to which the filmmakers had close links to the Nationalist state and party during and after the war. Critics close to the Communist Party accepted the view that the films were "leftist" and celebrated the "progressivism" of the artists, thereby claiming these important artifacts as their own.[27]

In fact, the cultural politics of these holocaust narratives are not so clearcut. The political and cultural content of the films is neither as pro-Communist nor as anti-Nationalist as most observers would have us believe. The films have a highly critical tone, but the social criticism is consistent with perspectives associated with both the Nationalist and Communist Parties. Far Away Love was made by the Nationalists themselves in a state-run studio. All three movies were officially reviewed and approved by Nationalist state censors.[28] In recent years, industry personalities familiar with these films have asserted that state censors had been bribed. But this is not a very convincing explanation of why they were passed by the censors. Daily advertising in local newspapers reveals that all three films had extremely long runs in Shanghai and other major cities. The state certainly had the means to shut down theaters that showed offensive films, but no serious effort was made to discourage repeated screenings of the three epics under review here.

Communist and Nationalist cultural historians have failed, each for their own reasons, to mention that Far Away Love, Eight Thousand Miles, and A Spring River were among the ten films made in 1947 that received the coveted Zhongzheng Culture Prize named in honor of Chiang Kai-shek himself. All recipients got a cash award and a handsome Oscar-like trophy. A Spring River, the most critical of the three films discussed here, was listed first among the ten "glorious" winners by Shen bao, hardly an antigovernment newspaper.[29] Actress Bai Yang, who joined the Communist Party in 1958, won the first Chiang Kai-shek best actress award in 1947 for her performances in Eight Thousand Miles and A Spring River. For nearly fifty years the two sides in the civil war have been too embarrassed to acknowledge this unsettling fact.

Scholars in the People's Republic account for the production and public release of these films by emphasizing the ability of the filmmakers to outsmart Nationalist bureaucrats who were eager to crush works critical of wartime and postwar social disarray. Actually, the critical thrust of these movies was well known. There was no revolutionary conspiracy. Spectacular newspaper advertising that appeared long before the films were first shown was remarkably explicit. Ads for Far

Away Love, a government-made movie, proclaimed, "All men are selfish; women struggle for liberation!" (nanren dou shi zisi; nuzi lizheng jiefang), "How will women of today find a way out?" (shidai nuxing chulu hezai), and "The ideal wife turns out to be more than anyone imagined!" (lixiang taitai chuchu chaochu lixiang). Ads for Eight Thousand Miles declared, "So many sorrows and tears before and after victory!" (shengli qianhou xing suan lei) and "See never-ending waves of ugliness; curse never-ending and ferocious corruption!" (kan wuwan de jieshou choutai; ma wuwan de tanwu ezhuang). Ads for A Spring River stated, "An epic production that shakes the Chinese film world" (zhenhan Zhongguo yingtan de wenyi ju zhi) and "A beacon that can be seen for ten thousand miles; eight years of separation and chaos; heaven is in distress, earth is in misery; ghosts and spirits are moaning!" (fengyan wanli; ba nian li luan; tian cho di can; gui shen wu yan).[30] Advertising campaigns, some of which were funded with government money, underscored rather than concealed the critical thrust of these painful narratives.

The praise heaped on these films by the mainstream popular film press suggests that the community was acutely aware of the critical and controversial approach to the war taken by Chen Liting and other postwar directors. For instance, the April 1947 edition of the popular film magazine Dianying, a nonpolitical publication that normally concerned itself with the divorces of film stars, the number of kissing scenes in American movies, the shape of Bai Guang's legs, and the kinds of cosmetics used by Hollywood matinee idols, boldly asserted that Far Away Love, Eight Thousand Miles, and Heavenly Spring Dream (Tiantang chun meng, d. Tang Xiaodan, March 1947), another controversial warrelated film produced in a state-run studio, were fine examples of postwar films that "illustrated reality and gave voice to the people."[31]

The Dianying article, which appeared before the release of A Spring River, asserted that these films were popular because the screenwriters were attuned to "the inner feelings" of the film audience. By contrast, many veteran screenwriters were said to be out of touch. They had the "connections" to get their stories made into films, but they were interested in cinema only as "a tool to make a fortune." They exploited the postwar demand for films, but their scripts were "terrible." The magazine called explicitly for more films like Eight Thousand Miles, which it claimed was the "first postwar Chinese film" purchased by foreign buyers for distribution in Europe. As for the moneygrubbers whose films failed to deal with the real concerns of the audience: "These scum who hurt the Chinese film industry should be sent to the gallows that has been set up by the people. They should be purged!"[32]

