Siyang Wu

CCTP-748 Media Theory And Visual Culture
Martin Irvine
Chinese movies from 1985-1995 in deconstructionism context

In 1978, after the decade-long Cultural Revolution, the Chinese society began to open itself to the outside world. Various schools of thought of Western philosophy came into the sight of Chinese scholars, and they tried to apply these new ideas and theories to explain the social issues, social consciousness and social relationship in that era of turmoil. In 1980, deconstructionism was presented in the Chinese translation of Structuralism: Moscow-Prague-Paris, which was soon followed by Chinese scholars researching on deconstructionism. Derrida and deconstructionism began to influence the philosophy and culture of China.
Derrida first proposed the concept of deconstructionism in his book Of Grammatology, after which deconstructionism became a popular theory for people to understand the world around them and nearly all aspects of lives.
As a modern media, movie is a form of art that is popular among people from all walks of life. It is one colorful and lively medium that affects and influences people’s everyday life. Metaphorically speaking, every one in life is an actor of movie. Movies present behaviors, emotions, and consciousness of people, which in turn can also reflect the formation, awareness, and history of a society.
In this paper, I endeavor to analyze Chinese movies in the decade from 1985 to 1995 under the framework of deconstructionism. Chinese movies in that time period had great distinctive with the movies in the Cultural Revolution. Both of them had their sharp-cut characteristic. And the giant difference reflects the influence made by deconstructionism on the Chinese culture. In the meantime, I also try to discuss the deconstructive distinctive features that were presented in movies between 1985 and 1995 after the Chinese “reform and open-up” in an effort to examine how deconstructionism affected the Chinese society.

Deconstructionism is a concept first introduced by Derrida, a French philosopher, in his book Of Grammatology of 1967. Derrida himself did not give an explicit definition of Deconstructionism, but he did pioneer this new perspective to look at the world.
Deconstructionism does not equal to “destruction”, and we shall not take it as the construction of some concepts and standards that are totally new and different after destruction. Deconstructionism encourages people to hold an attitude of suspect of the consistency of everything.
An interesting story that describes the relationship between structuralism and post-structuralism is how a talented boy builds a tower with blocks. Along with the development of his work, the tower becomes a remarkable wonder. The boy knows well about the basic rules with respect to the stability of the tower, such as that all the weight should be directed towards the center block of the tower. Another boy, who might be annoyed about the tower and interrupt him from enjoying the sight of horizon, may come by at any moment and strip the center block essential to the balance of the entire tower, causing the tower a total collapse with nothing left.
There have been many architects building millions of towers throughout human history, and there have been more than dozens of destructors that see the world with deconstructive viewpoints. These destructors strip the “key blocks” of various kinds of “towers” and bring the world back to the delightful chaos. Derrida was the first to strip such a center block. In the nascent stage of deconstructionism, Derrida was interested in literature and criticism, and the influence of deconstructionism on Politics was obscure but strong, as it is against tradition, rationality, convention, and authority.
It is Derrida’s idea that deconstructionism is not a single -ism, but are manifested in a series of them. Deconstructionism is a school of thought that is oriented toward the world or the Earth, and so from the very beginning it is a global thing, and is always associated with a certain language. The purpose of deconstruction is not to destroy a model but thinking about culturally controversial issues in the whole process of globalization. As he discussed in Deconstruction and Globalization, though deconstruction was invented to question the boundary of western philosophy, its great influence on Chinese language, context and culture should also be valued.

