General History of Chinese Film III
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General History of Chinese Film III


Ding Yaping

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eBook - ePub

General History of Chinese Film III


Ding Yaping

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The Reform and Opening-up of China since the late 1970s has not only transformed the economic and political situation of the country but also transformed the Chinese film industry. This volume focuses on the 40 years of the history of Chinese film in the post-Mao era.

As all aspects of film production, distribution, and exhibition have been commercialized, Chinese film has become an industry of immense scale and has grown by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, contemporary Chinese film is marked by a new zeitgeist, with Chinese film closely integrated with Chinese society and the economy. The author argues that the Chinese film industry clearly stands at a turning point where the future of Chinese film and the way to further awaken, change, and shape film production have become important issues worth consideration in contemporary film history.

The book will be an essential reading for scholars and students in film studies, Chinese studies, cultural studies and media studies, helping readers to develop a comprehensive understanding of Chinese film.

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1 Collision of films in a new era (1977–1979)

DOI: 10.4324/9781003224082-1

1.1 Reflections on enlightenment and the reform and opening up

1.1.1 The third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China repudiated the Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution, an unprecedented catastrophe, is a decade-long civil disorder that has brought great damage to China. The writer Qin Mu once commented on the Cultural Revolution, “Millions of people swallowed their hatred till death. Families fell apart. Teenagers became gangsters. Books were burnt. Historical sites were destroyed. Sages’ graves were dug. Sins were committed in the name of revolution. Political dictatorship reached its extremity. The economy was on the brink of collapse. History was betrayed. Souls were sold cheaply. The extreme political and cultural madness brought a heavy blow to millions of innocent victims and the entire generation.” The devastation of the decade-long disorder has left many Chinese with permanent suffering and inerasable collective memory. After the Cultural Revolution, Chinese film in the new historical period broke from the constraints, brought order out of chaos, opened the path of opening up, and regained contact with the world and the past. Film, as the expression and reflection of the times and the national culture, comply with the progress of Chinese society, closely related to the changes of society, politics, economy, and life.
1976 was a landmark year in which Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, and Mao Zedong passed away one after the other. It is said, even after Mao Zedong’s death, his spirit is still wandering in the land of China, affecting the social development of China and people’s understanding and thinking of issues in China. However, great social changes finally came. A nationwide mass protest centred on Tiananmen that denied the Cultural Revolution and the ultra-leftist politics broke out on April 5, 1976. On July 28, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Tangshan. In October, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China represented by Hua Guofeng, Ye Jianying, and Li Xiannian secretly arrested the Gang of Four: Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen, and the Cultural Revolution ended. “The dictatorship of the proletariat,” “the Cultural Revolution,” “the class struggle,” as well as “to learn from Dazhai in agriculture” and “to go all out for socialism” were not completed before they were abruptly ended. People began to work hard to get rid of the evils of the Cultural Revolution, and with the great passion for a new era, they tried to find a new and common political language, turning a new page in history.
Figure 1.1 Reports about the ending of Cultural Revolution in People's Daily.
On February 7, 1977, People’s Daily, Red Flag, and People’s Liberation Army Daily all published an editorial titled “Learning the Documents and Focusing on the Program,” putting forward the principle of “Two Whatevers”: “We will resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave.” However, suppressing emancipation of the mind will hinder the efforts to put wrongs to rights, so the left-leaning mistakes of the Cultural Revolution continued. On April 10, 1977, Deng Xiaoping wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China saying that Mao Zedong’s thought should be understood accurately and completely. On May 3, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China forwarded his letter, affirming Deng Xiaoping’s opinion. The trend of emancipating the mind of the whole society was gradually arising.
From July 16 to July 21, 1977, the Third Plenary Session of the 10th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party was held in Beijing. The plenary passed a resolution to resume Deng Xiaoping’s position as a politburo member, the vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the vice-premier of the State Council. On May 11, 1978, Guangming Daily published a special commentator’s article titled “Practice is the Only Standard to Test the Truth.” The same day, Xinhua News Agency forwarded this article. On the 12th, People’s Daily, People’s Liberation Army Daily also forwarded. The article reaffirmed that practice is the only principle that tests the truth and fundamentally negates the “Two Whatevers.” This debate can be summed up as the upper-class debate on China’s developmental path with obvious political significance. It concerns how to deal with a series of decisions made since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and more importantly whether it should break the forbidden zone and carry out new reform experiments in search of a new development path.1 Objectively speaking, the article “Practice is the Only Standard to Test the Truth“ may not be all correct. Some scholars pointed out that practice should be regarded as one of the criteria for testing “truth,” rather than the only criterion. “Some truth cannot be testified for some time because of the actual conditions. After all, practice is carried out by human beings, without guarantee for fairness and objectivity.”2 However, the article triggered a big discussion about the sole criterion of practice as the test of truth. With a fearless move, the gate of imprisoned thought was pushed open.
The discussion of the standard of truth, as an ideological liberation movement under the new historical conditions, began in Beijing and rapidly expanded to the whole country covering even remote areas, from the party to all walks of life, and it was a real discussion among all people. People realized that it was imperative to clean up the heavy historical legacy of the Cultural Revolution and to break personality cult and modern mythology; the political consequences of the Cultural Revolution cannot be deliberately shielded. Time will give us the best answer. Hu Yaobang, the president of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China at that time, participated in organizing the big discussion about “practice is the only criterion for testing truth.” It was supported by Deng Xiaoping, veteran cadres and intellectuals inside the party. Not only that but also there is a phenomenon in the big discussion: Although the debate is fierce, in the publicly published articles on the standard of truth, we cannot find an article that opposes the standard of practice and supports “Two Whatevers.” From this perspective, “this big discussion is an absolute ‘one-sided’.”3 “Two Whatevers” was summarized into three “no”: no test, no analysis, and no development. Without a test, it is not scientific. Without analysis, it is not scientific either. Mao Zedong himself said that everything can be divided into two. It is even worse not to allow development. Theories come from practice, and practice is constantly evolving, so theory must also develop. The three “no” are attributes of religious beliefs, not attributes of scientific theories. At the National Army Political Work Conference on June 2, 1978, Deng Xiaoping delivered a speech that clearly criticized the discussion of “Two Whatevers” and supported the standard of truth. After Deng Xiaoping’s speech, most secretaries of provincial party committees expressed their opinions and wrote articles. There was a province that did not express its position. As a result, there was a cartoon depicting the stands of the provinces. There were only two places in the country that have not expressed their support. One is Taiwan and the other is that province. “Some provinces sent special personnel to Beijing to read newspapers, saying that if more than two-thirds of the provinces take a stand, they would also express their position.”4
Figure 1.2 The East is Red is re-released.
The 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China denied the Cultural Revolution and proposed the guiding ideology of emancipating the mind, thinking hard, and seeking truth from facts, which marked the turning point in China’s modern political/cultural life. Although it is not so easy to negate, liquidate, and review the Cultural Revolution and its various political, economic, cultural, and ecological evils, it is a matter of putting aside rules and regulations, emancipating the mind, measuring everything by standards, and expecting to embark on a new path. After all, it is a rare start and change. Looking back on the past, and smiling at the sufferings of the past. After the government started to slightly relax the economy, the public demonstrated strength, and outdated concepts, practices, and institutional constraints were broken up. In the new era, many people were not rethinking their personal suffering, but the rise and fall of the nation. The process of ideological emancipation is full of imaginary possibilities, betting on the whole society in a rushing posture, demanding new changes, entering the period of active political and economic changes, which is bound to open a new era.

