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Cinematic revisionism after the post-Cold War

After the Post-Cold War. The Future of Chinese History
Feminist culture critic icon Dai Jinhua delivers cutting-edge contemporary diagnoses through film reading and historical analysis in a new essay collection.


Watching movies will never be the same again after reading Dai Jinhua. The Marxist well-educated – but anything but dogmatic – feminist cultural critic can analyze film and their reception like no other, and use plot constructions, camera angles and character structure as a can opener for contemporary understanding, historical use and outline of possible futures.

Through readings of films such as the spy neo-classic Lust, Caution and the historical drama City of Life and Death (Nanjing, Nanjing!), Dai Jinhua analyzes China's (self) reinvention in that 21. century in an accurate and well-written essay collection. After the Post-Cold War. The Future of Chinese History analyzes the one-party embrace and transformation of global capitalism since the fall of the Berlin Wall (and before) into an elegant interweaving of times, ideologies, subjectivities, places and their meanings.

Basis and superstructure

In his opening chapter, Dai Jinhua describes his recent random find of a piece of metal on the outskirts of a newly built middle-class neighborhood in Wangjing, a satellite to Beijing:

“I thought it might have been made by an architectural firm and wanted the designer's signature. It looked pretty big. I moved closer. In German and Chinese, the words were: 'Basis determines superstructure.' – Karl Marx. (…) It was as if the rust told of the decay of time (…) This work amazed me for a moment, as if I had wandered into an anachronistic world and had met an allegory about present-day China. ”

The film readings in After the Post-Cold War are so detailed that they refuse to be reproduced, and at the same time they manage to talk about far more than themselves.

The new neighborhood is bizarrely named Class (in English, not Chinese), and Dai Jinhua uses the discarded metal piece as a hook to reflect on just this: class and class society in a China that has placed firmly on the Western world scene . And to meditate on the status of Marxism in this new order: «A totally learned and forgotten story? A lasting present? Or a future that is still only in the expectation? ”

In his subsequent outline of China's times, the cultural critic creates a framework for the following chapters, which, through readings of both blockbusters – either wholly or partly created in China – and of more underground films, analyze the use of history in Chinese (popular) culture.

Year zero after year zero

If China's history as a modern state began with the 1911 revolution that founded the republic in a bourgeois sense, 1949 marked a new year zero with the founding of the People's Republic. The next turning point was 1972, when US President Nixon unexpectedly visited China and the two countries began a so-called normalization of relations. This ushered in, argues Dai Jinhua, the beginning of a post-Cold War era before the end of the Cold War.

The event that mattered most to modern China in 1989, on the other hand, was not the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the Tiananmen movement, which ended its bloody end with the massacre of the protesters.

The majority of the Chinese population still constitutes a gigantic proletariat in a country where labor once served as a substitute for capital.

Ironically, these events meant that China could at one time exist as the last socialist giant, and failed its opportunity to provide an alternative to global capitalism.

Dai Jinhua points to the years 2008-2011, when the financial "tsunami" and shortly after 9/11 shook the world order and enabled China's rise in the global economy, as the end of the post-Cold War era. China then became the last safe haven of finance capital, and international capital flowed into the country through both legal and illegal channels.

New gatherings of power

The new Chinese middle class – marked by historical amnesia – which grew out of this new reality is among the foremost creators and consumers of a particular kind of revisionist epic drama film production, which is among Dai Jinhua's analysis objects in the essay collection. Among the examples are City of Life and Death (Nanjing! Nanjing!) Of 2009, using the Japanese army massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Nanjing in 1937-38 as a context for its narrative, but according to Dai Jinhua, an antithesis to the meticulous documentaryism as the main work of this historic crime is the book The Rape of Nanking, delivered a decade before.

She reads the movie City of Life and Death as "a text that illustrates a gathering of power that has shaped the narrative of China in history and in the contemporary moment". She does this through an analysis of how the human progresses in the film and who is ascribed and rejected by humanity, and by putting the film in the context of the international oblivion and neglect of this World War II genocide, which has never been fully recognized , neither by the criminals (the Japanese state) nor the viewers (the western world).

Liberate the story

The film readings in After the Post-Cold War are so detailed that they refuse to be reproduced, and at the same time they manage to talk about far more than themselves. Through film criticism, Dai Jinhua produces both historical analysis and contemporary diagnostics of a quality to look for – and uses his readings as a starting point to call for political resurgence, or perhaps to call for renewed political dreaming.

“In the 20th century, the utopian Marxist vision was to overthrow capitalism, eliminate class differences and free humanity. However, the implementation and propaganda of this vision evolved into totalitarianism and bloody violence that eventually ended in self-inflicted implosion, "Dai Jinhua writes, adding:" It lost without a fight. "

Even in China, Marxist teachings can now be found in the form of rusty metal on the edge of decoupled settler-class neighborhoods, totally cut off from the majority of the population, which still constitutes a gigantic proletariat in a country where labor once served as a substitute for capital, and now functions as involuntary foundation for capital accumulation.

On and between the lines, Dai Jinhua expresses hope that a new utopia can emerge, and, she stresses, "Only a non-teleological vision of the future can free history and time from the grip of power and violence."

Her analyzes of contemporary, history and cultural expressions – as well as examples of cinematic counter-narratives or alternative narratives – provide the reader with tools to think about what another possible future might look like.

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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