Performing Warfare “For the People”: Chinese Imaginaries of the Enemy through Spectacle, Sound, and Poetry

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Performing Warfare “For the People”: Chinese Imaginaries of the Enemy through Spectacle, Sound, and Poetry
Stream: Cinema Studies/Film
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Belinda Qian He, University of Washington Seattle, United States (organizer, presenter)
Timmy Chih-Ting Chen, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong (presenter)
Lu Liu, Georgia Institute of Technology, United States (presenter)
Runxia Li, Nankai University, China (chair, presenter)


Amid the escalating divides and hostilities of today’s world, this panel seeks to problematize enemy-making and its leftist imaginaries in twentieth-century China. At the core of the panel lie a set of inquiries that urge us to think beyond the dominant 1949 divide in Chinese historiographies: Who were constructed as “the (Chinese) people” across time and regime? What/who was or has been the left(ist) as realized through the war in the name of people's justice in China? Is the notion of “enemy” enough to understand how we attribute meanings to oppositional others, through which we define ourselves and justify what we do?
Focusing on the Chinese song-and-dance film genre, Timmy Chen offers a compelling case of how the sight of dancers and the sound of the masses, respectively, became mobilized as both a target and tool for an aesthetic and ideological war in the mid-1930s. While also engaging cinema as warfare, Belinda He’s paper turns to a different war enabled by the interrelation between film experience and public shaming: an enduring one against class enemies, across the screen, courtroom, and exhibitionary space. Lu Liu’s paper proposes the 1950s campaign “the Elimination of Four Pests” as a playful combat in which the coupling of children and animals played a key role within the politics of enemy-making. As a counter-historical effort, Runxia Li’s paper explores how “underground poetry,” usually outside the terrain of literary concerns, shaped the hostile imagination during the Cultural Revolution. Overall, the panel shows how music, play, poetry, and moving images performed the people’s war with its legacies deeply embedded in contemporary Chinese political and moral imagination.