The history of Deconstructionism in China
The term “deconstructionism” first appeared in China in 1980, when a philosopher named Xiaoming Chen used it to analyze Chinese precursory literature. After 10 years, His dissertation, the Trace of Deconstruction is representation of the Chinese philosophical research of Derrida’s deconstructionism. The investigation of Deconstructionism also began from translating some of the texts that explained Derrida’s masterpieces and the comments of some western theorists. J. M. Broekman’s Structuralism, Moscow- Prague-Paris is the first translation that introduced Derrida and his theory, providing the primary introduction of the essential concepts, such as “trace”. In 1986, many of the famous works about deconstructionism were translated into Chinese, like Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction. These translations opened a new passage to western philosophy and aided Chinese scholars to acquire new knowledge about deconstructionism. But at that time, the process of accepting deconstructionism remained relatively hard.
From 1988 to 1989, the theories of deconstructionism became more and more popular. Not were only some of Derrida’s masterpieces translated into Chinese, but many dissertations that utilizing deconstructionism to analyze and criticize Chinese modern literature and movies were also published.
Through his research on power, Foucault criticized that the power of the feudal society tended to be arbitrary and vague, and declared that in the modern society, the effect of power influenced every individual and her daily behaviors. Different from Foucault, Derrida provided the particular guiding principle of deconstructionism, by anatomizing language and writing. Language cannot be ruled by human. The main target of Derrida and other deconstructionists’ attack is traditional ideology of Logos. In other words, deconstructionism focuses on breaking the existing unitized orders, which includes not only social order but also moral order, for instance, the marital order and the orders of personal consciousness. As a result, The characteristic of deconstructionism is anti-convention, anti-rationality and anti-heros. Deconstructionism influences every aspect of human life and its effect is obviously reflected in the movie.

Social Context
the Chinese Culture Revoltuion
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, often abbreviated as the Cultural Revolution, was a political and cultural movement that lasted from 1966 to 1976. The Cultural Revolution was launched and developed by Chairman Mao, who was supposed to utilize this campaign to eliminate the capitalist elements in Chinese society and unify citizens’ mind after such a long political and cultural chaos. People were, then, divided into two opposite classes, bourgeois and proletariat. Mao did not consider that there might be some individuals or groups that might belong to a third class besides the bourgeois and proletariat. The personality, the character, and the value of an individual were all judged only by the class he or she belonged to. Both Marxist and Leninist thoughts were propagated to reinforce Mao’s dominate position. As one can see, the Cultural Revolution was an instrument used to eliminate the different voices and minds of individuals, as well as the capitalist elements of society. In fact, it worked not only in politics but also in the field of culture. The government built a simple moral standard, and made several role models for the publics to follow. They encouraged every citizen to be a proletarian activist, forced them to be shame about their personal pursuits, rendered them to ignore their own personalities.

the Chinese Reform and Open
Looking back to Chinese ancient philosophy, one finds that it is similar to western philosophy in many regards, as both of them address the essence of human life. Regardless of the time period, there are always people interested in western philosophy and endeavor to engage with western philosophers with new developments of their own. However, this was not the case in China as it was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, for at that time Marxism was the only axiom that was praised, embraced, and allowed by the Chinese government.
In 1978, China began to reform and open. With the vast commercial market opened to the western world, people’s mind were liberated. Western ideas continuously swarmed into China, and people were shocked and impressed by these new ideas. The research of western philosophy also began to flourish. People, long accustomed to the monopoly of one idea, were astounded as well as their viewpoints broadened and their minds liberated.
In 1980, a Chinese professor of Beijing University published his dissertation The Trace of Deconstruction. In his paper, he made efforts to introduce what deconstructionism and the influences it could have on knowledge. After a long period of thought control, no theory was more appropriate than deconstructionism for Chinese people to understand the new world that is more complex than in the Cultural Revolution. It was a new society that was open and “disordered.” As old social standards and social orders demised, people needed a brand new set of perspectives to understand the new society. Deconstructionism, inherently anti-rationality and anti-convention, and anti-hero, enabled them to build their own value systems.

