Post-socialist Grit in Chinese Cinema

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Post-socialist Grit in Chinese Cinema
Cinemas are an important part of any society. Since its inception in the early 1900s, the film industry has experienced significant growth and evolution to become a multi-billion dollar entity. As a result, it has captured several cultures from all over the world. This has made Cinema a useful tool in shaping social perceptions by changing the views of people and swaying them to another (Mak, 4). Chinese cinema has projected several ideologies including post socialism to ignite the imagination of individuals; organizations and the society in general. Therefore, Chinese cinema is an active force that shapes the production, circulation, and reception of socialistic ideas through its aesthetic qualities that serve as a picture, prism, product, and projection of post-socialism. This essay brings together contributions from the Jia Zhangke’s film Platform and Peter Chan’s American Dreams in China to illuminate the effect of Chinese Cinema on post-socialism. The paper addresses China’s historical background, the rise of independent film production that speaks against totalitarian regimes and the plurality of discourses as a representation of post socialism.
Lu defines post-socialism as “the socioeconomic condition in which capitalist modes and relations of production have been increasingly implemented in the nominally socialist China as the country has joined the global capitalist regime of the World Trade Organization (WTO)” (210). Post-socialism transitioned from socialism which entailed the creation of economic systems that advocates for co-operating public ownership, equality and democratic control of the means of production. It also encompasses political ideologies, movements, and theories that propose citizen ownership. However, the emergence of capitalism where private individuals controlled the means of production for profit purposes instead of the state has led to the development of post-socialism states. Therefore, post-socialism refers to the injection of capitalistic elements into the Chinese economy and society following the loss of confidence in the ideology of socialism (Lu 208).
Chinese cinemas have been a crucial advocate of post-socialism. In the 1980s, writers and filmmakers created films that spoke against brutal totalitarian regimes in preference for a more humane society that respected the autonomy of the individual citizen (Lu 208). In so doing, the films were advocating for a capitalist market regime. Several Chinese films showcase the everyday life where ordinary people face the struggles of breaking free from the communist practice through their fight for freedom to live lives freely and conduct their daily businesses as they please. Chinese films also depict the personal anticipation for modernity. For example, one of the scenes in the movie Platform creates a picture of waiting on a long desolate train that never arrives as there was no railroad. In so doing, the film captured the desire for an approaching modernity to offer individual fulfillment (McGrath 150). Therefore, Cinema presents hope among people furthering post-socialist ideologies among the viewers.
Throughout history, Chinese artists and filmmakers have continuously negotiated the residual past to create new imaginaries of a transitional society from communist rule. Jia’s film Platform demonstrates the connection between China’s ideological discourses over the span of ten years (Mak, 3). The film Platform depicts the life tussles of four performers in the state-run peasant culture in a remote Chinese province of Fenyang. The group’s performances evolve from the previously restricted performances to revolutionary classics after the country adopts an ‘open door’ policy. In the beginning, the group performs pro-Mao propaganda. However, they change with time to western classics create an image that represents their new ‘freedom.’ This projects a cultural revolution from a socialist community to Westernized consumer capitalism (Mak, 7).
Platform’s story spans an entire decade of the 1980s. It highlights the evolution of performing art through the rapid change in conditions from the Mao era to the post-socialist one. The film also showcases several life disappointments faced by the youth in trying to reach self-actualization (McGrath 153). In so doing, the film represents the reform era and calls for modernization to invoke a goal to achieve modernity leading to a shift from the collective ‘We’ to the individual ‘I’ depicting post-socialism. Therefore, Platform is a representation of a new form of entertainment for the new generation. It represents a new structure of subjectivity where individual desire and personal identity take priority over the community (Mak 13). This artistic form is post-socialist in nature since Jia is the successor and contrast to the previously dominant aesthetic of social realism.
