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Jie Li – Gained in Translation: The Reception of Foreign Films in the Mao Era
November 30, 2017 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Speaker: Jie Li, Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Discussant: Professor Carter Eckert, Yoon Se Young Professor of Korean History, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Sponsored by the Harvard University Asia Center, Korea Insitute, Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Insitute, and the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University.
Although Hollywood films were expelled from China in the 1950s and not reintroduced until the 1980s, audiences in the Mao era still had access to an impressive array of international cinema. Apart from many Soviet films dubbed into Mandarin with a Northeastern accent, urban residents had access to films from countries as diverse as Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, England, Hungary, India, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Poland. Even in the later years of the Cultural Revolution, a popular saying circulated about the masses’ cosmopolitan film diet: “Chinese films, newsreel documentaries; Vietnamese films, airplanes and cannons; North Korean films: weep, weep, smile smile; Romanian films: hugs and kisses; Albanian films: baffling and bizarre.” This paper outlines the exhibition of foreign cinema and studies their influence on Chinese audiences from the 1950s to the 1970s, with a focus around four case studies: the Soviet film Lenin in 1918 (1939), the North Korean film The Flower Girl (1972), the Albanian film Victory over Death (1967), and the Indian film Awara (1951). I address questions such as: What made The Flower Girl such a tearful sensation? How did the theme song and social criticism in Awara resonate with Chinese audiences from the 1950s to the 1980s? What aesthetic influences did Albanian films exert on fashion, gesture, and romantic ideals? Drawing on memoirs and oral history, my approach goes beyond the close analysis of media texts to excavate the diverse contexts for film screenings as well as audience responses.