256 pages, 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
19 color, 75 b&w illustrations
Wenren Landscape in Chinese Cinema of the Mao Era
University of Hawai‘i Press
Chinese cinema has a long history of engagement with China’s art traditions, and literati (wenren) landscape painting has been an enduring source of inspiration. Literati Lenses explores this interplay during the Mao era, a time when cinema, at the forefront of ideological campaigns and purges, was held to strict political guidelines. Through four films—Li Shizhen (1956), Stage Sisters (1964), Early Spring in February (1963), and Legend of Tianyun Mountain (1979)—Mia Liu reveals how landscape offered an alternative text that could operate beyond political constraints and provide a portal for smuggling interesting discourses into the film. While allusions to pictorial traditions associated with a bygone era inevitably took on different meanings in the context of Mao-era cinema, cinematic engagement with literati landscape endowed films with creative and critical space as well as political poignancy. Liu not only identifies how the conventions and aesthetics of traditional literati landscape art were reinvented and mediated on multiple levels in cinema, but also explores how post-1949 Chinese filmmakers configured themselves as modern intellectuals in the spaces forged among the vestiges of the old. In the process, she deepens her analysis, suggesting that landscape be seen as an allegory of human life, a mirror of the age, and a commentary on national affairs.
Mia Liu makes a groundbreaking contribution to Chinese film studies and cultural studies of the Mao era and its aftermath by tracing the uses of traditional Chinese literati landscape aesthetics in films made under the aegis of the Communist revolution. In the process, she shows how some film artists inevitably—and often surreptitiously—drew upon the rich resonances of landscape in the Chinese cultural tradition.
Literati Lenses will be of deep interest to China art historians and to the scholarly audience in numerous fields, including film studies, women’s studies, political science and comparative literature, as well as to the general public intrigued by Chinese film. It is a major undertaking and will open pathways for further research in the role and uses of landscape in film.
Mia Yinxing Liu is assistant professor of visual studies at California College of the Arts.
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