Nationalist authorities allowed the films to be screened in part because they were consistent with critical perspectives held within the Nationalist Party and government.[33] Disillusioned elements within the Nationalist movement realized that the cultural and political messages of the films struck a responsive chord among the millions who had resided in enemy-occupied areas during the war. This was an audience that desperately wanted to "see," and thereby "experience,"

events that had taken place in the interior. These were people who wanted to understand the connection between wartime dislocations and the bitter disappointments that ordinary people experienced immediately following victory. The films ask the questions: Why did victory not feel like victory? Why did the people who sacrificed the most seem to benefit the least? And why did those who sacrificed the least seem to benefit the most?

It is time to look at such works not solely in terms of the highly polarized politics of the civil war era and after, but also in terms of the complex relationship between commercial filmmakers working in the state and private sectors and their vast film audience. When the films are analyzed from this perspective, is it possible to see that the cultural politics of these epic narratives were far from radical or "progressive." They were decidedly conservative. All three films argue that certain core Chinese values, especially those governing social relations within the family, were broken down and forgotten during the long years of wartime separation and dislocation.

Without exception the positive characters in all the films (Yu Zhen, Lingyu, Libin, Sufen, Zhongmin, and even Zhongliang before his moral decline) were people who cherished "traditional" family values: respect for parents and devotion to spouse and children. Their patriotism and unselfish public-spiritedness were natural extensions of their old-fashioned, neo-Confucian cultural orientation. There is nothing left wing about the mores of these people.

The negative characters (Professor Xiao, Jiarong, Pang Haogong, Lizhen, Wenyan, and Zhongliang after his moral demise) are people who betrayed time-honored family values and adopted alien ways that make them decadent, irresponsible, and greedy. Their wartime behavior, according to the logic of these narratives, was also an extension of their immoral family relations. They are incapable of acting patriotically, it seems, because they do not accept "real" Chinese cultural values. Some are cowards, and some actually betray the nation, while others participate in the resistance only because they are motivated by personal gain.

The audience is being told that people who had been faithful to traditional Chinese family values sacrificed selflessly in the interior or suffered unjustly in the occupied territories. People who had abandoned old-style family values were hedonistic profiteers, shameless collaborators, or cowards. After viewing narratives of this sort, the audience, comprised essentially of ordinary people who suffered under the occupation, knew who to blame for their wartime and postwar miseries. The underlying argument of these films, one usually not associated with "leftists," is that the erosion of traditional family values during the war was a destructive phenomenon that weakened the entire society. Nowhere is the state or Nationalist Party blamed for the moral decline. Still, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that these films eroded public confidence in the postwar state nevertheless.

It is not enough, however, merely to point out that the family values embraced by the negative characters are simply "untraditional." They are foreign. Every effort

is made in these works to show that the negative characters responsible for much of the wartime and postwar misery of common people behave, look, and even dress in a "Western," "bourgeois" manner. Their culture is an alien, capitalist culture of merchants. The narratives seek to deny these people their essential Chineseness. Stripped of their Chinese identity, these personalities behave, not surprisingly, in ways that are incompatible with the national interest. The films, therefore, are anticolonial in two senses: they resist Japanese imperialism and they reject Western bourgeois culture.

It is inadequate, however, simply to dismiss these characterizations as so much Marxist anticapitalism. There is something very Confucian and culturally conservative about the antimerchant thrust of these popular visualizations. When it comes to denouncing capitalism and the bourgeoisie, there is much that Chinese Marxism of the 1930s and 1940s shared in common with the neoconservative approaches that surfaced in urban China in the 1930s.[34] In August 1948, ten months after the release of A Spring River, Jiang Jingguo himself blasted Shanghai's big-money interests: "Their wealth and their foreign-style homes are built on the skeletons of the people. How is their conduct any different from that of armed robbers?"[35]

But what about the image of the collective family that emerges so prominently throughout Far Away Love and at the end of Eight Thousand Miles? Surely this a revolutionary vision of the new socialist society that awaited China. Surely it justifies the view that these films are the work of leftists. The problem is that while the image is definitely "collective," it is far from revolutionary. The "collective" or surrogate family espouses most of the old family values advocated by the positive and patriotic characters! The audience is told there is a need for drastic social change, but it should be a transformation that will restore real Chinese family values rather than reject them.[36] It will be a change that eradicates the pernicious influence of the alien culture of greedy merchants.