In the Chinese Culture Revolution, the distinctive of movies was obvious. Its function of Political propaganda decided that those movies worked as the instrument of government dominance. Many role models were built in that time period for people to follow. All media, including from newspaper, radio, movie and opera, were controlled and monitored by government. The movies produced before 1966 were forbidden for release to the public in the Culture Revolution. Entertainment media was extremely limited, for only the eight “model operas” written, directed, and produced by the Communist Party of China were permitted. There were five Peking opera programs, two ballets and one symphony included, and all of them reflected the political stance of the Party. Since the Party’s basic task was to build the a model of proletarian heros, the model operas had three principles (a process of elevation): 1)highlight the protagonists from the public, 2) highlight heros from the protagonists, and 3) highlight the central heros from the heros. These principles greatly limited the performance of actors. The parts of antagonists were usually short and scattered, whereas the heros occupied almost the entire opera. Most characters were simply divided into two categories, hero and antagonist, resembling the categorization of Chinese citizens based on class recognition in revolutionary discourse, the bourgeois and the proletariat. The whole opera only focused on how a protagonist grew into a hero in class struggle, and thus it lacks description of the inner (psychological) dimension of the actor. The role was simplified and conceptualized.
Only a few years later than 1966, a few movies were also allowed to be released to the public. Not only were Chinese movies released, but also those imported from the Soviet Union, Vietnam, North Korea, Albania and other Communist states. Different movies from different countries had their own characteristics but all of them produced and released at that time shared the same function of education. The Chinese movies were always like a bulletin of news, because the Chinese movies almost worked only for political propaganda, science and education, and journalism.
In the later years of the Cultural Revolution, movie producers in China began to enjoy more freedom in creating movies. But these movies still could not escape from the strong influence of politics. For example, the heros in the movie Sparking Red Star, named Don
gzi Pan, was smart, brave and strong. Moreover he gave wholehearted support to the Communist Party. In Sparking Red Star(1974), Dongzi was the central hero that was built in the movie who had no disadvantage in personality. As an anti-Japanese war movie, the boundary between good and evil in it was obvious and distinct. Japanese army was extremely cruel and Japanese solders acted as beasts who had not human nature. On the opposite, Chinese citizens that were represented by Dongzidid not unfold any downside.
In the aftermath of the “reform and open-up” that started in 1980, Chinese movies embarked on an almost new phase. The movie industry flourished in ways that it never had before. Compared with the movies in the Cultural Revolution, movies in this time period possessed several new characteristics, for instance, anti-hero, anti-rationality and anti-convention. Moreover, the function of movies had turned from education to entertainment. This meant that movies were no longer government instrument of domination and indoctrination. After the long time of thought control, people began to peruse free will and their pursuit were presented and enlarged by movies. People began to suspect the thoughts and ideas that they were indoctrinated previously. The ethics and morals that persisted throughout the Cultural Revolution were reexamined. The relations between good and evil and between beauty and ugliness lost it simple duality. The psychological struggles of individuals and the contradictions in human live were brought out in place of the static and boring portraits of heroes in movies.
The tradition of Confucianism, which has influenced Chinese culture for thousands of years, and Marxism, which has dominated the Chinese discourse from the beginning of the 20th century, are both crucial political resources in Chinese politics. Thanks to its hystereic nature, Confucianism does not deal with the practical problems in “reform and open-up.” Social conflicts, such as income disparity, human rights problems, and the liberation of sex issues, all required people to use new methods, e.g. deconstructionism, to understand the society. People in despair and disillusionment demanded equality in subsistence, sex, and social status. But the cruel reality is in that system, power and wealth determines everything, and people need an additional voice to deconstruct, break, and overthrow this system. This means to break the logocentrism in Chinese discourse.
It was deconstructionism which was labeled as anti-rationality, anti-convention, and anti-history, add its characteristic to the movies from 1985 to 1995. The giant difference between movies in the Culture Revolution and in the “reform and open” was mainly brought about by deconstructionism. The structure, the contend and the moral correctness of the former one was simple. The duality in those movies was obvious. However, after 1985, the center of this kind of movie was deconstructed. Movies in the new era began to reflect multi-dimensional culture, value systems, and believes. It stopped highlighted the central hero in the movie, otherwise, it focused on the lives of common men, utilized their perspective to examine the world, and attached great importance to their struggle to the powerful, to the destiny. Traditional Logos center that was strongly presented in movies in the Culture Revolution was suspected and criticized. From 1985, Chinese movie became anti-rationality, anti-convention, and anti -hero.

