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Filmic discourse on ethnic minority women in Chinese cinema: Womens liberation and national
identity in the Seventeen Years Period

A thesis submitted in partial satisfaction
of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts
in East Asian Languages and Cultures


Laura Damara Brown


CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................ 1
CHAPTER IV: THE WOMENS LIBERATION MOVEMENT .......................................... 19
Lusheng Love Song (lusheng liange, 1957) ............................................................................ 25
People of the Grasslands (caoyuan shang de renmen, 1953) ................................................ 33
The Dai Doctor (moyadai, 1960) ............................................................................................. 38
CHAPTER VI: CONCLUSION ................................................................................................ 45
FILMOGRAPHY ........................................................................................................................ 48
BIBLIOGRAPHY ....................................................................................................................... 50

llCu8L 1 CLnlnC C8Lul1S SLCuLnCL, !"#$%&' !)*% #)&' (1937) ..................................................................................... 26
llCu8L 2 A LAPu MAn LA?lnC A lLu1L uu8lnC A lLS1lvAL, !"#$%&' !)*% #)&' (1937) .......................................................... 28
llCu8L 3 A LAPu WCMAn LA?lnC A u8uM uu8lnC A lLS1lvAL, !"#$%&' !)*% #)&' (1937) .................................................... 28
llCu8L 4 CLCSL-u Cl ZA 1uC, !"#$%&' !)*% #)&' (1937) ................................................................................................ 29
llCu8L 3 CLnlnC C8Lul1S SLCuLnCLS, *+,-).+%# +& +&&%. /)&')!+0 (1931) Anu 1%)1!% )2 -$% '.0##!0&3# (1933) .............. 34
llCu8L 6 SA8LnCL L11lnC A SPLL, 1%)1!% )2 -$% '.0##!0&3# (1933) ................................................................................ 33
llCu8L 7 SA8LnCL Auu8LSSlnC 1PL vlLLACL8S, 1%)1!% )2 -$% '.0##!0&3# (1933) ................................................................. 36
llCu8L 8 llnAL SCLnLS l8CM 1%)1!% )2 -$% '.0##!0&3# (1933), !"#$%&' !)*% #)&' (1937), Anu -$% 30+ 3),-). (1960) .... 38
llCu8L 9 ?l LAl PAn SlnnlnC ?A8n Wl1P A uAl LCCM ......................................................................................................... 41
llCu8L 10 CCM8Au CAC Anu Al WAn, 1PL uAl uCC1C8 (1960) ........................................................................................... 42
llCu8L 11 A lLMALL LA uCC1C8 (LLl1) WLLCCMLS ?l LAl PAn (CLn1L8) ................................................................................ 43
llCu8L 12 ?l LAl PAn, Al1L8 PL8 MLulCAL 18AlnlnC, Cn PL8 WA? 1C A vlLLACL ....................................................................... 43



Filmic discourse on ethnic minority women in Chinese cinema: Womens liberation and national
identity in the Seventeen Years Period
Laura Brown

Master of Arts in East Asian Languages and Cultures
Columbia University, 2012

This study examines filmic discourse on women in three films from the post-
revolutionary cinema of the Peoples Republic of China from 1949 to 1966. It argues that women
representing the ethnic minorities or non-Han nationalities of China were used as significant
rhetorical figures, conveying both aspects of the liberated Chinese Revolutionary woman and
also the eroticized, primitivized Chinese ethnic minority. The image of minority women as
masculine warriors stresses their servitude to the Communist state and ideological
identification with the Han model Revolutionary woman. Unlike the de-sexualized model Han
females described by Dai Jinhua as the classical revolutionary cinematic mode, however, the
focus on the costume, dance, singing, and romantic affairs of ethnic minority women place them
as the object of a gendered gaze, underscoring the eroticized femininity of them and the ethnic
minorities they represent. Following the work of Dru Gladney on the building of national
identity and Louisa Schein on the positioning of Miao women in the context of culture-building,
I explore how the bodies of minority women in Chinese films produced in the Seventeen Years
Period serve as sites for the contradictory methods in which minorities are co-opted in the
construction of a socialist China and Han-centered national identity. Female protagonists in films
such as Lusheng Love Song (1957) People of the Grasslands (1953), and The Dai Doctor (1960),
however, are also endowed with athletic prowess, cunning, heroics, and ideological idealism on
level with and surpassing male counterparts. I conclude by probing whether the fact that minority
womens femaleness, a gender identity longed for by their Han counterparts, used as a function
of internal Orientalism devalues the seeming versatility and freedom it provides for its onscreen

For modern China, the first 50 years of the twentieth century had been a prolonged period
of turmoil and change. At the end of these five decades, national leadership was formally
assumed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which set up the Peoples Republic of China
(PRC) in 1949. This marked a new era of the modern Chinese national identity; Marxism-
Leninism-Maoism became the official political mandate that reorganized the countrys social
institutions and practices for the modernization of China as a socialist nation state. New internal
and external political challenges, however, still arose. Within the communist nation-state, the
influence of the Republican Party (guomindang, abbreviated as KMT) was still present, resisting
with military forces.
Outside the new Peoples Republic, the worlds political map was slowly
developing into the two Cold War opposition blocs. The new Chinese governments commitment
to Communism automatically put it onto the opposite side from most of the developed countries.
Its involvement in the Korean War, beginning in late 1950, further sealed itself off from the
entire Western world, and within the Communist bloc, Maos relationship with Moscow was
Within the precarious unity of the new nation lived more than 400 million people with
different ethnicity, languages, political loyalty, economic conditions, and religious beliefs.
Constructing a reassuring and empowering national identity became one aspect of the long-term
political mission to turn this immense amalgamation of different people into a unified

In the Seventeen Years Period, which began in 1949 and led to the rise of the Cultural
Revolution, filmmaking became a powerful new ideological tool. Art in this period was largely

lrederlck C. 1elwes, 14567689 :;< =>?@A9 6; ,B6;:C .A876D68:764; :;< 7BA <A856;A 4D =:?7E ;4?F9G HIJKLHIMJ (Armonk,
n?: M.L. Sharpe, 1993) 70-71.
lrederlck C. 1elwes 163-164.
lrederlck C. 1elwes 80.
dictated by Maoist cultural policy, and a major stylistic focus was Soviet-style Realism. This
period saw a boom in minority film production, films set in the north or southwest border areas
and which took newly designated Chinese ethnic minority groups as their subject. The magnitude
of the impact of the ethnic minority films was apparent not only in their sudden emergence in the
country, which had seen little ethnic minority presence on the silver screen prior to 1949, but
also in the sheer quantity and popularity of these films.

The identification of these groups within China as minorities and the recognition of the
Han as a unified majority played a fundamental role in forging a unified Chinese nation and
building a national identity. To create a national style, a logical place to start would be the
nations tradition and history. As Chinas political and cultural revolutions in its modern history
were essentially anti-tradition, however, traditional cultural elements were often deemed
politically suspect. When Chinese filmmakers discovered the subject of ethnic minorities and
the creative freedom that the official approval of preserving ethnic culture brought, it quickly
became a rich reservoir of materials for constructing a national style (minzu fengge).
As the
new Chinese national identity was officially established as a multi-ethnic one, it was the ethnic
minority subject, represented in particular by women, which was key in the creation of tradition
and local culture amidst Chinas vacillation between modernity and tradition.
At the same time, the archetypal image of the emancipated woman in films of this period,
what Harry Kuoshu calls the Socialist Revolutionary Super Woman, also played a key role on
the national scene.
The CCPs policy for womens emancipation was based primarily on a
Soviet model, defined in part by their participation in the work force. It was also revolutionary-

Zhang ?lng[ln, "lrom 'MlnorlLy lllm' Lo 'MlnorlLy ulscourse': CuesLlons of naLlonhood and LLhnlclLy ln Chlnese
Clnema," -?:;9;:764;:5 ,B6;A9A ,6;AF:L +<A;767EG &:764;B44<G 'A;<A? (Ponolulu: unlverslLy of Pawall, 1997) 94.
l wlll address Lhls Lerm ln greaLer deLall ln ChapLer 1wo, see Loulsa Scheln, /6;4?67E .>5A9C -BA /6:4 :;< 7BA
2AF6;6;A 6; ,B6;:N9 ,>57>?:5 14567689 (uurham: uuke u, 2000) 93.
Parry kuoshu, !6@B7;A99 4D OA6;@ 6; ,B6;:C 0<:=7:764; :;< <698>?96PA D6@>?:764; 6; 86;AF: :;< 7BA:7A? (. Lang:
new ?ork, 1999) 87.
based, inscribed by the official ideology of class struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. Dai Jinhua
notes that as part of Womens Liberation, the gender opposition and distinction between men
and women therefore disappeared and were replaced by class and political difference.
In The
Red Detachment of Women Soldiers (hongse niangzijun, 1961), for example, the protagonist is a
purified, female warrior who represents the ideology of merciless struggle. In films such as
The Song of Youth (Qingchun zhi ge, 1959) and Li Shuangshuang (1962), narratives focus on
sexual hierarchy to foreground various contemporary social and political issues in representation.
All of these films promoted, to varying degrees, female protagonists who are ideologically and
physically aligned with the ideal revolutionary soldier. It was the Chinese ethnic minorities as
embodied by the onscreen female who played the key role in combining the foreign concept of
womens liberation with Chinese essentialism into a unified national identity. What is of interest
here is the contradictory conceptions of these women in the symbolic or cultural sphere as well
as in the filmic circumstances that reproduce and maintain such contradictions.
The politics of Chinas liberation and modernization in the Seventeen Years Period is not
only of interest to the historian or the political scientist, but for the arts as well. National
restructuration of social discourses and practices in this period had long-term implications for
both the position of Chinese ethnic minorities and for Chinese cinema. By undertaking
interpretation and analyses of film and its relationship with the new structuring of national
identity and the promotion of womens liberation in the PRC from 1949 to 1966, I hope to
integrate a critical studies approach to the film text with a cultural studies perspective on cinema
as a social institution.

ual !lnhua, lnvlslble Women: ConLemporary Chlnese lllm and Women's Clnema," oslLlons 3:1, uuke unlverslLy
ress, Sprlng 1993: 238.

