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New Left Review 63, May-June 2010


zhang xudong

POETICS OF VANISHING

The Films of Jia Zhangke

Chinese cinema’s entry into the global culture market came in the late 1980s, with directors such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige collecting international awards and critical acclaim for films such as Red Sorghum and The King of Children (both 1987). [1] An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2009 conference on ‘Modernity’s Cultural Politics: China in Context’ at the Courtauld Institute of Art. I would like to thank Chaohua Wang, Agnes Zhuo Liu, Pu Wang, Yu Zhu, Jun Xie, Peter Button and Liang-Hua Yu for their comments. Part of a cohort of film-makers who graduated from Beijing Film Academy around 1982, known in the prc as the ‘Fifth Generation’, Zhang and Chen based their success on a repudiation of the previous socialist-realist studio tradition, in favour of a reconnection with a mythologized past and evocation of sweeping, dehistoricized landscapes. In hindsight, the novelty of their work lay not so much in its cinematic language or any stylistic innovation as in the distance it took from the frames of reference of Mao’s China—its aesthetics, value-system, material conditions and everyday life—which were pronounced obsolete. In that sense, the cinematic modernism of the Fifth Generation functioned as a confirmation of universal time, as defined by the global market.

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