1. Anti-rationality
The movie Red Sorghum(1987) tells a story of a young woman forced by her father to marry the leprous
owner of a winery the year of 1930.However, this young woman fell in love with one of her servants who was in charge of sending her to her husband. They made love on their way to her husband and she got pregnant. Coerce a young woman to marry a leper isunreasonable and inhumane. This made the leading characters’ extramarital sexual relationship become reasonable and appealing to the audience. However, extramarital sex in old China and in the era of Cultural Revolution was deemed as utterly immoral. The director of Red Sorghum questioned the public whether the old moral value system was still relevant to the modern society, whether we could still use the simplistic dichotomy of right and wrong to assess complicated social issues. Conventions and traditions, observed, abided and preached in China for thousands of years, were suspected.
The same question was also raised in the movie Married to A Child (1986), where a twelve-year-old girl was required to marry a three-year-old boy, and in Old Well (1986), in which an ephebe was forced to marry into and live with an old widow’s family. The contrariety of reason and unreason was challenged. What was the concept and standard of rationality should be reconsidered. Both in movies and reality, the relationship between individual and convention turned from abidance to suspicion and resistance. The impact of deconstructionism could be seen as the origin of this new rationality and moral system. These movies deconstructed the old Chinese ethics highly praised in the Cultural Revolution.


2. Anti-convention, sex and politics
Movies that were made in the Cultural Revolution did not include sex, as they were all about political issues. However, onwards from 1984, sex became a popular theme in Chinese movies. Compared with shyness and conservativeness people exhibited in reality, in movies, attitudes towards sex were more direct and straightforward. The movie) Ju Dou (1990) was about the story of a young and beautiful lady named Ju Dou. She was married to a dye house owner, a man who had sexual disability and loved to torture women. Ju Dou lost her heart to her husband’s nephew and had an affair with him. In this movie, sex distorted human nature and made a person become cruel and brutal. But sex in Ju Dou was also natural from another perspective since it was the natural expression of individual desire. In Ju Dou, sex was not moralized and did not present selflessness and self-devotion any more. This difference encouraged directors to use a totally different technique of expression. The rite of marriage is in conflict with the value of it.
Convention was deconstructed in the movie. Loyalty and respect in marriage which was highly praised in Chinese convention was in the center of suspicion and criticism. When the conflict between convention and human nature became more and more intense, people who had been influenced by western ideology intended to break the constrain of convention and started to reexamined the value of it. Instead of taking it as standard to follow, more and more people suspected, criticized and decided to abandon it. Moreover, It also deconstructed the rite, the form of convention. It reduced the seriousness and sobriety of rite and revealed the inconsistency behind it.
This kind of movies presented people thoughts and discussions about sex after a long time of sex repression. In the movies, sex repression triggered the inhumane behaviors and it was also the reflection of the pain and scars of people in reality. In their personal lives and social lives, people had to constrain themselves to fulfilling the social standard in the Cultural Revolution, and individual desire should be repressed and sacrificed to collective benefits in the event of a conflict. No one had personality, since they were all required to follow the same role model set up by the government. After the “reform and open-up,” influenced by deconstructionism, politics was no longer the primary topic of movies anymore. The issue of sex, a taboo in the Cultural Revolution, resurfaced in movies. And what it re-arouse was not only about sexual affairs but also about people‘s personal lives. They did not pay much attention to politics, but cared about their own values, beliefs, and consciousness. Difference amongst individuals should be valued more than the uniform moral standard and collective consciousness, and the dominant unified value system was subverted.