Beyond this introduction, the thesis will be divided into four chapters followed by a
conclusion. In Chapter Two I will analyze the relevance of ethnic minorities to the Chinese
national identity and to majority minority discourse. Chapter Three overviews the development
and characteristics of minority film production. Chapter Four will focus on the womens
liberation movement and its appearance in cinema. Chapter five will examine in detail the role of
ethnic minority women in three films of the period. The conclusion will gather the main points of
the prior chapters and suggest how analysis of the cinematic content of this period can be helpful
in revealing how the positions of ethnic minority women in Chinese cultural productions today
continue to play an integral part in the shaping of national identity and social discourse.


The translation of the term minzu, which I define as ethnicity in this paper, has
evolved historically in literary and cultural studies through the last half of the twentieth century,
including terms such as nationality, ethnic group, and race, a translation Chris Berry
promotes in his 1992 article on the issue.
Zhang Yingjin argues that this emphasis on
designating a singular translation has resulted in not so much a clarification as a conflation of
several distinct categories in Chinese film studies.
Louisa Schein notes it is useful to think of
minzu categories as positionalities, for much of the maneuvering that has taken place within and
around them has to do precisely with social and political locations.
Indeed, regardless of the
terminology chosen, the notion of minzu in the Seventeen Years Period was intimately
connected with the construction of national identity and the promotion of the Han as the majority
minzu of a multi-minzu China.
The designation of distinct minzu or ethnic groups in China began in the early 1950s;
in 1956, the original set of self-identified groups, numbering in the hundreds, was collapsed into
51 officially recognized minority nationalities.
Today there are 56 officially recognized groups,
including the majority Han. According to Fei Xiaotong, a prominent Chinese social
anthropologist, Chinese understanding of minorities was heavily influenced by the Soviet models
of Joseph Stalin. To be identified, each group had to convince the state that it possesses a
common language, locality, economy, or psychological make-up, what Stalin later called

Chrls 8erry, 8ace: Chlnese lllm and Lhe ollLlcs of naLlonallsm," ln Clnema !ournal, 31 - 2 (WlnLer,
1992), 43-38.
Zhang ?lng[ln, 81.
Loulsa Scheln, /6;4?67E .>5A9C -BA /6:4 :;< 7BA 2AF6;6;A 6; ,B6;:N9 ,>57>?:5 14567689 (uurham: uuke u, 2000) 96.
Loulsa Scheln, 84.
lel xlaoLong, -4Q:?< : =A4=5AN9 :;7B?4=454@E, (8el[lng: new World , 1981) 67.
To address the necessity of distinct majority and minority ethnic groups the formation of
national identity, we may look to Benedict Anderson. Anderson has led the way for a host of
theorists in suggesting that national identity is best understood as historically contextualized: a
socially constituted and constitutive process of imbuing imagined communities with the belief
that they are somehow naturally linked by common identities.
Minzu tuanjie or ethnic
unity, formed as a slogan in the 1950s to urge the countrys nationalities to come together for
the good of the country.
According to Schein, although there were extended periods in which
cultural difference was in fact suppressed, the overarching vision was one of creating solidarity
out of protected forms of diversity, and this goal meant the establishment of certain permissible
forms of difference, together with the occlusion of all other sorts of unruly heterogeneity.

These permissible forms of difference took the form of national style (minzu fengge),
which played a large role in the invention of culture, a crucial part of nation-state formation,
according to E.J. Hobsbawm.
Although the new proletariat national identity created by the
CCP was politically powerful, there existed the danger of it being culturally pale. The dominant
revolutionary ideology of the period had largely denied the cultural producers access to Chinas
traditional culture, as the large body of literature and arts from Chinas pre-modern history were
now scrutinized through the lens of class struggle and were often regarded unsuitable for the
contemporary needs of a socialist country. With this marked absence of the most important
reservoir of cultural materials, cultural producers in China adopted the image of ethnic minorities
as one of the major sources of inspiration during the Seventeen Years Period. The siphoned out

8enedlcL Anderson, +F:@6;A< 84FF>;676A9C .AD5A8764;9 4; 7BA 4?6@6; :;< 9=?A:< 4D ;:764;:569FG (London: verso,
1991) 30.
uru Cladney, 369548:76;@ ,B6;:C .AD5A8764;9 4; />956F9G /6;4?676A9G :;< )7BA? #>O:57A?; #>ORA879 (Chlcago:
unlverslLy of Chlcago, 2004) 231.
Loulsa Scheln, 72-73.
Pobsbawm, L. !., and 1. C. 8anger, -BA +;PA;764; 4D 7?:<6764; (Cambrldgeshlre: Cambrldge u, 1983) 4.
national style took the form of, as Louisa Schein calls it, ethnic minority surface features.

This included colorful costume and jewelry; embroidered scarves, pouches, and head-wraps;
songs and dances; instruments; and athletic competitions such as horse racing, archery, and
wrestling; all surface features notably appreciated but never performed by Han observers.
According to Jie Chen, with the state sponsoring ethnic culture development, images of
ethnic minorities emerged and flourished in literature, painting, films, music, dance, and other
performing arts during this time. She describes the Central Nationalities Song and Dance Troupe
(zhongyang minzu gewu tuan), Chinas flagship minority performance troupe, which was
established in September 1952 to introduce ethnic minority performers and their songs and
dances to the nation.
Local minority performance troupes were also established in various
ethnic autonomous provinces and regions, and the Central Nationality Institute was founded in
1951 to promote the involvement of ethnic minority population in the new nation.
painters also went to ethnic minority regions for inspiration and materials during this period. For
oil painting in particular, the Seventeen Years Period produced a large amount of portraits and
landscape paintings with minority subject.
The proliferation of ethnic minorities films during
this period was therefore only one element in a much larger system of cultural production that
was centered around the image of not only ethnic minorities, but specifically ethnic minority
The use of ethnic minorities to represent Chinas national style touches upon a larger
concept included in such terms as internal orientalism, internal othering, or oriental

Loulsa Scheln, 84.
!le Chen, naLlon, LLhnlclLy, and CulLural SLraLegles: 1hree Waves of LLhnlc 8epresenLaLlon ln osL-1949
Chlna," hu ulsserLaLlon, ueparLmenL of ComparaLlve LlLeraLure, 8uLgers unlverslLy (2008) 37.
Ma ?ln. ,B6;:N9 F6;4?67E ;:764;:5676A9 (8el[lng: lorelgn Languages , 1989) 29.
!le Chen, 34.
According to Laura Marks, writing about contemporary filmmakers within the
Asian diaspora, the concept of colonial fetishism, or what Partha Chatterjee calls oriental
orientalism, involves the seizing upon aspects of the colonized culture in order to maintain a
controlling distance from it, not only at the level of narrative content.
According to Chatterjee,
the objectification of the minority other and the majority self in China is a derivative discourse,
stitched from Chinese, Western (mainly Marxist and Morganian), and Jap ideas of nationalism
and modernity; the state is intimately tied to and in control of, and provides funding for, the
politicized process of portraying the other.
In Edward Saids terms, the state has turned its gaze
upon the internal other, engaging in a formalized, commodified oriental orientalism.
from Chatterjee and Said, critics such as Johannes Fabian, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Homi Bhabba
have skewered this fetishistic quality of colonialism decisively.
According to Gladney, constructing minority identities in this manner is directly related
to the identity of the majority.
In this case, at the same time that ethnic minority identifying
practices such as music, foods, and costume, were raised and adopted as the signifiers of Chinese
national culture, their adherence to these practices and lack of modernity was fundamental to the
idea of majority Han and Han unity, which was incorporated by the Communists into a Marxist
ideology of progress with the Han people at the forefront of development and civilization. In the
Communist portrayal, minority primitivity is contrasted with supposed Han modernity; the
Han were placed in the vanguard of the peoples revolution, and the minorities were induced to

Loulsa Scheln clLes LlLz, Parrell, and ulamond ln addlLlon Lo herself as scholars who have used Lhe
Lerm lnLernal orlenLallsm." She uses Lhe Lerm lnLernal oLherlng" ln "1he oLher goes Lo markeL: 1he sLaLe,
Lhe naLlon, and unrullness ln conLemporary Chlna," (+<A;7676A9 2 1996) 197.
Laura Marks, -BA 9S6; 4D 7BA D65FC +;7A?8>57>?:5 86;AF:G AFO4<6FA;7G :;< 7BA 9A;9A9 (uurham: uuke u, 2000)
arLha ChaLLer[ee, &:764;:5697 7B4>@B7 :;< 7BA 8454;6:5 Q4?5<C 0 <A?6P:76PA <6984>?9AT (London: Zed 8ooks for Lhe
unlLed naLlons unlverslLy, 1986) 10.
Ldward Sald, )?6A;7:569F (new ?ork: vlnLage, 1979) 6.
uru Cladney, 83.
follow the Han example.
Minorities become a marked category, characterized by sensuality,
colorfulness, and exotic custom, which contrasts with unmarked nature of Han identity. The
more primitive the minorities are, the more advanced and civilized the Han seems, and the
greater the need for a unified national identity.
The depiction of minority subjects in film, as I
will demonstrate, reaffirms these minority ethnic groups as a primitive subject, the target of CCP
civilizing projects.
This primitivization extends to the important role eroticization of the engendered
minority other plays in the Han construction of self. As discussed by Louisa Schein, at the same
time that nationalist ideology assumes that all national subjects share a certain essential character
(or, more likely, because it assume this), it also tends to police the borders of certain other
essentialized differences one of the most important being that between the sexes. Among
national subjects, sexual difference constitutes what Schein has called a site of permissible
difference. Not just permissible but sometimes, more accurately, compulsory: nationalist
ideologies are often predicated on notions of proper sexuality and gendered behavior that allow
little room for sexual dissidence. As Schein further demonstrates, nationalist thinking often
defines proper sex differences against an improper Other.

