Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Communication and Asian Studies, Tulane University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Area and Cultural Studies, University of Minnesota / Twin Cities
Fairy Tales of Good Reception: The Educational Mode in Chinese Cinema, 1931-1966

Cinema made its appearance in China at a time of political turmoil and immense social unevenness. For the larger part of the twentieth century, Chinese cultural institutions and governmental prerogatives invested the medium with inflated pedagogical powers in hopes of combatting the nation's "semi-feudal semi-colonial" condition. Accordingly, the idea of the "educational film" in China encompassed more than a genre of non-fiction films destined for classrooms or employee training programs. It was a function that could be applied to all films, fiction or non-fiction, and used as a standard for their criticism and censorship. This project is a study of cinema's educational vocation between 1931 and 1966, years that witnessed a cycle of crisis, war, communist revolution, and socialist reconstruction. In it, I develop a historical and conceptual account of what I term "the educational mode," a complex notion of film's pedagogical effectiveness developed in the 1930s in coordination with contemporaneous US, European, and Soviet programs and which would persist deep into the first seventeen years of the socialist State. Through the concept of the educational mode, I examine the synergies and conflicts between cinematic institutions and the programs of social reform and revolution that would define the contours of modern Chinese culture. My project argues that cinema's educational mission was not simply a program to be implemented but also a site of contestation and contradiction. In its effort to create a non-market relationship between film and its audiences, to make true the "fairy-tale of good reception," cinema education would internalize the social contradictions that it attempted to solve.