Undoubtedly, the voice of western deconstructionism awoke the enthusiasm of Chinese citizens to suspect and criticize the old justice and order. The “break-icon” movement, avant-garde literature, and loony tone movies in the 1980s reflected people’s attention and pursuit of their own lives. These lifestyles came down to the value system of an individual, the rule of life, and the system of organization that she had to bear. All of these thinkings included deconstructionist elements. This ideological trend required new zeitgeist and ideas that enabled Chinese people to survive in their political lives. They tried to find the answer in both history and present social context. They found out that the role model should be abandoned, the hero in the movie should be deconstructed. Their thinking, pursuit, and introspection were all presented in the movies in this time period.
The most apparent example was Xingchi Chow’s (Stephen Chow) movies. Xingchi Chow is a famous actor and director and is esteemed as a master of deconstructionism in the Chinese movie industry. Humous of Chow’s comedy come from deconstruct language and hero. Language in his movie is defined as loony tone. Loony tone in Chinese means that the behavior and language of an individual is unintelligible and lack of center, and does not have a explicit purpose. Loony tone movies highlights the criticism and the ridicule to the traditional culture and it values carpe diem, depthless presentation, disruptive of the order and the deconstruction of authority.
The distinctive of Chow’s comedies is that in the end of the movie, the weaker can finally defeat the stronger. Hero is deconstructed in the movie. The plain man, the prosy tale and ordinary subject replace the hero. And the mission of the common role in the movie is to challenge the authority. Such as in the movie Hail the Judge(1994), Chow performed a powerless sheriff who finally kill the powerful minority. In another Chow’s movie Sixty Million Dollar Man(1995), he utilizes a intellectual chip to defeat his strong enemy who is using the same chip and uses the chip as a toy. The ending of Sixty Million Dollar Man breaks the stance of authority, and provides the idea that every common individual can become an authority. It subverts the seriousness of the authority, and turns it into the object of tease. Anti-hero in deconstructionism is highly praised in Chow’s movie. All of roles that he builds is grass roots that occupies the most population in China. Its concern on common lives enables individuals to pay attention on their own pursuit and lives, breaks the social idol built in the Culture Revolution.

Movies from 1985 to 1995 deconstructed the traditional concept of society, convention, group, and social institution. The political concern and traditional moral consciousness, which were valued in the Cultural Revolution, were weakened, and sex became a main instrument to express personal consciousness.
These movies provides our knowledge to understand Chinese intelligentsia and Chinese society. The strong morality, collective consciousness, and the strong conscience of the old generation were replaced by the new recognition of rationality amongst the new intelligentsia. From the old generation, one can exam its relationship with traditional culture, and from the new, we can find out its connection with deconstruction. The old generation of intelligentsia grew up in the 1960s, the height of the Cultural Revolution. The education they received was about the ideology of revolution and collectivism, which was full of petty-farmer consciousness and traditional radical moralism. They regarded morality as the hope of the society. Their choice was made in longitudinal historical comparison. On the other hand, the new generation of intelligentsia influenced by the “reform and open-up” made their choice in horizontal historical comparison. “Reform and open-up” provided them a new perspective to understand the world. When they re-evaluated the Chinese society with western ideology, they began to suspect the existing social institution and deconstruct the convention of Chinese society. They were more concerned of the dynamics of Chinese society, the personal life, and individual freedom.
In a short, deconstructionism enables Chinese people to shake off the bonds set by the government in the Culture Revolution. Anti-rationality and anti-convention encourage them to suspect and reexamine the standard they always attempt to fulfill, and the moral system they hold. Anti-hero renders them to focus on their own free will, prevent them from being the replication of the role model set by the Communist Party. It is deconstructionism supply Chinese people a new perspective to view the world that was too complicated for them to survive. After the Culture Revolution, they lost the capacity of thinking independently. Since they were used to accepting the standard set by the government, their correctness was dual. Deconstructionism taught them to suspect instead of simple aspecting. It broke the Logos center in Chinese discourse.

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