According to Scheins own research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the most
common characteristics applied to minority women was that of sexual availability and
promiscuity. She notes that at the same time, however, accounts such as this were attended by a
repulsion and repressive fear of the implied baseness and breaches of morality that made these
women so other.
The bodies of non-Han women were safely couched within a context of

uru Cladney, 43, 37.
uru Cladney, 13.
Loulsa Scheln, "1he ConsumpLlon of Color and Lhe ollLlcs of whlLe skln ln posL-Mao Chlna."#486:5 -AU7 1 1994:
Loulsa Scheln, /6;4?67E .>5A9C -BA /6:4 :;< 7BA 2AF6;6;A 6; ,B6;:N9 ,>57>?:5 14567689 (uurham: uuke u, 2000)
barbarian wildness where they could be both desired and distanced through the dispassionate
scrutiny of the ethnological gaze. She notes that juxtaposed with a number of scantily clad
(minority) male bodies, their otherwise provocative nudity shed its moral charge and was instead
euphemistically rendered as simply a more primitive way of life.
Like Schein, I will explore the
tension between conceptions of the Chinese woman and her dual Other the ethnic minority
Although her analysis deals with the image of minority women in contemporary China,
many of these images and ideas were first widely disseminated in films of the Seventeen Years
Period. In films such as Lusheng Love Song, A Horse Caravan (shanjian lingxiang mabang lai,
1954), and Victories in Inner Mongolia (neimeng renmin de shengli, 1951), minority women
could be both ornately and scantily dressed, could dance and sing for both onscreen and off-
screen male Han viewers, while still upholding the intrinsic spiritual virtues of good socialist
female compatriots. Further, in films of this period, distinctions in dress between Han and other
ethnicities are strictly maintained; ethnic minority men often wear tank tops or no shirts at all,
while minority women always wear form-fitting, brightly-colored outfits, which are often dresses
or skirts paired with sleeveless tops. This is in contrast to the onscreen male and female Han
characters that are usually clothed in Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) uniforms and doctors
coats, occasionally appearing in equally androgynous baggy button-down shirts and chinos. As
Gladney notes, the minorities are generally depicted in nature and dressed in costumes while
majorities merely wear clothes.
The enforced prudishness and controlled fertility among the
Han reflected in their androgynous and conservative clothing, as opposed to represented minority
sensuality, serves the states national project of emphasizing Han solidarity, civility, and

Loulsa Scheln, 133.
uru Cladney, 63.
modernity. It is because the construction of the Han identity is so tenuous, so questionable, and
the position of the Han superiority so insecure, that the portrayal of the other as sensual, immoral,
and barbarous becomes important.
Gladney notes in a frequently cited quote that, minority is to the majority as female is to
male, as Third World to First, and as subjectivized identity is to objectivized identity.
reveals his idea that representation of the minority in China reflects an objectivizing of a
majority nationality discourse that parallels the valorization of gender and political hierarchies.
Although it is tempting to extend this notion to create an overly polarized parallel dichotomy
between gender and ethnicity, the production of alterity, which Louisa Schein refers to as
internal othering, should be kept in mind when examining the unique imaginings surrounding
minority women.

uru Cladney, 47.
Loulsa Scheln, 23.

Prior to 1949, filmmaking in China had been predominantly run by both domestic and
foreign-owned companies and individuals, with various levels of control and censorship imposed
by the KMT, Communists, and Japanese.
In the years following the founding of the PRC, the
CCP paid extremely close attention to the workings of the film industry, quickly establishing
control over all matters relating to production and exhibition. Within a few months of the
Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) troops May 1949 liberation of Shanghai, the CCP established
the Central Film Management Bureau and the Film Guidance Committee to oversee film
production within Shanghai and the rest of the country.
By creating a unified body to take over
film production and regulate all forms of created and distributed media, the state took a much
larger role in peoples lives. Louisa Schein equates this to Antonio Gramscis formulation in
which, The state is no longer conceived as simply administrative and coercive apparatus, it is
also educative and formative.
According to Schein, it is this condensation that defined the
newly formed dominance of the CCP in peoples lives. Film production became another tool for
ideological dissemination; mobile projection units were set up in order to ensure the largest
possible audience for their films, including areas outside the major metropolitan centers. These
projection units rose in number from a hundred in 1949 to 522 in 1950 and 4,400 by 1956;
audiences, bolstered by the fact that batches of tickets were routinely given out to the work units
and attendance was mandatory, rose from 47 million in 1949 to 146 million in 1950 and 752
million in 1953.

Yomi Braester, in an essay which examines films produced in the Seventeen Years Period,

!ullan Ward, "1he 8emodellng of a naLlonal Clnema: Chlnese lllms of Lhe SevenLeen ?ears (1949-66)," -BA
,B6;A9A 86;AF: O44S, by Song Pwee Llm and !ullan Ward (Poundmllls: algrave Macmlllan, 2011) 12.
!ullan Ward, 87.
Cramscl's 8elevance for Lhe SLudy of 8ace and eLhnlclLy," ln Loulsa Scheln, 163.
!ullan Ward, 88.
notes that the political campaigns or, as they are referred to in Chinese, [mass] movements
([qunzhong] yundong) not only shaped politics and everyday life in the PRC, but also had a great
impact on cultural production.
Braester demonstrates that filmic conventions, including themes,
imagery, and intended audiences, took on characteristics of specific political agendas and
focused political campaigns of the period, including the Good Eighth Company campaign, the
urban restructuring of the early 1950s, and the liberation of Tibet in 1959.
These specific
renderings of history, along with war and government policies and campaigns, were further
supported by campaigns of criticism in newspaper articles, posters, and street postings.
Wang, who focuses on Seventeen Years Period revolutionary films (which depict the course of
the Chinese revolution before 1949), argues that the revolutionary cinema functioned as the most
effective apparatus in the Communist endeavor to build a mass political culture.

In her dissertation, Ching-Mei Esther Yau also profiles the types of villains represented in
films of this period, which include local and petty bourgeoisie, members of the KMT, Japanese
army, and American military, all figures representative of the major class enemies espoused by
Communist doctrine.
As she notes, the narratives in these films mapped out political
confrontations and social contradictions already laid out in Maos master texts. Harry Kuoshu
reiterates this theme in regard to ethnic minority films in particular, expresses the belief that they
were employed to embody the PRCs ideological myths, warning of the threats of foreign spies
and intrigue, promoting the idealism of the great leap forward in socialist construction,

?oml 8raesLer, "1he ollLlcal Campalgn as Cenre: ldeology and lconography durlng Lhe SevenLeen ?ears
erlod," /4<A?; !:;@>:@A V>:?7A?5E 69 2008:121.
?oml 8raesLer 122.
!ullan Ward, 88.
8an Wang, -BA 9>O56FA D6@>?A 4D B6974?EC 0A97BA7689 :;< =4567689 6; 7QA;76A7BL8A;7>?E ,B6;: (SLanford, CA:
SLanford u, 1997) 129.
Chlng-Mel LsLher ?au, "lllmlc ulscourse on Women ln Chlnese Clnema (1949-1963): ArL, ldeology and Soclal
8elaLlons," ulss. unlverslLy of Callfornla, Los Angeles (1990) 234.
rebuking class exploitation, and calling for class struggle.
This research all reinforces the
focused political and social function of films and their content produced in this period.
The style of film-making as a powerful new ideological tool changed rapidly after 1949, as
the CCP sought, in the words of Guo Moruo, speaking in 1950, to eliminate the poisonous
imperialist films gradually and strengthen the educational nature of the peoples film industry.

Art in the Seventeen Years Period (and continuing on in a more intensified form through the
years of the Cultural Revolution) was largely dictated by Maoist cultural policy. One of the most
important moves Mao made on this front was his 1942 speech on the role of literature and arts in
communist China. In this speech, he situated the audience at the center of the artistic process,
saying, The writer loses his primary importance, while the audience gains immensely in relative
status. The relationship is now defined as one in which the write serves the peoplethere is no
longer even the theoretical possibility that writers may be on the side of the masses and yet write
for a different audience.

In following, the major stylistic focus of films of the Seventeen Years Period was based
on Soviet-style Realism. This included the use of typical characters and events, an avoidance
of naturalism or critical realism (which, as Chris Berry notes, can often make films from this
period seem sentimental to modern Western eyes), and the emphasis placed on the writers of film
and scripts.
The White-Haired Girl (Wang Bin and Shui Hua 1950), for example, based on a
local opera performed in Yan-an during the war years, was an early model film that set standards
both for the depiction of heroes and villains and the adaptation of existing works. Operating in
similarly safe territory were two biopics of renowned communist martyrs Zhao Yiman (Sha

Parry kuoshu, 97.
!ullan Ward, 87.
8onnle S. Mcuougall and Mao Zedong, /:4 WA<4;@N9 X-:5S9 :7 7BA Y:;N:; 84;DA?A;8A 4; 567A?:7>?A :;< :?7XC 0
7?:;95:764; 4D 7BA HIZ[ 7AU7 Q67B 84FFA;7:?E (Ann Arbor: CenLer for Chlnese SLudles, unlverslLy of Mlchlgan,
1980) 16.
Chrls 8erry, Chlnese Clnema: CulLure and ollLlcs Slnce 1949," (Cambrldge: Cambrldge unlverslLy ress, 1987) 94.
Meng, 1950), about a woman executed by the Japanese, and Liu Hulan (Feng Bailu, 1950), the
tragic tale of a fifteen year-old girl killed by the Nationalists, which presented the new approved
version of the selfless female role model.
As Braester notes, in this early period, cinematic
inadequacies were irrelevant: what was important was the methods that were adopted to ensure
the audience did not miss the message.