Women appear in these films as remarkably strong and independent survivors of the holocaust experience. These images were undoubtedly welcomed by women viewers, said to comprise a majority of the audience for postwar Chinese films.[37] Yu Zhen and Lingyu are "liberated" from oppressive families, and find happiness and fulfillment in wartime Nationalist collectives. But their liberation is from the unpatriotic, bourgeois, foreign-style family, not from patriarchal authority in general. The new surrogate families to which they bond allow for an active role for women, but they remain essentially patriarchal. Women who liberate themselves from alien bourgeois families have only one option: to resubmit to the "Chinese-style" patriarchal authority of the patriotic collectives. These collective groupings embrace what are viewed as essentialistic Chinese family values. They are values linked to the rural pasts of Yu Zhen, Lingyu, and Sufen.

China won the war. China defeated Japan. But the social consequences of the holocaust were most profound. When the war was over, victory felt like defeat, not only for many of those who joined the resistance, but especially for those millions

who endured the hardships of enemy occupation. Far Away Love, Eight Thousand Miles, and A Spring River were early postwar attempts to explain that feeling.


During the early phases of the war there was a tactical need for a popular culture that mobilized people and showed how defeat could be turned into victory. As Changtai Hung has pointed out, wartime popular culture made a significant contribution to the resistance effort.[38] Personal and family losses were staggering, but millions of people were determined to sacrifice for national salvation. Of course, most wartime popular culture was state-directed propaganda. It resisted Japanese imperialism quite effectively by building a strong sense of community, but its approach to Chinese society was largely uncritical.

The popular culture of the immediate postwar period discussed in this chapter headed in new directions because it was responding to different needs. Now the challenge was to explain why victory felt like defeat. Even though cultural workers in the state sector were among those who addressed this question, the most vibrant postwar popular culture can hardly be characterized as state-directed propaganda. In fact, those who produced the new popular culture took pride in their relative independence from the state. Some directors accepted state financial support but continued to function as independent-minded and critical artists nevertheless.

One is tempted to say that controversial postwar films are better characterized as an example of popular culture directed by intellectual elites who had close ties to the literary world. But the story of postwar popular culture is more complex (and more interesting) than that. Most popular postwar films, including state and private-sector productions, are interesting examples of top-down and bottom-up cultural cross-fertilization. Intellectual elites like Chen Liting and Shi Dongshan definitely did not pull the victory-as-defeat theme out of thin air and then impose it on a politically docile public in a top-down manner. The popular culture they produced fed on discontent that was already a pronounced fact of postwar life. The filmmakers did not create the disaffection.

But just because postwar filmmaking was not a clear case of top-down cultural imposition by the state or by independent cultural elites does not mean that it was a matter of filmmakers blindly chasing public opinion. That is to say, the most popular postwar productions cannot be regarded as instances of purely commercial activity in which filmmakers contribute little or nothing of their own, preferring instead to give the masses whatever they seem to want. Postwar filmmaking involved an intersecting of elite and mass cultural currents. The ideas and concerns one finds expressed in these works are a combination of elite and popular views.

The Guomindang claimed in the immediate postwar period that it wanted a high-minded, morally engaged, and educational film industry. It wanted a curtailing of what it viewed as degenerate pulp filmmaking. Ironically, the response to

this plea was Far Away Love, Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon, and A Spring River Flows East, films that destabilized Chinese society.

The movies discussed here were surprisingly independent and critical, but they were not intended to be revolutionary. Their original purpose was to address injustices and stimulate reform. But as the political situation in China spun out of control, these films had the longer-term, but unintended, effect of being oppositional and even subversive.

The case of postwar filmmaking is more complicated and ambivalent than writings by Nationalist and Communist scholars allow, because there was a clear connection between the Nationalist state and the production and distribution of controversial films. Some of the most disturbing films made in 1947, pictures like Far Away Love, Heavenly Spring Dream, and Diary of a Homecoming (Huan xiang riji, d. Zhang Junxiang), were produced in government studios, funded with government monies, and distributed with government support.

The state had ample means of cracking down on these and the most disturbing private-sector films. But the fact is that the state did little or nothing to prevent production and distribution, and its failure to get tough had little to do with bureaucratic inefficiency or corruption. A more convincing explanation, but one that has been resisted by Nationalist and Communist scholars alike, is that the sentiments of despair and disillusionment conveyed by the films were consistent with the views of many state and Nationalist Party insiders. Clearly, in early 1947 there were state cultural elites who regarded these works as constructive calls for reform, rather than as conscious attempts to subvert state and party authority. Like the filmmakers themselves, they had no idea that these popular films would serve to deepen the mood of disillusionment and cynicism and thus further undermine government credibility.

