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The Raped Women: Is There a Lesbian Statement?

3.1 Review of “Women’s Film” in Mainland China after

The term “women’s film” or “women’s cinema” appears in feminist film studies, such as Notes on Women’s Cinema4, “The Woman’s Film”5 and “Women’s Cinema as Counter-Cinema”6, along with the launch of second- wave feminism. It refers to the


Claire Johnston ed., Notes on Women’s Cinema, (Britain: the Society for Education in Film and Television, 1972).


Molly Haskell, “The Woman’s Film”, in Thornham ed. Feminist Film Theory, 20-30. 6

Claire Johnston, “Women’s Cinema as Counter-Cinema”, in Thornham ed. Feminist Film Theory, 31- 40.

work of women film directors, and can also designate the work of other women behind the camera such as cinematographers and screenwriters. Although the participation of women film editors, costume designers, and production designers is usually not considered to be decisive enough to justify the term “women’s cinema”, it does have tremendous influence on the visual impression of any movie. In China, “women’s film” is usually translated into “Nüxing dianying” (女性电影). However, the definition of “Nüxing dianying” is different from that of “women’s film” in some cases. Some Chinese theorists define “Nüxing dianying” in a narrow sense, specially referring to films which include the following three essential elements: female director, female themes and female consciousness.7 According to them, “nüxing dianying” in a narrow sense is a film directed by women, focusing on themes related to women’s lives and experience, narrated from women’s standpoint, expressing women’s emotion and mentality, and delivering a female consciousness.8 To avoid conceptual confusion in this thesis, I translate the term “nüxing dianying” in such narrow definition into English as “feminist films” to distinguish it from “women’s films”.

Dai Jinhua has conducted a rather thorough summary on the development of Chinese women’s films from 1949 to 1999 with her essays “Invisible Women”9



Guo Zeqing, “The Modern Women’s Films in China, the Existence of Women and Their Future: Take Three Modern Women’s Films for Example (中国当代女性电影、女性生存及未来——以三部当代

女性电影为例)”, Journal of Putian University 13, 3(2006): 74. All the English translations of the resources original in Chinese are my translation unless otherwise stated. All the original Chinese texts are displayed in footnotes. “女性导演、女性题材和女性意识”三个界定女性电影的维度。


Zhang Fangming, “Stranding and Breaking Through: A Feminism Explanation to HongYan, or A Woman Who Plunges into Spiritual Plight (困境与突围——对电影《红颜》的女性主义读解)”,

Dianying pingjie 19 (2007), accessed Aug. 3, 2009, http://qkzz.net/Magazine/1002-6916/2007/19. 女


Guo Zeqing, “The Modern Women’s Films in China”, 73. 严格意义上的女性电影应该是“女性写、



“Gender and Narration”10

. I summarise the female directors and their works during this period owing much to her findings.

Filmmaking in mainland China was a field definitely dominated by male directors until 1949, the year of the establishment of New China. Wang Ping (王苹) was the first Chinese woman director, at the time, the only female one of the Third- Generation directors. Her representative works, such as The Everlasting Electric

Current (永不消逝的电波, Yongbuxiaoshide dianbo, 1958) and The Sentinel beneath

the Neon Light (霓虹灯下的哨兵, Nihongdengxiade shaobing, 1964), used to be

described as “well-known for their natural, delicate, and lyrical artistic style”11 , yet they still represent a strong political utilitarianism. As Dai Jinhua says, the only hint at the gender of Wang Ping and her followers – Wang Haowei (王好为), Guang Chunlan (广春兰), Shi Xiaohua (石小华) and Shi Shujun (石蜀君) – “is the name given as the director of the film, the filmmaker’s ‘signature’”12


Around 1987, some women directors began to select materials concerning women, who had been neglected or scorned previously. They tried to construct an experience and a world unique to women from a female perspective, which cannot be found in male narratives. These directors include Wang Junzheng (王君正, e.g. The

First Woman in the Forest 山林中头一个女人, Shanlinzhong touyige nüren, 1987

and Women, Taxi, Women女人‘Taxi’女人, nüren Taxi nüren, 1990), Qin Zhiyu (秦志 钰, e.g. The Love of the Gingko Tree 银杏树之恋, Yinxingshu zhilian, 1987, Miss

Julie 朱丽小姐, Zhuli xiaojie, 1989, and A Single Woman 独身女人, Dushen nüren,

Yang, Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 3, 1 (1995): 254-280.