Berry narrows the Chinese-produced films from this period down to six categories,
including revolution films, film about contemporary life, musicals, May Fourth adaptations, and
history films.
The largest genre, both in number produced and in visibility to Chinese film
audiences, is that of the ethnic minority films. Although ethnic minorities in China have never
amounted to more than around six percent of the total population since their designation in the
1950s, between 1949 and 1966, the film studios of the PRC produced 47 feature films with
ethnic minority subject matter.
These films took newly labeled Chinese ethnic minorities as
their subject, which included Mongols, Tibetans, and Uighurs in the north and northwest, the
Miao, Yi, Zhuang, and Bai minorities in the southwest, and Koreans and Manchus in the
Berry summarizes the reoccurring notion regarding the tone and content of Seventeen
Years Period minority films, noting that they generally fall into two categories: those focusing on
the hard northwest minorities such as the Mongols, Kazaks, and Uighurs, which feature
foreign intrigue and class struggle, and those of the soft southwestern minorities including the
Miao, Yi, Zhuang, and Bai, which feature happy, smiling natives and were more conducive to

!ullan Ward, 89.
?oml 8raesLer, 132.
Chrls 8erry, ,B6;A9A ,6;AF:C ,>57>?A :;< 14567689 #6;8A HIZIG (Cambrldge: Cambrldge unlverslLy ress, 1987) 94-
?lng Pong, \6; ]B4;@@>4 <6:;E6;@ 9B6 [PlsLory of new Chlnese Clnema] (Changsha: Punan melshu chubanshe,
2002) 63.
love stories.
This generalization is usually deduced from handful of minority films commonly
known in China today and most cited by scholars, including Serfs (nongnu, 1962) and Five
Golden Flowers (wuduo jinhua, 1959), along with Third Sister Liu (liu san jie, 1962) and the
musical, Ashima (ashima, Liu Qiong, 1964). and The tone and content of these films, however,
particularly the first two, do not typify that of the genre. Serfs, for example, is
uncharacteristically dark both visually and in its content; scenes depicting the abuse of Tibetan
peasants with little dialogue, heavy contrast and few cuts dominate much of the film. The casting
of this film was also rare; although Han actors usually filled most of the roles, including those of
ethnic minority characters, over 90 percent of the Tibetan roles in Serfs are played by Tibetans.

Five Golden Flowers, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is often cited as a soft film
that focuses on aesthetic excess, dancing, and songs, with only an indirect reference to
Communist movements like the Great Leap Forward (derived from its emphasis on communes
and production).
Writing on the film, which was instantly successful when released and is still
popular with audiences today, Jie Chen notes that because Five Golden Flowers was mainly an
ideological tool in the Seventeen Years Period, the beauty and spectacle of this film along with
its toned down emphasis on ideology was likely a main reason for its success.
In fact, even in
ethnic minorities films set in the south and with prominent focus on romance, dance sequences,
and elaborate costume, a complete absence of armed combat or conflicts between classes was a
rarity. Most films actually featured a combination of serious content including themes of
oppression, class struggle, and warfare, with lighter entertainment including romance narratives,
song, dance, and other elements of national style. The Dai Doctor, for example, focuses on a

Chrls 8erry, 99.
Chrls 8erry, 97.
Chrls 8erry, 97.
Chen noLes LhaL llve Colden llowers meL wlLh huge success when lL was released, Lhls success has conLlnued Lo
modern Llmes: ln 2003 lL was voLed one of Chlnese audlence's Len favorlLe Chlnese fllms (Chongfang Wuduo
[lnhua). See !le Chen, 72.
Dai village, an ethnic group mainly distributed around southwest China in Yunnan province.
Although the film opens with the palm trees and water typical of this soft minority setting, the
first major action sequence is the horrifying burning of the main characters mother on a stake,
accused by an evil local landlord of using magic to kill children in the town. Later, the house of
the protagonist is burned down, she is ostracized from the village, and her father dies. Despite
this tragic subject matter, the film still features multiple music and dance sequences, and a
romance between the protagonist and a Dai boy functions as a strong subplot returned to
repeatedly throughout the film.
As far as the appeal of these films, Paul Clarks theory of film as exotica, which has since
been criticized by Zhang Yingjin, asserts that Chinese cinematic interest in national minorities is
partially related to a cultural desire for the exotic. Since this desire has been gratified in different
degrees by the Western films in pre-PRC (1949) and post-Mao (1976) China, the national
minority genre is primarily a popular cultural repertoire that circulated between these two dates
when Western films were ousted.
Zhang counters that, taking into account the politicized
climate of the 1950s and 1960s, minority films functioned not as exotica but rather as an
effective means by which the nation-state objectifies minority peoples through stereotypes and
co-opts them in the construction of a socialist China.
This was just one of the many outcomes
of the construction of a new Chinese national identity.
As Zhang stresses, it is important to note that during this initial reform period, there was a
hierarchical/vertical mode of mainland cultural production charted by scholars like Louisa
Schein, in which privileged urbanites and minority elites monopolized cultural production while
rural folk and ethnic minorities were rendered as objects for exoticist consumption in a dynamic
described in Chapter Two as internal orientalism. This argument corresponds with Paul

aul Clark, 18.
Zhang ?lng[ln, 89.
Clarks notion of early ethnic minority films - they were, at the most literal level, material: the
human objects of the ethnographic gaze had no access to media technologies nor to circuits of
distribution. In this unilateral relationship, it was a basic premise that the represented had no
control over the means of representation, that they were muted if not distorted in the process of
their imaging by others.
It is important to note that until the onset of the Cultural Revolution, however, the climate
was protean, punctuated by periods of ebb and flow between the severest strictures of Socialist
Realism and the Anti-Rightist campaign (beginning in the late 50s) and relative relaxation; Julian
Ward, for example, notes the use of so-called Middle Characters in the early 1960s.
All these
trends, however, came to an abrupt end in the mid-1960s, by which time the film industry was
severely restricted and Jiang Qing, Mao Zedongs wife who had herself been an actor in
Shanghai in the 1930s, was lashing out at films previously considered anodyne, including Lei
Feng (Dong Zhaoqi, 1964) and Red Crag (Shui Hua, 1965).
This was the beginning of the
Cultural Revolution, marking a decisive moment in modern Chinese history; this is why the
period from the founding of the PRC in 1949 to 1966 is known as the Seventeen Years Period.

!ullan Ward, 87.
lor deLalls on Lhe fllms aLLacked by !lang Clng, see <hLLp://www.mornlngsun.org/smash/[q_fllms.hLml>.
!ullan Ward, 87.

Chinas attention to womens rights (nu quan, a term which also evokes womens power)
has, historically, been linked to larger political agendas. Public denunciation of traditions
oppressing women began around the time of the Reform movement of 1898 and attacked foot-
binding, infanticide, concubinage, womens illiteracy, their economic dependence, and social
Debates prior to and following the May Fourth Movement (in 1919) centered on
how outdated marital arrangements, restraints on divorce, illiteracy, economic dependence, and
prostitution victimized women. Thus, from the very beginning, womens rights and womens
liberation have been socially defined for nationalist purposes.
The CCPs policy for womens emancipation in the Seventeen Years Period, like earlier
womens movements in China, stemmed from foreign concepts. Based primarily on a Soviet
model, it was defined largely by womens participation in the work force; some of the details
regarding this woman work (funu gongzuo), such as the placing of women in production
groups and directions on administration of women as laborers and part of the mass, were laid out
in a decision issued by the Central Committee of the CCP on December 20, 1948.
womens emancipation and connected policies initiatives were therefore foreign concepts, they
were key to Chinas proletariat national identity in the Seventeen Years Period, to be digested
and indigenously rooted in order to benefit the internal renewal of the nation.
Chinese scholars in the last few decades have criticized the womens liberation movement
in post-revolutionary China, claiming it was actually a male-oriented concept which forced
women to occupy two gender roles: assume the responsibilities and roles of traditional women

Chlng-Mel LsLher ?au, 17.
Chlng-Mel LsLher ?au, 37.
but also become masculine warriors.
According to Dai Jinhua, it was also this male-oriented
feminism, the institutional integration of womens emancipation with national interests, which
robbed women of their subjective identities. Because equality between men and women
obliterates the difference and opposition between male and female, women ceased to operate
within the norms and role regulations produced for women by a male-dominated culture. Male
standards and norms (not the norms that men make up for women, but the norms and standards
of and for men) therefore became the only and absolute set.
Women, womens discourse, and
womens self-expression and self-inquiry, Dai continues, therefore became unnecessary and
impossible because mainstream ideological discourse had erased sexual difference. Chinese
women came to share with men a power of discourse, but it was a discourse that deprived them
of their gender identity.

By removing womens subjective identities, womens bodies became a social,
institutionalized language and an open space for cultural signification. In this vein, Yau argues
that filmic discourses on revolutionary history in the Seventeen Years Period and beyond
appropriated womens personal histories and rewrote them within the dominant historiographical
project, supporting the CCPs authority and its leadership in pursuit of social transformation in a
climate of social stability.
Chen Xiaomei addresses womens representation in the Chinese
model theater if this period and through the Cultural Revolution, noting that women in the
theater were often transformed into symbols and denied a sense of female agency; the narrative
of womens destiny, for example, became a signifier for the shared destiny of the laboring
According to these critics, while womens emancipation therefore acquired an

ual !lnhua, 239.
ual !lnhua, 237.
ual !lnhua, 238.
Chlng-Mel LsLher ?au, 264, 213.
Chen xlaomel, 238.
institutional presence and a symbolic significance, it came to serve a male-oriented, nation-
centered view of social order and progress.
The image of the ideal liberated woman, championing womens so-called equality with
men, was popularized in posters and other means of visual culture.
The visual representation
of the liberated woman was linked to Maos broader emphasis on physical education. This
dates back as early as 1917, when an article by Mao appeared in the April issue of New Youth
(xin qingnian) in which he extolls bodily strength as the precondition for developing the other
aspects of an all-around individual.
According to Ban Wang, in the Chinese context, the
discourse on the physical body was a metaphor for a vast concern for the bodily as well as
spiritual health and vitality of a culture.
In this context, Wang notes, Chinese women are again
either systematically written off or viewed as subjected to masculinization; the male soldier body
serves as a model for females with masculinity presented as a moral quality.

