I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about Chinese Cinema, which is why going to a talk on Maoist cinema seemed like a good idea. The talk was meant for Zhu Laoshi’s Chinese Cinema class, which I’m not in, but the event was open to anyone who was interested. Three speakers presented at the roundtable. The first was a Chinese major student at OU who presented on Maoist badges, which he has collected on his trips to China. I didn’t know anything about Maoist badges, or even that they existed, so his presentation was quite interesting. These badges are apparently quite common in antique stores in China, and they come in an infinite variety of forms. Most are made from metal and are fairly nondescript, but several of the badges in his collection were of ceramic, hand-painted, glow-in-the-dark, or other unique varieties. Maoist badges are interesting as just as an artifact, but become even more interesting when you think about the history and culture that goes along with them. Unfortunately, I’m not the expert on Chinese history and culture I wish I was, and this talk (particularly my lack of knowledge that these badges even exist) made me a bit more aware of that.
The other two speakers were guests, one from the University of Michigan and one from Hamilton College. Both gave very good talks on various aspects of Maoist cinema. One was based on a film that the students in the Chinese Cinema course had watched. I hadn’t seen the film, so I had a hard time following what was going on. As far as I could tell, the point was that a lot of Maoist cinema is quite melodramatic, with overdone emotions and ridiculously unlikely plot lines. It also tends to glorify the Chinese and the communist party. The final talk was much more accessible, since it was assumed that nobody had watched the films in question. It was concerned with Chinese comedies from 1959 to 1963. In that time period, the official attitude towards comedies and film in general changed several times, which affected what movies were made. Higher degrees of artistic freedom were granted at times when people began to resent the communist leadership, and was restricted again as soon as people began to produce art that portrayed the leadership in a negative way. Very few comedies came out of this period, since the social landscape was so chaotic, but the comedies that were produced became very popular. Many of them subverted the acceptable attitudes toward Mao and his army, but did so in subtle and funny ways, so as to escape official disapproval but still criticize the government. Again, I don’t know as much about Chinese History as I wish I did, but it was really interesting to see how fast the political and social landscape changed under Mao. Overall, the roundtable was a lot of fun; I learned a few things about Chinese cinema and Chinese history, and realized that I should probably do some more research before I go to China next semester.