Peter Chan’s film American Dreams in China also inspires post-socialism. The movie addresses particular entrepreneurial drive which takes a significant toll on friendship. The film is a story of three friends who build an English speaking school in China called “New Dream” which helps Chinese teenagers break free from the current regime to meet their personal visions. Notwithstanding some insight from China’s love-hate sentiments towards the U.S., Peter Chan provides an account of the country’s history from a communist to a socialist regime. Each of the characters in the film has an earnest personal vision which conflicts with that of the friends. This creates a paradigm shift among friends who strive to master English so as to be successful overseas. Therefore, the film promotes individualism as opposed to the creation of a social network. Such ideologies are concurrent with post-socialism beliefs. Additionally, the rise of independent cinema in China was a crucial step towards post-socialism (McGrath, 131).
Both films were produced independently with minimal funding from the state. Such independence in production directly contradicts the tenets of the socialist realism seen in state media representation of the cinema industry (McGrath 132). Before the 1990s, film studios were owned and controlled by the state. As a result, all the ideologies conveyed in the films were subject to the political priorities of the national leadership which were assumed to represent the majority. Chinese cinema broke free from this ideological control by the state to usher in a new post-socialism era where studios produced individualized expressions of the fourth and fifth generations. Therefore, the films played a significant role in exposing and documenting the raw, unpleasant contemporary reality affecting the indigenous people (Mak 13). Additionally, the independence in film production projected the need for independent filmmaking styles and other modes of production leading to post-socialist critical realism.
Therefore, the achievement of independence in the movie industry is a successor of a previously dominant socialist aesthetic. Therefore, Chinese cinema is a representation of post-socialist regime since the films disband collective actions and reinstate private ownership of film and production studios to set up the capitalistic style of economy. Additionally, the rise in independent film production in the 1990s failed to promulgate the oppositional philosophies directly but rather indirectly critiqued mainstream ideology by foregrounding ordinary people’s experiences that frequently were unrepresented by the officially sanctioned media or entertainment industry (McGrath 136). The independent cinema movement exposed the contradictions of post-socialist modernity by laying bare the life struggles of the marginal and powerless members of the society under the socialist regime. The act of exposing rather than opposing served as a prism to unearth the realities of contemporary China to usher in a new era of post-socialism through the representation of the factual reality.
The plurality of discourses in Chinese cinemas also serves to further post-socialism claims. The films Platform by Jia Zhangke and American Dream in China by Peter Chan presents a conflict between national collectivism and individual fortune. In both films, collectivism is on the verge of extinction thus struggles to stay alive while personal chance is fighting to express itself. Additionally, the Cinemas also help to project the evolution of life in the society over a given period (McGrath, 132). This has several influences to the community members as they can trace the happenings over extended periods of time and decide the future direction that they want to take thus promote post-socialism. This is evidenced in Jia’s Platform through the expression of epochal historical changes in China. The film uses eclipses with no cause-effect narratives to let the audience observe and make sense of the historical and personal changes. As a result, viewers are real to the societal changes and sure of the future direction they want to take. This encourages diversity as opposed to having uniform socialistic ideologies to create a mood of the changing times thus encourages post-socialism (Mak, 7).
In conclusion, few historical events affect social theories. However, over the course of time, the official standards of society change for the better. Cinema is a fundamental element in the society that provides historical comparisons which create a rich understanding of the political, economic and social changes that take place in the community over time. Therefore, cinemas challenge the existing dominant socialistic culture to influence the outside world into post-socialistic change. Such authority is referred to as post-socialism. In China, post-socialism ideologies conveyed through films serve to promote private capitalist modes and relations of production in the society. This has been evidenced by Jia Zhangke’s film Platform and Peter Chan’s American Dreams in China. Through a walk down memory lane, the films create a mood for a change from the previous communist regimes to a capitalist form. This depicts the rise of post-socialism in the contemporary Chinese society. In so doing, Chines cinema has served as a picture, a prism, product, and a projection of post-socialism.

Lu, Sheldon H. Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics. 1st ed. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007. Print.
Mak, Edwin. “Postsocialist Grit: Contending Realisms in Jia Zhangke’s Platform.” 12.7 (2008): 3-19. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.
McGrath, Jason. Postsocialist Modernity. 1st ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008. Print.

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