As noted in Chapter Three, CCP-produced films were highly valued as ideological tools.
Thus, beginning in the 1950s, examples the physically and mentally ideal liberated woman
appeared onscreen in a range of roles; most prominent was perhaps that of the female soldier.
Tina Mai Chen, writing on the influence of imported Soviet films and their female stars on
Chinese cinematic heroines of the Seventeen Years Period, notes that Han women soldiers were
often based on the Soviet model military role of women seen in Soviet films distributed in China
during that time. She notes that even aspects of Xiers character in The White-Haired Girl (bai
mao nv, 1950), who is not a soldier, echo those of the characters played by Soviet film star Vera

Chen xlaomel, 73.
8an Wang, 38.
8an Wang, 39.
Chen xlaomel, 266-267.
1lna Mal Chen, "Soclallsm, AesLheLlclzed 8odles, and lnLernaLlonal ClrculLs of Cender: SovleL lemale lllm SLars ln
One of the most well known films portraying women soldiers and dealing the subject of
women being liberated is The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun, 1961). The film
shows how Wu Qunhua, a woman slave, first has her body emancipated by the Party (through an
underground agent), and then has her narrow spirituality emancipated through her experience as
a woman soldier in a Party-directed troop; she learns that revolution is not meant for personal
revenge but for changing society. Model liberated women, however, werent just depicted as
soldiers, they filled all types of onscreen roles. As mentioned above, films such as The White-
Haired Girl and Song of Youth (Qingchun zhi ge, 1959) both feature combative, strong female
protagonist, and both purify their protagonists and intensify the class antagonistic exacerbation.
These women become bearers of Communist ideology and firm champions of the party, their fit
bodies serving as an embodiment of the female warrior figure championed by the CCP. As
Kuoshu describes it, the ideology of merciless struggle during those years of political unrest
reinforced itself by representing the equally martial figures, often in the form of women.

The 1962 film Li Shuangshuang presents another example of what Kuoshu calls a
typical socialist feminist narrative.
The heroine of the film, Shuangshaung, eventually pulls
her husband, Xiwang, into her ideological world, reinforcing the idealized new order of the
changed life within the Chinese communes in the countryside. In this film, Shuangshuang
presents a strong physical presence, working in the field and caring for her children, and firmly
supports both Communist ideology and the CCP cadre-initiated community projects. One iconic
scene illustrating the physical strength and endurance of liberated Chinese women occurs
during the harvest scene near the end of the film. A long take shows a group of women busily
working among the fully-grown crops, singing the films theme song, which occurs again near

Lhe eople's 8epubllc of Chlna, 1949-1969," ^4>?;:5 4D 7BA ,:;:<6:; $6974?68:5 099486:764; 18 (2007) 70.
Parry kuoshu, 93.
Parry kuoshu, 86.
the end of the film. When Xiwang and the other men come back from a business trip (and here
we must remember business was then considered a distracting endeavor that should be curbed
from interfering the agriculture production); a deep focus shot depicts a group of men on one
side of the frame watching a line of women walking into the distance on the other side. After that,
there is a close-up of the facial expressions of the three men one by one; they are touched and
feel ashamed.
According to Kuoshu, the editing of this sequence clearly puts the women on the positive
side of the socialist ideology. Looking closely at the sequence, one can infer even more about the
representation of these model revolutionaries. In this scene, which actually begins before the
men arrive, every one of the women shown in medium or medium long shot has either short hair
or hair pulled back into simple low-hanging braids. Further, they are all clothed in loose, high-
collar, and mostly long-sleeved shirts, with loose pants falling below the knees. This creates
silhouettes devoid of curvy, feminine features; in the brief long shot of women filing across the
field, their figures are barely distinguishable as female. They also sing happily, each carrying a
pole with two large loads of hay on each end. Although the sequence, including the mens arrival,
lasts only about two minutes, an array of shot angles and scales are rapidly edited together, with
cuts every 3 to 4 seconds. This sequence devotes special attention to displaying these womens
bodies, which are models of the androgynously dressed, physically fit, and ideologically aligned
liberated woman. He notes that the lyrical scene of women is intended to be educational: they
no longer provide the alluring visual traits embodied by American and European female film
stars, but rather they have been turned into purely symbolic entities.

Parry kuoshu, 87.
The model that these women create is one that the men, watching from the side, pale with
in comparison. Indeed, the narrative of the film hinges on the female lead character being more
progressive and ideologically in line with the Party than the male, demonstrating that Chinese
women on screen were elevated to positions of even greater physical and ideological purity than
their onscreen counterparts. Further, while both male and female heroes populate films of this
period, the archetypal villains, ranging from landlords to merchants to foreigners, are almost
never women.
By polarizing the divide between women and evil, these films further purified
their female characters, simultaneously stripping them of their own subjective identities.
Harry Kuoshu notes that even films that were used as vehicles to introduce and reinforce
socialist ideological movements such as social changes in the countryside, the process of
collectivization, and the need for a larger labor force, all worked in conjunction with the
ideological attack on the patriarchal family that prohibited women form participating in
collective production and social life.
The CCP-defined version of womens rights, represented
by the liberated woman, was thus a highly visible issue in nearly all CCP-produced films of
the Seventeen Years Period, including ethnic minority films.

Among Lhe approxlmaLely 20 mlnorlLy fllms l waLched from Lhls perlod, only one, -BA 3:6 34874?, feaLured a
female characLer wlLh vlllalnous quallLles. 1he daughLer of Lhe wealLhy landowner, she beLrays Al Wen, ?l Lal Pan's
love lnLeresL, Lhls beLrayal ls presenLed as a resulL of hls denylng her sexual advances. Per characLer's helghLened
fllrLaLlousness and sexuallLy ls slmllar Lo LhaL of Lhe upper class Shanghal female characLer ln #A;76;A59 ";<A? 7BA
&A4; !6@B79 (nlhongdeng xla de shabln, 1964), a revoluLlon fllm abouL a LA Lroop sLaLloned ln Shanghal and Lhe
clLy's corrupLlon lnfluences. 1hese aLLrlbuLes were usually reserved for upper class, urban women who had been
conLamlnaLed by forelgn caplLallsm.
Parry kuoshu, 86.
Ethnic minority films of the Seventeen Years Period were similar to other genres of the
period in their structure; their use of foreign, KMT and class enemies; themes tied to political
campaigns and agendas; and Socialist Realism stylistics including typical characters and
events, including the appearance of the model liberated woman. Some important elements that
other films of the period did not have, however, were beautiful tropical forest and grassland
settings, costumes, choreographed dances, music and singing performances, practices such as
embroidery and water pipe smoking, and, of course, beautiful women. While it is tempting to
write off these films as exotica meant to replace phased-out Hollywood fare, a closer look
reveals that these films create a much more complicated image of the ethnic minority female, one
which is integrally linked to national identity, womens liberation, and the complex positioning
of both Han and non-Han women in the Seventeen Years Period.
Lusheng Love Song (lusheng liange, 1957)
The first ethnic minority film I will discuss is Lusheng Love Song. The film, directed by Yu
Yanfu and written by Peng Jingfeng, takes place in a village made up of the Lahu ethnic group in
Yunnan province. The film begins after the CCP liberation, when PLA soldiers hiking through
the woods together with Lahu soldiers from the village are attacked. A flashback by an elder
Lahu men then cuts to one year before the liberation. During that time, members of the
Republican Party (Kuomintang, abbreviated as KMT) occupy the village and steal their livestock
but are run out by the villagers, led by a young Lahu man Za Tuo. Za Tuo then courts a Lahu girl,
Na Wa, and they fall in love. When the KMT mounts an attack, the Lahu men rally a defense and
send the rest of villagers away, including Na Wa. Before they have finished the evacuation, the
KMT attack, burning and ravaging the city and killing many women and children. Na Wa,
distraught, heads back to the village to find Za Tuo. On the way she is captured by a KMT leader,
but manages to trick him and escape. Za Tuo, who has survived, begins living in seclusion,
continuing to follow the KMT soldiers and periodically attack them, along with any other
soldiers he runs into. The CCP soldiers finally find Za Tuo and discover it is he who has been
attacking them; they convince him they are not from the KMT, and he is reunited with Na Wa
and the rest of the villagers.
In the film, the opening credits sequence runs over the image of palm trees over a blue
sky (fig. 1). This is accompanies by the sound of drums and flutes, instrumental noises which
reoccur during dance and song sequences later in the film. The use of introductory scenes
displaying nature and landscapes particular to a certain region was a common practice in these
ethnic minority films; similar examples can be found in Third Sister Liu, whose opening credits
feature a series of iconic Guilin mountain landscapes, Mystery Partners (shenmi de lvban, 1955),
whose opening sequence features a long pan across forested mountains, and Victories in Inner
Mongolia (neimeng renmin de shengli, 1951), whose credits run over a long shot of a large
grassy field dotted with yurts and horse carts. In addition, there is music that is shown later in
the film played on instruments by Lahu village members; Third Sister Liu also opens with the
protagonists memorable singing voice, which is featured several times throughout the film.

2+'".% H )1%&+&' ,.%3+-# #%V"%&,%G !"#$%&' !)*% #)&' _HIJ`a

Visuals of nature and the use of distinctive music do establish the setting of these films,
which scholars like Paul Clark point out were often a big draw thanks to their remoteness from
more centrally-located Han viewers. More importantly, however, they serve as what Schein calls
the surface features that characterize ethnic minorities as distinct from the Han majority, while
simultaneously serving as elements of the national style that represent the Chinese nation. The
iconic association of nature and forests with Chinese ethnic minorities is even repeated in
revisionist films, such as the opening descent into the forest taken by the main character in
Zhang Nuanxins Sacrifice of Youth (qing chun ji, 1985). By featuring the tropical scenery of
Yunnan Province in southwest China or the grasslands of Inner Mongolia in the north, these
films also reinforce ethnic unity, reminding viewers that these remote areas are, in fact, part of
the Chinese nation.
In the opening scene, Ah Qi, a village elder, tells the PLA soldiers that this day was a
Lahu holiday. This initiates the flashback into the first dance sequence, where there are a series
of shots all used to highlight the instruments, dancing, and elaborate costuming and jewelry.
There are several close-ups of men blowing large pipes (which make a flute-like sound), women
tapping on drums, and foot choreography (figs. 2 and 3). There are also longer shots and even a
high-angle shot of women performing synchronized dance moves in full costume, which
includes necklaces, earrings, and embroidered head scarves and dresses. This type of time and
attention devoted to costuming, instruments, singing, and choreography in village dance or
singing sequences is typical of nearly every minority film I have seen. Even Victories in Inner
Mongolia, which is set in the cold northern plains of Inner Mongolia and has a more serious tone
characterized by scenes of torture and hard labor, features a dance scene with ornately-dressed
Mongolian women performing for both the film viewers (often making direct eye contact with
the camera) and an onscreen wealthy landlord. What makes the Lahu distinctive in Lusheng
Love Song are these surface features, ones associated with entertainment, beauty, and the new
definition of national culture.

