Chinese Film

Realism and Convention from the Silent Era to the Digital Age

2022
Author:

Jason McGrath

A tour de force chronicling the development of realism in Chinese cinema

In Chinese Film, Jason McGrath traces the varied claims to cinematic realism made by Chinese filmmakers, critics, and scholars. He presents realism as an aesthetic form that negotiates between cultural conventions and the ever-evolving real, envisioning it as more than just a cinematic question and showing how the struggle for realism is central to the Chinese struggle for modernity itself.

This magisterial book is an extraordinary landmark in both Chinese film studies and the broader exploration of cinema itself. In his multi-faceted paradigm of realism, Jason McGrath finds a master code for understanding Chinese film across the span of its history: conceptually vivid and analytically riveting, this superb study is a must-read for any student or scholar of the moving image.

Margaret Hillenbrand, author of Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China

The history of Chinese cinema is as long and complicated as the tumultuous history of China itself. Each Chinese cinematic era, whether the silent, the Communist, or the contemporary, has necessitated its own form in conversation with broader trends in politics and culture.

In Chinese Film, Jason McGrath tells this fascinating story by tracing the varied claims to cinematic realism made by Chinese filmmakers, officials, critics, and scholars. Understanding realism as a historical dynamic that is both enabled and mitigated by aesthetic conventions of the day, he analyzes it across six different types of claims: ontological, perceptual, fictional, social, prescriptive, and apophatic.

Through this method, McGrath makes major claims not just about Chinese cinema but also about realism as an aesthetic form that negotiates between cultural conventions and the ever-evolving real. He comes to envision this as more than just a cinematic question, showing how the struggle for realism is central to the Chinese struggle for modernity.

Jason McGrath is professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, where he is also on the faculty in Moving Image, Media, and Sound Studies. He is author of Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age.

This magisterial book is an extraordinary landmark in both Chinese film studies and the broader exploration of cinema itself. In his multi-faceted paradigm of realism, Jason McGrath finds a master code for understanding Chinese film across the span of its history: conceptually vivid and analytically riveting, this superb study is a must-read for any student or scholar of the moving image.

Margaret Hillenbrand, author of Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China

Meticulously researched, Chinese Film focuses on the multiple manifestations of realism in the longue durée history, tracking a key aesthetic-political articulation embedded in the film medium in general and Chinese cinema in particular. Especially valuable is Jason McGrath’s insistence on situating each mode of realism and its transformation within richly textured historical contexts.

Yiman Wang, author of Remaking Chinese Cinema: Through the Prism of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Hollywood

Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction. Inscribing the Real: Cinematic Realism and Convention

1. Acting Real in Chinese Silent Cinema

2. Shanghaiing Hollywood in the 1930s

3. Realism and Event in Postwar Chinese Cinema

4. Prescriptive Realism in Revolutionary Cinema of the Seventeen Years

5. Socialist Formalism and the End(s) of Revolutionary Cinema

6. A Long Take on Post–Socialist Realism

7. Chinese Cinematic Realism(s) in the Digital Age

Conclusion

Notes

Index