the Art and Politics of East Asia Workshop
Dept. of East Asian Languages & Civilizations
The Problem of “Ouhua” in Early Chinese Films
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Friday, April 22
5835 S. Kimbark Ave. Chicago, IL 60637
In 1920s Shanghai films “ouhua” or the use of Western sets, costumes and manners to portray the lives of Chinese residents of Shanghai was a wide-spread phenomenon. Persistent cultural nationalist criticism of it met with equal obstinacy on the part of filmmakers to continue the practice, suggesting that this was a central battle in the history of Chinese film of the period. Received Chinese film history has indeed approached the issue from a nationalist perspective. In my reading of some of the most notoriously “ouhua” films I take the different route of examining them from the perspective of affirmation and creation of both “Occidentalist” and consumerist desires. This allows me to shine a spot light on Shanghai film as a process both global and local as it borrowed amply from Hollywood films to visualize narratives about Shanghai life. As Shanghai was also problematically a part of a modernizing nation, national trends were refracted in these films. Thus I question the dominant national film paradigm in the study of early Chinese cinema that tends to extrapolate the national out of the local and blur the difference and tension between the two.
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