llCu8L 2 A LAPu MAn LA?lnC A lLu1L uu8lnC A lLS1lvAL, LuSPLnC LCvL SCnC (1937)

llCu8L 3 A LAPu WCMAn LA?lnC A u8uM uu8lnC A lLS1lvAL, LuSPLnC LCvL SCnC (1937)
In the first scene of the film, the group of cadres that travels through the forest includes
two Han women who are dressed, like their fellow PLA cadres, in western-style button-down
shirts, with chin-length hair pulled behind their ears, and they occupy the screen in a medium
shot with several other cadres. The first actual close-up in the film is a shot lasting nearly 10
seconds on the face of Na Wa, the female Lahu protagonist. Even in a softly lit close-up on her
face, her status as a minority is clear in her earrings and headscarf. In the shot, she looks up
directly at the camera, responding to the gaze of Za Tuo, slowly smiling, then giggling, the
turning her head bashfully towards her shoulder. Medium close-up and close-up shots of
womens faces that underscore their feminine features was an uncommon cinematic practice in
the Seventeen Years Period.
This type of introductory close-up on the female ethnic minority
character in response to an off-screen male onlooker is therefore an even more notable part of the
female ethnic minoritys alluring onscreen image, a depiction which was a manifestation of the
internal orientalism strategy of the new nation.

llCu8L 4 CLCSL-u Cl ZA 1uC, LuSPLnC LCvL SCnC (1937)
Before going into this argument, one must to delineate the visual politics involved in such
a discussion. Ever since the publication of Laura Mulveys Visual Pleasure and Narrative
Cinema, films which feature a female figure have been re-watched with an awareness of the
patriarchal power hierarchy embedded in the visual pleasure offered by such films. In that
milestone article, Mulvey argues that there are two types of pleasures that the classic Hollywood
cinema offers: scopophilia and narcissism. The former refers to the pleasure of looking at erotic
objects, and the latter refers to the pleasure that the audience obtains from identifying with an
image on the screen, a process similar to the creation of ego ideal in Lacans mirror stage.
Offering a male spectator as representative of the patriarchal society, Mulvey argues that both of
these pleasures contribute to the phallocentric psychological foundation of the mass success of
the traditional cinema. The spectators scopophilic pleasure comes from the voyeuristic gaze at
the female forms on the screen, facilitated by the dark and private atmosphere that the theater
provides. This enjoyment is uniquely amplified in the process of recognition and identification

1he offlclal culLural pollcy ln Lhe 17-year-perlod vlrLually removed all eroLlc deplcLlon of women from Lhe sllver
screen. See !le Chen, 79.
with the onscreen male protagonist, which provides the spectator with the fantasy of gazing at
the woman from inside the narrative as well.

Mulveys psychoanalytic approach to classic Hollywood cinema, though since debated
on many levels, made a major contribution to the examination of the political and psychological
roots of visual pleasure in traditional cinema.
Dai Jinhua argues that in the classical
revolutionary cinematic mode, perfected in the Seventeen Years Period, images of women were
no longer objectified by this male desiring gaze. A revision of powerful patriarchal discourse,
she argues, the gender opposition and distinction between men and women in these films
disappeared and were replaced by class and political difference. This suspension of desire, then,
was directed onto Mao and the socialist system.
Ban Wang cites exemplary films of this period,
noting that female beauty in them becomes an embodiment of the party, and that this, too, was
mixed with nature imagery linked with maternal figures of the nation and state.
Chen Xiaomei
even notes that in Revolutionary Model Opera posters, the physique of female dancers served as
an exploitation of the erotic to arouse patriotism.

Although the portrayal of Han female bodies throughout a range of media formats in this
period is complex and multi-faceted, in minority films they nonetheless serve as a model of the
masculinized traits of the modern Han woman, in juxtaposition with the feminine qualities of the
ethnic minority female, feminine qualities which work in coordination with other assigned ethnic
minority characteristics. Therefore, though different in its major themes and narrative pattern

Laura Mulvey, "vlsual leasure and narraLlve Clnema," *69>:5 :;< 47BA? =5A:9>?A9 (London: algrave Macmlllan,
2009) 6-18.
Caylyn SLudlar, for example, polnLs ouL LhaL Mulvey reads scopophllla from a purely male perspecLlve, falllng Lo
Lake lnLo accounL Lhe escaplsL vlewlng poslLlon of lesblan vlewers. ln Lhls poslLlon, she argues, sadlsm ls replaced
wlLh masochlsm ln order Lo access a pre-symbollc or anLl-symbollc experlence whlch escapes Lhe lmaglnaLlons of
Lhe paLrlarchal symbollc order. See Caylyn SLudlar, "Masochlsm and Lhe erverse leasures of Lhe
Clnema," V>:?7A?5E .AP6AQ 4D 265F #7><6A9 9 (1984) 267-82.
ual !lnhua, 263.
8an Wang, 133.
Chen xlaomel, 37.
from a classic Hollywood movie, Lusheng Love Song nonetheless satisfies the audiences visual
desire with its lush natural scenery, costuming, and beautiful leading actress.
The film draws often draws attention to natural scenery and actress beauty with longer
takes, creating a slower pace. This slow pace often corresponds with scenes that develop the
romantic plot, which, as I mentioned, plays an important role in nearly all of the minority films
of this period. In a musical sequence establishing her and Za Tuos romance, Na Wa stands in
front of a waterfall with Za Tuo, playing a flute then singing. Later, upon leaving him, she gives
him her ornamented head wrap as a gift. The repeated emphasis through close-ups on her
costume and alluring physical features and the inclusion of nature within the mise-en-scene not
only provides visual pleasure, it underscores minority sensuality and primitivity. In addition to
womens more ornate, form-fitting, or revealing costume, the practice of ethnic minority
traditions such as making embroidered items for a loved one created a stark contrast with the
forward-thinking uniformed Han PLA soldiers, reinforcing their civility and modernity and
serving as a function of the nations internal Orientalization.
Thanks to the influence of womens liberation and connected socialist ideological
movements, however, female characters like Na Wa do not readily fit into the stereotype of
vulnerable women awaiting protection and salvation by male figures in classic Hollywood
cinema. Rather, they are active participants in material production, social development, and even
physical combat.
Na Wa, for example, displays many of the characteristics typical of revolutionary model
woman like Li Shuangshuang or Wu Qunhua; her cunning, loyalties, and physical prowess create
the masculine warrior idealized by the womens liberation movement. In the scene when she
returns to find Za Tuo, for example, she demonstrates her physical agility and strength: first, she
climbs across a bridge that hangs from only a single rope. A long shot lasting several seconds
demonstrates the danger of this stunt, illustrating how high above the raging river the bridge
precariously swings. Later, after she is captured by the KMT leader, she leans over near the edge
of a cliff as if to show him a flower she is admiring, then forcefully pushes him into the water
below. She then pulls off her head scarf and fashions it into a rope, using it to swiftly climb
down the cliff. The danger of this stunt is again highlighted in a long shot taken from the side of
the cliff. Aside from an encounter with a tiger that Za Tuo experiences early in the film, this is
the only sequence that focuses predominantly on physical prowess. The attention to her physical
capabilities demonstrates that filmmakers in this sequence sought to emphasize Na Was body,
not for its traditional Lahu dress and jewelry, but for its ability to equal or exceed the abilities of
her male counterpart.
Perhaps her most important model revolutionary characteristic, however, is Na Was
embrace of CCP socialist ideology. In contrast to the male protagonist Za Tuo, Na Wa is
ideologically in line with the PLA soldiers from the start. At the end of the film, she convinces
Za Tuo that the PLA soldiers are their friends by playing for him a flute used in the earlier Lahu
dance and romantic scenes. In a low-angle close-up, the camera frames her face against the sky
in tense concentration. In this scene, as she slowly approaches him, a chorus of singers joins the
soundtrack, and the music bridges a cut to a giant festival, in which the Lahu villagers are
dancing, singing, and drinking liquor, happily surrounding Za Tuo and Na Wa and toasting with
PLA soldiers. Much as the film shifts between these two story-lines, that of the KMT resistance
and that of the couples love story, Na Wa shifts between two roles: ideological, physical
conformity to the idealized Han and the visually alluring otherness of the ethnic minority.
The film Skirmishes on the Border (bianzhai fenghuo, 1957) features a similar
ideological contrast between ethnic minority men and women; the male protagonist Duo Long, a
member of the Jingpo village, grows skeptical of visiting PLA soldiers and doctors and briefly
crosses the river to join the KMT oppositional forces. It is his wife who shows unfaltering trust
in the PLA and its doctors ability to cure her sick son. Both she and Na Wa have a strong
ideological alignment which, when combined with the scopophilic pleasure provided by their
feminine and ethnic visual characteristics, demonstrates how their characters are able to meld the
surface features of minority cultures with various socialist agendas.
People of the Grasslands (caoyuan shang de renmen, 1953)
The next film I will discuss is People of the Grasslands. Directed by Xu Tao with a
screenplay by Hai Mo, Mala Qinfu, and Da Mulin, this film takes place after the Communist
liberation in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Sister Sarenge and her father, both Mongolian,
raise sheep and live in a village where the CCP has already established cadres and an office.
Another herder, Sangbu, also lives in the village, and he and Sarenge fall in love and make plans
to eventually marry. A Mongolian in the village, Bao Lu, is hired by the corrupt landlord Lu
Shou Qing to sabotage the efforts of the villagers and the CCP officers; he secretly lets out
livestock during a snowstorm, then poisons the well so many of the villagers sheep die. Sister
Sarenge feels extremely sad about the animals death and doesnt want to continue her work in
the Communist Youth League, but the League director convinces her to carry on. During a
village festival, Sister Sarenge discovers that Bao Lu is a spy. She chases him down on
horseback and apprehends him, then brings him to the village elders and CCP cadres, where
Sangbu comforts her. The festival continues, ending with a speech by Sarenge about the
importance of the CCP and Chairman Mao in the villagers lives.
Again this film, like Lusheng Love Song, opens with a credit sequence set over scenes of
landscape and wildlife specific to this particular ethnic group, in this case a simple backdrop of a
yurt with several horse carts lined up in front of it characteristic of the traditional Mongolian
way of life. Its similarity with the opening credits sequence in Victories in Inner Mongolia,
which also features Mongolians, serves as a reminder that the settings, props, and costuming
became a visual tool with which to instantly signify an ethnic minority and place the film in an
already familiar socio-historical context. Because scenes such as this type of credits sequence
was used as a reoccurring motif, it became shorthand for visually conveying to an audience what
minority the film was going to focus on, simultaneously promoting key elements of the new
national style.

