Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

February 28, 2007

Some reflections on the post-Cultural Revolution generation as presented in film and text

Filed under: China, Film, Publications — amyjaneb @ 12:17 pm

A long title – couldn’t decide how to put what I wanted to say by way of something pithy and catchy!

Didn’t get a lot done yesterday.  Wasn’t feeling very well and missed a publishing workshop (which I’d really been looking forward to) and my Chinese class.  But I did get some reading done and watched a film, Platform (or ‘Zhantai’) , which was about a group of friends in a cultural work unit during the years 1979 to 1989.  It was very long (two and a half hours!), and a bit slow at times, but really did capture the dramatic changes in China during this decade from Mao suits, to designer gear, communes to privatisation, revolutionary songs to rock music.  I suspect there was a lot of metaphor which I didn’t get, but I think what the title refers to, i.e. train platform, is the universal desire to break free of the restrictions of family and one’s home town to find one’s own way in the world.  Which, if this had been a Hollywood film, would have been pretty hackneyed, but because it followed the lives of a group of young people as they tried to negotiate the dizzying social changes and limited freedoms opening up to them, this device worked well in this instance as a vehicle to present Deng’s China.

It also roughly corresponds with the era examined by the book I’m reading (and have nearly finished) at the moment: John Pomfret’s Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China.  In it he charts the live stories of a group of his classmates at Nanjing University, when he studied there as a foreign exchange student in 1981.  I’m not going to write in depth about this now, but I will say that it’s engaging and well worth a read.  Although it makes me wonder if he compromises any of his subjects in his writing, vis-a-vis the Chinese authorities.  Raises some interesting ethical questions….


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