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Abstract

This study situates Chinese cinema among three interconnected concerns that all pertain to transnational cultural politics: (1) the impact of international film festivals on the productions of Chinese films and their reception in the West; (2) the inadequacy of the “Fifth Generation” as a critical term for Chinese film studies; and (3) the need to address the current methodological confinement in Western studies of Chinese cinema. By “transnational cultural politics” here I mean the complicated——and at times complicit—ways Chinese films, including those produced in or coproduced with Hong Kong and Taiwan, are enmeshed in “a larger process in which popular- cultural technologies, genres, and works are increasingly moving and interacting across national and cultural borders” (During 1997: 808). Designating this process as “transnationalization” rather than “globalization,” Simon During calls on scholars to investigate the challenge that commercial cultural production, or what he terms “the global popular,” poses to “current cultural studies’ welcome td difference, hybridicity, and subversion” (During 1997: 809).

Before embarking on the transnational and cross-cultural issues, I would like to start with a personal observation. When I completed my first essay on Chinese cinema in the summer of 1989 (Zhang 1990), I had practically no idea that Chinese film would gain such unprecedented popularity in the world within such a short period of time. Despite the facts that Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum (1987) had just won the first Golden Bear for Chinese film at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival and that Chen Kaige's Yellow Earth (1984) had attracted critical attention from the West, China's turbulent political situation in 1989 prevented anyone from making an optimistic prediction. Nevertheless, political setbacks notwithstanding, China’s economy has enjoyed a high rate of growth, and Chinese film has continued to develop its particular type of global appeal. Less than a decade after my initial essay, one is overwhelmed if one attempts to count every major award Chinese films have won in recent film festivals around the world.1 To be sure, this spectacular international success has provided ample opportunities, for scholars of Chinese film and culture, but it has also created problems in Chinese film studies. In what follows, I will examine a number of issues under the headings of screening, naming, speaking, and mapping, and I will reflect on film festivals, film productions, and film studies from the perspective of transnational cultural politics.

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