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People of the Grasslands features song and dance sequences corresponding with scenes
involving romance, nature, the ethnic surface features that create national style. Further, nature
is linked with not just the ethnic minority, but with the ethnic minority female: in this case,
Sarenge. The opening credits of the film are followed with an image of Sarenge posed in the
Soviet-Realist style: a low-angle, medium shot shows Sarenge sitting on her horse, smiling,
framed against the open sky and accompanied by upbeat orchestral music. This is followed by a
Close-up of sheep, then long, panning shots of the herds grazing in the surrounding grasslands.
Sarenge then gets off her horse and lovingly pets the sheep (fig. 6). This opening sequence serves
as an integral establishing link between Sarenge, nature, and wildlife. The films narrative further
reinforces this link: the death of many sheep in the herd later serves as the major psychological
blow and obstacle that Sarenge must overcome. She is therefore visually and psychologically
connected to her ethnicized setting.

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The narrative, however, not only connects her to her Mongolian setting, it also connects
her to the Communist Party. In order to help her overcome her sadness over the loss of the sheep,
Sarenge visits the Communist Youth League district chief. He suggests that she, in her work on
agricultural advancement projects such as the use of hay cultivation machinery introduced by the
CCP, should emulate the strength of the PLA soldiers who fought in the Korean War. The
narrative thus seamlessly integrates the promotion of CCP political campaigns and the success of
the CCP in regions such as Inner Mongolia and Korea with the individual narrative of Sarenge.
Her speech in the second to last sequence of the film visualizes the connection between her and
the CCP: after being introduced and congratulated for her noble work, she make a speech in
which she notes that, as part of Maos generation, she and her fellow villagers should work
for [the good of] everyone, ending with the words, Communist party and Chairman Mao.
She makes the speech standing on a grand podium, again shot from a low-angle lending an air of
power and grandiosity to her figure, and she is framed in front of the CCP flag and a large
painting of Chairman Mao.

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In this way, Sarenges character is similar to Qunhua in The Red Detachment of Women:
her personal story is, in Yaos words, appropriated and rewritten within the dominant
historiographical project, supporting the CCPs authority and its leadership in pursuit of social
transformation in a climate of social stability.
Sarenge also serves a one of the best examples of the Chinese female warrior. Like
many of the Mongolian heroines in the post-1949 period, Sarenge is equal to or even surpasses
men in her working abilities, sporting abilities, and fighting abilities.
She herds sheep with
Sangbu, and she wins an archery competition, beating several competing Mongolian men. In the
climactic action sequence, Sarenge first chases Bao Lu on horseback, then jumps off of her horse
onto his, pulling him down off of the horse with her. This physical stunt work is typical of that
seen in the Seventeen Years Period films celebrating the Han model Revolutionary woman, but
unlike her Han counterparts, Sarenge still enjoys certain overtly feminine aesthetics and

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In addition to her form-fitting Mongolian dress with beaded collar and linings, her head
scarf, and the use of several close-ups on her face, Sarenge also participates in a romantic affair
characterized by pre-1949 conventions such as sung duets, gift exchange, and scenic natural
backgrounds. All of these feminine qualities both satisfy the audiences visual desire and work in
coordination with assigned ethnic minority characteristics. The first shot of Sarenge and Sangbu,
for example, is a medium shot showing them riding horses next to one another and singing while
surveying the grazing herds. Later, she takes out a decorated cloth bag and shows it to one of
the sheep for inspection; we discover soon after that this is a bag she has embroidered to give to
Sangbu. The specificity of the landscape, the embroidered bag, and even the practice of singing
in film are by this time firmly linked to the backwards yet quintessentially Chinese
characteristics of ethnic minorities.
Interestingly, however, the final scene in People of the Grasslands is not that of Sarenge
framed in front of the giant portrait of Chairman Mao; rather, it is again an image of her and
Sangbu riding in the fields. In this final scene, he lovingly (and skillfully, considering they are
sitting on horses) wraps his arms around her as she gently and lovingly rests her head on his
shoulder. The camera then pans out for one final view of the herds in the expansive grasslands
before fading out (fig. 8). In fact, the convention of ending with a concluding romantic scene,
instead of a PLA military victory or picture of CCP comrades or Chairman Mao, is extremely
common in the minority films of the Seventeen Years Period; both Lusheng Love Song and The
Dai Doctor follow a similar pattern. It is because of these films clearly demarcated ethnic
minority characteristic that ethnic minority women are allowed these certain archetypically
feminine characteristics, including alluring garments and ornamentation, close-ups, and the
romantic endings, conventions all normally associated with Classical Hollywood Cinema.

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The Dai Doctor (moyadai, 1960)
The Dai Doctor, directed by Xu Tao with a screenplay by Ji Kang and Gong Pu, takes
place in post-liberation Xishuangbanna, a village in Yunnan Province populated by people of the
Dai ethnic group. A Dai woman accused of being a Pipa ghost and causing the death of babies
is burned at the stake. 18 years later, her daughter, Yi Lai Han, lives in the village with her
widowed father who runs a small store. CCP cadres have recently established an office in the
village, but Zao Ba, a wealthy feudal lord (fengjianzhu), tries to sabotage them by spreading
rumors about the CCP in the village. Ai Wen, a young Dai man who helps the CCP cadres in the
village, becomes interested in Yi Lai Han and begins to court her. A baby in the town becomes
sick, however, and Lao Ba blames Yi Lai Han, inciting the villagers to burn down her fathers
house and chase them out of the village, whereupon Yi Lai Hans father dies. Yi Lai Han is then
found by some PLA soldiers and taken to an ethnic minority womens school run by the CCP,
where she studies medicine. After she becomes a doctor, she travels to small villages in Yunnan
to work, finally arriving back at Xishuangbanna. She and Ai Wan are reunited, and Lao Ba is
apprehended and publicly denounced. The film ends with Yi Lai Han and Ai Wans marriage
As previously mentioned, The Dai Doctor contains scenes and subject matter more serious
than that of the previous two films in this study. In addition to reinforcing official ideology such
as class struggle, the film also tackles the CCPs more difficult and minority-specific political
campaigns such as the banishing of backwards native customs (fengsu xiguan). Much of the
cinematography matches the tone of this subject matter; the first 12 minutes of the film, for
example, are shot with heavy shadows and dark tones, even during daytime scenes. The presence
of this darker tone and more serious subject matter in a film featuring the Dai, a soft
southwestern minority, again challenges Berrys categorization of soft and hard minority
In addition, the issue of native customs highlights some of the difficulties the CCPs
ethnic minority policy was beginning to face by the latter half of the Seventeen Years Period. To
the casual viewer, the distinction between ethnic minorities harmful native customs and
celebrated national characteristics may seem blurry. In this film, the designating of Pipa
ghosts and the discarding of a second child when a woman has twins are both native customs
that the film identifies as evil and in need of reform. In a scene in which Yi Lai Han goes to a
small Yunnan village to deliver twins for a local minority woman, a village aristocrat dressed in
fine robes comes to take the second baby away. When Yi Lai Han refuses to give him the baby,
he tells her she is breaking their native customs. Yi Lai Han, now a modern CCP doctor,
responds, Your native customs need changing! Dai customs such as fishing, yarn spinning, and
playing musical instruments, however, receive several minutes of screen time and are
accompanied by upbeat music and smiling faces. Ethnic minority films therefore designate
backward customs by linking them to class enemies such as wealthy aristocrats and landowners,
differentiating them from the correct signifiers of national identity, ones that are often easily
conveyed in film through bright, colorful images, links to romantic narratives, and fast-paced
Another difficulty the CCPs ethnic minority policy faced was religion. As in other
minority films addressing this issue, Buddhism seems to occupy an unclear role in The Dai
Doctor. Lao Ba, for example, helps run the local Buddhist temple, and he along with a village
elder take all of the local Dai villagers offerings. The film later reveals that Lao Ba improperly
uses much of this money for himself, and the local CCP cadres along with Ai Wen and other
villagers publicly denounce him. In Nongnu a Buddhist temple is similarly taken advantage of by
local villains, who hide guns and ammunition inside sacred statues. Although one could say these
films posit the church as simply another aspect of ethnic primitivity, championed but not
practiced by the Han, The Dai Doctors lack of scenes featuring protagonists praying (leaving
most of these scenes to supporting characters), and the churchs absence from happy, narrative-
resolving sequences near the end of the film reveal that the relationship between the CCP and
religion is still a somewhat uneasy one, one that is notably absent from the depictions of
national style in media and print that reinforce the nations new identity.
Aside from traditional activities such as yarn spinning with large, traditional looms, a task
in which Yi Lai Han participates (fig. 9), The Dai Doctor makes consistent use of the
conventions established by previous films in the genre, such as the use of natural settings. The
film is set in a lush, heavily forested area of Yunnan, and trees and rolling mountains serve as
regular backdrops. The surface features that normally facilitate national identity and ethnic
minority status also include gendered costume and head wraps, singing scenes performed by Yi
Lai Han and other ethnic minority women in the village, and the appearance of monks.