In brief, the case of popular culture under review here does not fit into any readymade analytical paradigm. The lines between official and unofficial, state and private, elite and popular, commerce and art, and loyalty and disloyalty are too blurry here to be accounted for by any readymade theory of popular culture, including that of the influential Frankfurt school. As Chandra Mukerji and Michael Shudson have observed, Frankfurt school thinkers "perceived mass culture as aesthetically and politically debilitating, reducing the capacities of audiences to think critically and functioning as an ideological tool to manipulate the political sentiments of the mass public."[39] Postwar Chinese films definitely fall into the category of commercial mass culture, but their critical/democratic essence cannot be accounted for by the Frankfurt school model.

These popular films also fail to fit into any single aesthetic format. Chen Liting called Far Away Love a "tragicomedy" (bei xi ju), but it is better characterized as a rare example of film satire. Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon, A Spring River Flows East, and Heavenly Spring Dream were classic melodramas (tongsu ju), and Diary of a Homecoming was a playful farce. But, in sharp contrast to what Chinese Marxist scholars say, none of these works had much to do with cinematic "realism."

They distorted, collapsed, and simplified events in a variety of highly sensational ways. They are the "meaningful fabrications" referred to by Darnton. But while the images may not have been "realistic," they were incredibly powerful. In the end, it is their power that intrigues. The filmmakers discussed here were successful (in ways they could not be after 1949) because they knew the anxieties and concerns of their audience (that is, they were in touch with the psychological realities of those troubled times), they knew how to distill, process, and package the information that was "coming up from below," and they knew how to "sell" the final product.[40] Their epic holocaust narratives were not a mirror reflection of popular opinion, but neither were they unconnected to the mood of postwar bitterness and despair.

Alfred Hitchcock supposedly said, "Movies are life with the boring parts cut out." This is another way of saying that movies are not real life at all. The popular films under review here may not have been "realistic," but they clearly captured the public imagination. They created the illusion of reality. They were powerful and, ultimately, subversive because they explained why ordinary people felt defeated after the victory over Japan. In late 1946 the director Shi Dongshan referred explicitly to the new challenges of postwar filmmaking when he wrote that he and his friends found "reason and justification" for the hardships suffered during the war. "It was more difficult," Shi confessed, "for us to understand why, in the months after victory, we felt defeated."[41]


1. Some important wartime films produced in the interior include The Light of East Asia (Dong ya zhi guang, d. He Feiguang, 1940), Young China (Qingnian Zhongguo, d. Su Yi, 1940), Storm on the Border (Saishang fengyun, d. Ying Yunwei, 1940), and Japanese Spy (Riben jiandie, d. Yuan Congmei, 1943), all completed at the China Film Studio (Zhongguo dianying zhipianchang) in Chongqing. [BACK]

2. "Strand Theater Incident," China Weekly Review 102, no. 3 (June 15, 1946): 51–52. [BACK]

3. Dianying 1, no. 6 (October 20, 1946): 19. [BACK]

4. Ibid. [BACK]

5. Ibid. [BACK]

6. V. L. Wong, "Motion Pictures Today Important Agency in Education—of Old and Young," China Weekly Review 101, no. 11 (May 11, 1946): 230. [BACK]

7. Ibid., 231. [BACK]

8. For an account of the Lianhua Studio in the early postwar period, see You Ming, "Lianhua dianying zhipianchang xunli" (A tour of the Lianhua Film Studio), Dianyi huabao (December 1, 1946): 8. [BACK]

9. Zhongguo dianyingjia xiehui, Dianying shi yanjiu bu, ed., Zhongguo dianyingjia liezhuan (Biographies of Chinese filmmakers), vol. 2 (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chuban she, 1982), 237–44. [BACK]

10. Changtai Hung, War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937–1945 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), 55–64. [BACK]


11. Zhongguo da baike quanshu: dianying (The great encyclopedia of China: Cinema) (Beijing, Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chuban she, 1991), 51. [BACK]

12. Ibid., 357–58. [BACK]

13. Zhongguo dianyingjia xiehui, Dianying shi yanjiu bu, eds., Zhongguo dianyingjia liezhuan, 1:15–23. [BACK]

14. Ibid., 1:338–49. [BACK]

15. Zhongguo da baike quanshu: dianying, 44. [BACK]

16. Zhongguo dianyingjia xiehui, Dianying shi yanjiu bu, eds., Zhongguo dianyingjia liezhuan, 2:286–97; Zhongguo da baike quanshu: dianying, 482. [BACK]