1.1.2 Huang Zhen as the Minister of Culture

In the process of negation and reconstruction, on October 11, 1976, with the approval of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Central Organization Department sent Hua Shan, Shi Jingye, and Dang Xiangmin to form the core group of the Communist Party of China at the Ministry of Culture, leading the Ministry. Zhou Wei served as the head of the core team of the Film Bureau of the Ministry of Culture. On October 21, the Film Bureau of the Ministry of Culture began to organize reviews and resume the release of a great number of films that had been criticized as poisonous weeds. After review, the feature films including Start an Undertaking, Haixia, Rolling Wheels, and The Song of the Gardener5 were released. On December 16, 1976, with the approval of the State Council, the core group of the Chinese Ministry of Culture decided to re-release The East is Red; Honghu Red Guards; Zhang Ga; the Soldier Boy; Secret Drawing; and The Red Flower of the Tianshan Mountains.
Figure 1.3 A still of Zhang Ga, the Soldier Boy.
In December 1977, the Central Committee decided to appoint Huang Zhen as the Minister of Culture. At the same time, it strengthened the management of the film industry and started the work of setting things right in the film industry. Zhou Wei was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Culture. Wang Lanxi was the deputy Minister of Culture in-charge of the film work. Situ Huimin was the director of the Film Bureau. The 77-year-old film cinematographers Wu Yinxian, Ding Qiao, and Qian Xiaozhang were appointed as deputy directors of the Film Bureau.6 In January 1978, the Ministry of Culture adjusted the leadership of the Beijing Film Studio. Wang Yang was the head of the leading group. The deputy heads were Cheng Yin and Du Zi. The members of the leading group included Cui Wei, Qian Jiang, Yu Lan, Chen Qiang, Zhu Dexiong. Pan Jinxi, and Ma Debo. Xie Tieli was a member of the leading group of the Film Bureau and participated in the leading group meetings of Beijing Film Studio. Wang Yang (1916–1998) was born in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province. In 1935, he served as an art assistant to Mingxing Film Company. In 1938, he went to Yan’an. In 1946, he served as the captain of the film team of the North China Military Region. In 1949, he served as the deputy head of Beijing Film Studio and was soon promoted to be the head. This appointment after 1978 makes Wang Yang as the 12th director. In 1983, Wang Yang stepped down as the director of the studio.
In March 1977, the Central Military Commission appointed Zhang Jinghua, the Vice Director of the Culture Department of the General Political Department, as the head of August First Film Studio. The leadership team of August First Film Studio was adjusted: Zhang Jinghua as the head, Liu Jianguo as the political commissar, deputy heads including Wang Mu, Liu Peiran, Wang Ping, Hu Jiemin Yang Zhiji, Wang Xingang, and Chen Mengjun as the deputy political commissar. Zhang Jinghua (1916–1991) was a native of Huaiyin, Jiangsu. After 1949, he served as deputy editor-in-chief of August First magazine and the director of the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum. In 1977, Xu Sangchu was appointed as the head of the Shanghai Film Studio. Xu Sangchu (1916–2011) was born in Yinxian County, Zhejiang Province. Since October 1949, he had been participating in the film industry in Shanghai. Films he produced during the 17-year period include The Opium Wars, The New Story of an Old Soldier, Li Shuangshuang, Withered Trees Revive, A Dream of Red Mansions, Dr. Bethune, and so on. Films he produced after 1978 include From Slave to General, The Legend of Tianyun Mountain, Evening Rain, In-Laws, Wrangler, Small Street, Old My Memories of Old Beijing, Wreaths at the Foot of the Mountain, and so on. In Shanghai Film Studio, Xu Sangchu used talents in an unconventional manner, insisting on “shooting decent films” and good films. In 1978, Su Yun served as the head of Changchun Film Studio. Su Yun (1926–2005) was a native of Lingchuan, Shanxi. In 1947, he...

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