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Zhang, "Xie Jin: A microcosm of Socialist China before 1980," 1995

USC Dissertation in Cinematics.
August 26, 2009

Li-hui Zhang, Ph.D.

Abstract (Summary)
Filmmaking in China has, like a barometer, reflected the changes in the political and social climate of the nation. The career of the most prestigious film director in China, Xie Jin, has been the most sensitive instance of this barometric function, precisely registering the complex political campaigns of the post-liberation era. In his work, he synthesized several aesthetic traditions: the dominant aesthetic visions of Chinese Revolutionary-Realism and Revolutionary-Romance, themselves adaptations of Soviet Socialist Realism; and Chinese melodrama, a generic heritage with which he combined the influences of Hollywood and Italian Neo-realism. Generally acknowledged in China as a master of melodrama, Xie Jin used the genre most impressively in his portrayal of women. Given these achievements, Xie Jin and his work are the key to an understanding of the mainstream of Chinese cinema, the influence of foreign cinematic forms upon it, and its relation to the politics of the People's Republic of China before 1980.

The research in this dissertation synthesizes a multiple-disciplinary understanding of cinema by constructing its arguments in broad social, political, cultural and stylistic contexts. The topics explored include: the impact of Chinese politics and social changes on Xie Jin's artistic practices; the introduction and transformation in China of Soviet Socialist Realist cinema and theory, as well as its influence on the director; the cultural and ideological implication of gender representation in Xie Jin's films; and an exploration of the historical and stylistic synthesis Xie Jin produced by adapting the conventions of both Hollywood and Italian Neo-realism. The research concludes with a historical materialist analysis of the relation between Xie Jin and his social context; like all artists, he was able to re-present in his work only the vision that his historical experience presented to him.

Advisor: James, David