Mengyun Zhang (KCL) - 2022-23 Students

During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), female bodies on and off the screen broke the political and geographical boundaries of Chinese films and was vital in the process of domestic cinema’s expression, communication and acceptance. They are the sexually attractive object, commodities bound with fashion and modernity and the camouflage that covers the films through the censorship. This study will analyse wartime Chinese films applying a new theory “cinematic female body” developed from body studies in sociology and art, which gives an innovative analytical method and answer to the common question “what is the national cinema” in the film studies.

During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Chinese domestic films showed four different styles and contents geographically because of the division of political pattern. Feature films in the occupied area, the rear area and the concession area have their diverse characteristics in narrative, theme and art, but similarly, the female bodies are an important and visible medium in the process of film’s conveying meaning, attracting and affecting the audience. They become a visual code, discourse, metaphor and even a knowledge system that can be understood and perceived effectively during the war. Based on outlining of the wartime Chinese films as well as their criticism, I propose a new theory, “cinematic female body”, which benefits from the body studies in the field of sociology and develops from Chris Shilling’s discussion of musical body as an innovative theoretical frame to analyse wartime Chinese cinema. This concept originated from my thinking about how and why the female bodies in the films can effectively become a common aesthetic, emotional and emotional code. In the analysis of specific cases, the characteristics of female roles in the film, the angle captured by the camera, the personal aspirations of filmmakers, the image of actresses shaped by the mass media, and the special political and cultural atmosphere formed by the war all provide arguments for the interpretation of it. The theory of cinematic female body could be artistic, economic, political, social, cultural or historical. Simultaneously, it is relatively concrete physically because it will be applied to re-examine Lili Li’s thighs, Yunshang Chen’s abdomen and chest, Xiaoyi Rong’s calf. Pierre Bourdieu’s study of masculine domination and Judith Butler’s feminist body research inspired me to think about how women are socially shaped, and my theory further highlight the tangibility and superiority of the film in the body studies on this basis because this will break the dualism of the naturalism and social constructivism in the sociology. Most of the films produced by Shanghai, Chongqing and Hong Kong in my research can be viewed online, and the rest can be found in Shanghai archives, Shanghai Film Museum, China Film Archive and Cinémathèque Française (France). Films produced by Avio Manchurian used association are scattered in Changchun Film Studio, National film and audio-visual cultural centre (Taiwan) and National Film Archive of Japan. I will also collect words and images related to the damaged or lost films, such as their advertisements, news, film reviews and criticisms. Dian Sheng (MOVIETONE)Dianying Zhoukan (Screen Weekly)Qingqing Dianying (The Chin-Chin Screen) are the most complete and influential film publications with the longest release time during the war, and their articles were predominantly written by film critics. All these texts are available online, such as CNBKSY and the database of late Qing and Republican Era Chinese newspaper provided by Stanford University.

Primary supervisor: Dr Victor Fan, KCL
Secondary supervisor: Professor Chris Berry, KCL

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