Dai Jinhua, “Gender and Narration”, in Dai Jinhua, Cinema and Desire, 99-149. 11

Zhu Ma ed., Handbook of Films (Sichuan: Department of Chinese of Sichuan University; Sichuan Provincial Film Distribution Corp., 1980).


1990), Bao Zhifang (鲍芝芳, e.g. Golden Fingernail 金色的指甲, Jinsede zhijia, 1988), and Dong Kena (董克娜, Who is the Third Party? 谁是第三者, Shuishi disanzhe, 1988 and The World of Women 女性世界, Nüxing shijie, 1990). Films created by these women directors represent some characteristics of self-conscious women’s films, yet, according to Dai Jinhua, the narrator’s gender identity, perspective, and position are all ambiguous and confusing.

It is this type of film, not those which attempt to transcend or conceal the filmmaker’s gender position, that brings to prominence with greater clarity the paradox and dilemma of contemporary Chinese women’s culture. 13

While trying to depart from one kind of male discourse and patriarchal norm in narratives, they actually adopt another sort of male-dominated discourse.

At the same time, there is another type of film produced by women that displays the vivid imprint of women’s expression and alternative possibilities, such as Zhang Nuanxin’s (张暖昕) The Drive to Win (沙鸥, Shaou, 1981) and Hu Mei’s (胡玫) Army Nurse (女儿楼, Nü’erlou, 1984). Not only are women the protagonists, the centre and subject of the narrative perspective in their works, but they also display a “female style” in terms of filmic language and mode. However, Dai argues that “they simply reappropriate female experiences, ‘translate’ and rewrite them into a female version of the same motifs.”14

In terms of cultural and social motifs, the female styles exhibited in these films are, for the most part, similar to those made by men.

Dai claims that Huang Shuqin’s Human, Woman, Demon (人 · 鬼 · 情,


Dai Jinhua, Cinema and Desire, 138. 14

Renguiqing, 1987) is “the first and only ‘feminist film’”15 during this period, because this film “metaphorically reveals the existential and cultural predicament faced by contemporary Chinese women”16

. Adam Lam also agrees that Human, Woman, Demon is a film focuses on women’s life at a general, timeless level. 17

In Dai’s opinion, though contemporary China possesses the most powerful and numerous cohort of women directors in the world,18 “feminist film” is rare in the first fifty years of New China’s film history. She believes the most primary reason of this lack of female narrative is that the success of women directors was gauged by their ability to produce films that are exactly the same as men’s. The Chinese female directors therefore collectively play a Hua Mulan19 social role while relegated to being the Second Sex. This model of gender-identity exists throughout the female directors from the Third to the Fifth Generation.

The post-fifth-generation female directors started their filmmaking after 2000, around ten years later than their male counterparts do. Among them, Li Yu, Ma Liwen and Xu Jinglei are the representatives and active role models. Not surprisingly, all of them have their film themes intensively focusing on women. I will analyse films directed by these three female directors in this thesis.


Dai Jinhua, Notes on Film theories and critics (Beijing: Scientific and Technological Document Publishing House,1993), 220.


Dai Jinhua, Cinema and Desire, 143.


The analysis of Human, Woman, Demon is in Adam Lam, Identity, Tradition and Globalism in Post- Cultural Revolution Chinese Feature Films, 126-131.


In the mainstream film industry, from the establishment of New China to 1995, there are more than thirty women directors have supervised the production of two or more feature-length films, twenty influential women directors work at state-owned film studios, and five or six women directors have won awards at various international film festivals and gained varying degrees of international acknowledgement. Dai Jinhua, Cinema and Desire, 133.


Julia Kristeva argues that Hua Mulan, the heroine of the Five Dynasties (420-588), is a prototype that has served as a model for many Chinese girls and women who have wished to abandon a strictly feminine role and gain access to the political. Julia Kristeva, About Chinese Women, trans., Anita Barrows (New York, London: Marion Boyars, 1986), 93.

Moreover, Dai Jinhua’s studies of Chinese women’s films and her examination of “feminist films” are based on a conventional premise that women are weak, powerless and oppressed by men. Such a premise is rather biased; this thesis therefore will not stick to the stereotypical gender hierarchy of male domination, but rather parallel the feminine and masculine elements within a power game. Furthermore, the term “feminist” is still a controversial word in this thesis. I therefore will not verify whether these women’s films are feminist or not, but retain the name “feminist films” for them at first, and then examine the issues around whether these films deliver female discourse, or, what kind of discourse they represent.