Representations of the Cultural Revolution in Chinese films

Ming-May Jessie Chen


Many historians reject the idea that film can represent the historical truth as the written history does, and they critically deny its role as a historical agent. This study recognizes the problem and believes that film can be seen as a source that enhances our historical understanding. This study, based on an interdisciplinary approach, employs a variety of theories from film and history, along with philosophy, literature, and ideology. The historical events examined is the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the films discussed are the Chinese films related to its representations, for what includes the works from the Fifth Generation, and the others. The films made by the Fifth Generation filmmakers, such as, Chen Kaige's Farewell, My Concubine , Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Blue Kite , and Zhang Yimou's To Live are the major subject of discussion in this project. This study has employed theories from multiple fields to endorse the value of historical films. Among those theories, the perspective of historical relativism is favored more than the approach of historical objectivity, in which the orthodox historians insist that historiography belongs to science, rather than art. This study agrees with relativist Hayden White's assumption that historical writings, like novels or poems, can be emplotted with archetypal narratives. In applying this notion, the Cultural Revolution in Chinese films can be seen as a work of literature that is emplotted into four modes of narrative: Tragedy, Comedy, Irony, and Romance.