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The romance scenes between Ai Wen and Yi Lai Han are similarly ethnicized. Courtship
activities include Ai Wen playing a flute outside of Yi Lai Hans home, Ai Wen putting flowers
in Yi Lai Hans hair, and Yi Lai Hans gift to her lover of a bracelet. Further, the flute tune,
exchange of gifts, and flower in hair all function as reoccurring motifs in the film, the last two
appearing again in the final marriage scene (fig. 8). The seamless integration of a romantic
subplot with designated ethnic minority characteristics again demonstrates the dependence of the
former on the latter.
Although Yi Lai Han and the other Dai women in the film serve as objects of visual
pleasure, wearing sleeveless, brightly colored dresses, and head wraps or jeweled ornaments
highlighted by medium and close-up shots, they are not the only ones with marked clothing. As
in other minority films, the mens dress and customs similarly serve as minority classifiers. Her
love interest, Ai Wan, for example, wears bright colors and head wraps, and he and other Dai
men are usually shown revealing much more skin than CCP cadres with whom they are
ideologically aligned. In one scene, he stands next to Comrad Cao, the village CCP cadre,
joining the Han officer to denounce the wealthy villager Lao Bas treatment towards a local debt
holder (fig. 10). Dressed in a long-sleeve shirt, Mao suit-style jacket, and PLA hat, all in shades
of grays and browns, Comrad Cao creates a stark visual contrast with Ai Wan. Both in his bright
colors and revealing shirt, Ai Wan demonstrates that, while ideologically aligned, the two men
are not equal. Ai Wan is part of a marked category, characterized by sensuality, colorfulness, and
his bare-skinned primitivity is contrasted with Comrad Caos Han modernity. Indeed,
transcending Mulveys male-centered viewing position, one may argue that minority men play a
similar role as an object of the viewers gaze, tapping into the audiences unconscious potential
for pleasurable viewing and imaginary identification.

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Nonetheless, in these films it is ethnic minority women such as Yi Lai Han who both create
the potential for visual pleasure while ideologically serving as the most consistently and strongly
supportive of the CCPs mission and its policies. In this film, the visual appearance of the Yi Lai
Han actually begins to show traces of her ideological conversion, reflecting her dual role as both
a model Revolutionary woman and one who maintains her minority femininity. In her first
encounters with female Han PLA soldiers and medical personnel, for example, Yi Lai Hans
head wrap and bright red skirt still create a stark visual contrast with the conservatively dressed
Han doctor, who wears a loose, long-sleeve Mao jacket and collared shirt (fig. 11). As the
narrative progresses, however, and Yi Lai Han spends a longer time out of the ethnic minority
realm (southwestern Yunnan), her dress reflects her civilizing at the hands of Han teachers and
doctors. After she has been fully trained, she no longer wears a head wrap or flowers in her hair
and begins dressing in a plain gray coat, also carrying a doctors bag. Unlike the Han women,
however, her coat remains open, revealing a form-fitting, patterned pink shirt and dark patterned
skirt underneath, in addition to accessories like earrings (fig. 12). Yi Lai Hans visual appearance
through the film reflects the fact that her transformation into a model Revolutionary woman has
limits. While she becomes educated and becomes the physical and ideological equal of the Han
doctors, she retains her feminized ethnic dress, romance scenes, and even jewelry. These
characteristics, although largely superficial, are all reflective of a specific engendered identity,
one that Dai Jinhua argues was removed from the Han female narrative in the Seventeen Years

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Because the gender identity assigned to ethnic minority women in films of this period
allowed for both elements of the liberated female warrior in addition to the presence of a
romantic storyline and overtly feminine qualities, it can therefore be interpreted as much more
progressive and diverse than the identity allowed for in Han female protagonists. Yi Lai Han has
the ability to wear colorful, form-fitting, skirts and tops and openly engage in a romance while
serving as a skilled doctor; indeed, ethnic minority women onscreen in this period enjoy a much
more diverse range of rights and freedoms than their Han counterparts. But while they were
allowed to embrace their femininity and individualized ethnic practices, this femininity and these
practices were not self-defined, rather, they were defined by the socialist framework of the CCP.
The agency that Chen Xiaomei notes was largely taken from Han women of this period in theater
and film of this period is therefore similarly absent from the narrative of Yi Lai Han and her
fellow ethnic minority female protagonists.


On the one hand, the issue of gender and representation in Chinese media of the
Seventeen Years Period has been productively addressed by Dai Jinhua, Ching-Mei Esther Yau,
Chen Xiaomei, Harry Kuoshu, and Ban Wang to name a few. On the other, the importance of
ethnic minorities to the formation of Chinese national identity has been effectively addressed by
Dru Gladney, Louisa Schein, Jie Chen, and Zhang Yingjin. What I hope to add to this debate is
an analysis of the specific ways in which these two important movements, national identity
formation and womens liberation, manifest themselves in the post-revolutionary ethnic minority
films genre, and, specifically, how they came to form a new, dialectic figure in the onscreen
Chinese ethnic minority female.
The proliferation of ethnic minorities films during the Seventeen Years Period was only
one element in a much larger system of cultural production that was centered around images of
ethnic minorities and the female figure, one which has continued to play an integral part of
Chinas national and international identity formation through the post-Maoist years and into the
21st century. In her article on the shifting constructions of gender and sportswomen in Chinese
athletic events, Susan Brownell writes about rejection of Communist body culture in the post-
Maoist era, evident in the opening ceremonies of the 1987 National Games and the 1990 Asian
According to Brownell, choreographers for these events instead looked towards the
realm of national tradition, which meant more gender and ethnic differentiation such as a
bamboo pole dance borrowed from a minority group and dance sequences with women in pastel
They also reintroduced minority sports (wrestling, horse racing, polo) which had

Susan 8rownell, "8epresenLlng gender ln Lhe Chlnese naLlon: Chlnese sporLswomen and 8el[lng's bld for Lhe
2000 olymplcs," (+<A;7676A9 2 1996) 236.
Susan 8rownell, 233.
been included in the 1959 National Games but removed in 1965 at the onset of the Cultural

Brownells illustration of how gender and ethnicity are used in these opening ceremonies
reflects the shifting yet important ongoing role that ethnic minority women play in the image of
Chinese national identity, a role that began with women in the Seventeen Years Period. As the
nation seeks to position itself in the global arena with a distinct and marketable national culture,
evidence of the perpetuation of the dichotomy between the eroticized engendered minority and
the Han majority has become more pronounced and widespread, spreading into the tourism and
entertainment industries, the national census, and even into the Olympic Games opening
ceremony in Beijing.

The split Brownell addresses between Communist body culture and the feminine and
ethnicized in the present day PRC also played out in the Seventeen Years Period. In that period,
however, it is the figure of the onscreen minority female that embodies this split; instead of being
relegated to an eroticized bathing beauty or smiling dancer, films in the Seventeen Years Period
partially bridge the gap between the Han Chinese woman and her dual other, creating women
who mentally embody Communist ideology, yet physically represented both Communist body
culture and the ethnic minority traditions framed as national characteristics.
Unlike female characters in many other films of the same period, women in films like
Lusheng Love Song, People of the Grasslands, and The Dai Doctor are not female equivalents of
the male soldiers, workers and cadres that are usually found in cinema of Seventeen Years Period.
They are able to engage in physical combat, perform dangerous stunts, Communist Youth
League Leaders, and even doctors, but their gender features do not have to be sacrificed in
exchange for their status improvement. Rather, the gender features are highlighted through their

Susan 8rownell, 234.
uru Cladney, 46-47.
costume, decoration, and behavior. These are women that are dressed in colorful outfits with
carefully decorated and distinctly female accessories, women that make embroidery for their
lovers and sing songs and play music for them. All these gender specific depictions of women,
which were taboo in most films in the Seventeen Years Period, are performed without disguise.
While these ethnic minority women were allowed to embrace their femininity and
individualized practices, they were not a self-defined femininity and set of practices, rather at set
defined by the framework of the CCPs identity building, unifying, and womens emancipation
political campaigns. Because minority womens femaleness, a gender identity longed for by
their Han counterparts, was and continues to be used as a function of internal Orientalism, the
seeming versatility and freedom it provides for its onscreen beneficiaries remained constrained
by this framework. China today regards itself as a multi-ethnic and multinational state a point
that is critical to Chinas representation of itself to itself, and to the international sphere. As the
binarized majority-minority structure is complicated by increasing amounts of ethnic minority
self-produced video and music and ethnic minority diaspora communities, the dialectic role of
ethnic minority women established minority films of the Seventeen Years Period has and will
continue to play a vital role in the representation of ethnicity and nation in the Chinese sphere.


Films discussed in this study are listed chronologically. Film titles are provided in English, in
Chinese pinyin and Chinese Characters. Each entry includes director (d), screenwriter (s), and
Studio (S).

The White-Haired Girl (bai mao nv)
d: Shui Hua, Wang Bin
s: Shui Hua, Wang Bin, Yang Run Shen
S: Northeast Film Studio

Victories in Inner Mongolia (neimeng renmin de shengli)
d: Gan Xue Wei
s: Wang Zhen Zhi
S: Northeast Film Studio

People of the Grasslands
d: Xu Tao
s: Hai Mo, Ma La Qinfu, Da Mulin
S: Northeast Film Studio

A Horse Caravan

d: Wang Weiyi
s: Bai Hua
S: Shanghai Film Studio

Mystery Partners (shenmi de luban)
d: Lin Nong, Zhu Wenshun, Zhu Wenyue
s: Lin Nong
S: Changchun Film Studio

Lusheng Love Song (lusheng liange)
d: Yu Yanfu
s: Peng Jingfeng, Chen Xiping
S: Changchun Film Studio

Skirmishes on the Border (bianzhai fenghuo)
d: Lin Nong
s: Lin Yu, Yao Leng, Peng Jingfeng
S:Changchun Film Studio

The Dai Doctor
d: Xu Tao
s: Ji Kang, Gong Pu
S: Shanghai Film Studio

Third Sister Liu
d: Su Li
s: Qiao Yu
S: Changchun Film Studio

The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun)
d: Xie Jin
s: Liang Xin
S: Shanghai Film Studio

Li Shuangshuang

d: Lu Ren
s: Li Zhun
S: Shanghai Film Studio

Sacrifice of Youth (qing chun ji)

d: Zhang Nuanxin
s: Zhang Nuanxin
S: Beijing Film Academy Youth Film Studio


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