A textual analysis of female consciousness in twenty-first Chinese women directors' films

Lara Vanderstaay (2010). A textual analysis of female consciousness in twenty-first Chinese women directors' films PhD Thesis, School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Lara Vanderstaay
Thesis Title A textual analysis of female consciousness in twenty-first Chinese women directors' films
School, Centre or Institute School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-05
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 248
Total black and white pages 248
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Abstract/Summary Despite the fact that women directors make films in large numbers in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), they have received little critical attention, often being regarded as being too small in number in comparison to their male colleagues to make their films worthy of study. Further, a considerable part of contemporary film research is concerned with industrial structures and political policies rather than analysis of film as a cultural and gendered text. This thesis therefore seeks to fill a gap in current research by focusing on a textual analysis of certain aspects of gender in films by contemporary Chinese women directors. The thesis examines how key textual elements of narrative, camera shots, costumes and settings contribute to the manifestation of female consciousness in six films made by women directors from the PRC in the early years of the twenty-first century. These elements have been selected because they are commonly recognized by scholars as the key elements into which film can be divided and they are among the most common tools used in similar types of film analysis. The films are divided into three groups according to the film sector of origin (see below). Each film is then examined individually and comparatively as a text in the broadest sense of the word with tentative conclusions drawn about cross-sector differences in the manifestation of female consciousness in film. Female consciousness has its source in feminist theory, however it is seen as being somewhat separate, usually as lacking the latter’s political element. Female consciousness is seen as being more appropriate for this thesis than pure feminist theory, as feminism is controversial in the PRC, being seen as a western concept with little relevance to Chinese women, and indeed most Chinese women film directors do not agree with feminism (Cui 2003: 172). The concept of female consciousness as used in this thesis is drawn from multiple sources, primarily feminist film theory of the British psychoanalytic school first established by theorists such as Johnston ([1973] 1999) and Mulvey ([1975] 2000). In using these theorists, however, I am aware of their limitations and the criticisms of their work by scholars such as Kaplan (1983), hooks (1999) and De Lauretis (1984). In the limited research to date which has been completed on women directors of the PRC, female consciousness has sometimes been used to analyse the films, by scholars such as Dai (1994, 1995, 2002a, 2002b), Feng (2000), Cui (2003) and Li and Xiu (1994). These scholars understand female consciousness as being visible in a text when the text is focused on women and their experiences and allows them to develop their own subjectivity and identity. This is the definition used in this thesis. This thesis identifies three sectors in the contemporary film industry of the PRC although it is in no way intended to be an industrial analysis of the sectors and how they function or are controlled. The first sector is the state run studio sector, in which directors are employees of the state and make films for a specific state studio. The second sector is the mainstream commercial sector, whereby directors work for privately owned film companies. The third sector identified in this thesis is the non-mainstream independent sector, in which directors make films independently of both the state and commercial film studios. Films from all three sectors are screened internationally, although films from the latter two sectors are the most well known outside the PRC. The second sector has only existed since 2001, when the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) allowed privately owned companies to make films on their own without needing to collaborate with a state run studio as they had needed to in the past (Reynaud 2003a: 37, Sun and Li 2008: vii). This thesis conducts textual analysis of two films from each of the three sectors. The films from the state studio sector are Shanghai Story (Peng Xiaolian, 2004) from the Shanghai Film Studio and Gone is the One Who Held Me Dearest in the World (Ma Xiaoying, 2002) from the Beijing Film Studio. The mainstream commercial sector films are Baober in Love (Li Shaohong, 2004) and Letter from an Unknown Woman (Xu Jinglei, 2005). The films from the non-mainstream independent sector are Fish and Elephant (Li Yu, 2001) and Conjugation (Emily Tang, 2001). These films have been chosen as they are among the most well known films made by women directors from the three sectors. Analysis using the selected elements of narrative, camera shots, costumes and settings found that they provided evidence of female consciousness being manifested in the six selected films. This manifestation of female consciousness contained important commonalities as well as differences in the films from the three sectors.
Keyword Chinese Film
Women directors
Women's Studies
Representations of women

 
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