17. Robert Darnton, "Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Severin," in Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspectives in Cultural Studies, ed. Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 100. [BACK]

18. A published text of Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon can be found in Zhongguo dianying gongzuozhe xiehui, ed., Wusi yilai dianying juben xuanji (An anthology of screenplays of the post–May Fourth era), vol. 2 (Hong Kong: Wenhua ziliao gongying she, 1979), 1–81. The dialogue in the film itself does not always follow the text of the screenplay. The title of the film is taken from a line in the famous poem entitled "Man jiang hong," by Yue Fei (1103–41). [BACK]

19. For a contemporary review of the film, see Man Jianghong, "Ba qian li lu yun he yue" (Eight thousand miles of clouds and moon), Dianyi huabao (December 1, 1946): 2–3. [BACK]

20. For a sketch of the young actor Gao Zheng, see Xi Zi, "Lianhua wu xin ren" (Five new faces at Lianhua), Dianyi huabao (December 1, 1946): 14–15. [BACK]

21. For a sensitive and sympathetic portrait of people who lived under the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, see Poshek Fu, Passivity, Resistance, and Collaboration: Intellectual Choice in Occupied Shanghai, 1937–1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993). [BACK]

22. A published text of A Spring River Flows East can be found in Zhongguo dianying gongzuozhe xiehui, ed., Wusi yilai dianying juben xuanji, 2:85–230. The dialogue in the film does not always follow the text of the screenplay, especially in the concluding scenes. The title of the film is taken from a line of a poem by the famous Tang poet Li Bai. [BACK]

23. Zheng Junli's own lengthy discussion of A Spring River Flows East is contained in his book Hua wai yin (Sound beyond the image) (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chuban she, 1979), 1–18. [BACK]

24. See Jay Leyda, Dianying: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972), 166. [BACK]

25. One of the best studies of the immediate postwar mood of Shanghai is Suzanne Pepper, Civil War in China: The Political Struggle, 1945–1949 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978). [BACK]

26. See Du Yunzhi, Zhongguo dianying shi (A history of Chinese cinema), vol. 2 (Taibei: Taiwan shangwuyin shuguan, 1978), 96–101. [BACK]

27. See Cheng Jihua, Li Shaobai, and Xing Zuwen, eds., Zhongguo dianying fazhan shi (A history of the development of Chinese cinema), vol. 2 (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chuban she, 1963), 210–14, 217–23. [BACK]

28. For a new study that sheds light on the complexities of the censorship institution, see Xiao Zhiwei, "Film Censorship in China, 1927–1937" (Ph.D. diss., Department of History, University of California, San Diego, 1994). [BACK]


29. Shen bao, February 15, 1948. See the Sunday supplement entitled Mei zhou huakan (Weekly pictorial). [BACK]

30. All of these advertising texts can be found in the film advertising sections of Shen bao in 1947, especially in the January, February, and October issues. [BACK]

31. Dianying 1, no. 8 (April 1, 1947): 16–18. [BACK]

32. Ibid. [BACK]

33. For a fascinating discussion of the antimerchant, antibourgeois sentiments of both Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) and Chiang Ching-kuo (Jiang Jingguo) in the postwar period, see Lloyd Eastman, Seeds of Destruction: Nationalist China in War and Revolution, 1937–1949 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984), 172–215. [BACK]

34. For a discussion of similarities between leftist, centrist, and rightist films of the prewar 1930s, see Paul G. Pickowicz, "The Theme of Spiritual Pollution in Chinese Films of the 1930s," Modern China 17, no. 1 (January 1991): 38–75. [BACK]

35. Quoted in Eastman, Seeds of Destruction, 182. [BACK]

36. Leftists in the Chinese countryside in the 1940s also espoused traditionalistic cultural criticism of postwar society. See Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz, and Mark Selden, Chinese Village, Socialist State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991). [BACK]

37. Dianying 1, no. 9 (June 1, 1947): 3. [BACK]

38. Hung, War and Popular Culture, 270–85. [BACK]

39. Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, eds., Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspectives in Cultural Studies (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 38. [BACK]

40. I would like to thank Professor Tu Weiming for suggesting the use of the term "psychological reality." [BACK]

41. This statement by Shi Dongshan is contained in a handout distributed to all ticket holders when they entered the theater to see Eight Thousand Miles of Clouds and Moon in 1947. An original copy of the handout survives in the Film Archive of China (Zhongguo dianying ziliao guan) in Beijing. [BACK]

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