The second important event on pre-1949 Chinese cinema this year was held in Beijing’s suburb, the Miyun Reservoir area, between Oct. 18 and 19, 2012. Once again, almost all the familiar faces in the field showed up with their research, representing a range of universities and research institutions across the globe. One difference is that this conference prominently featured young scholars of Chinese cinema, from recent Ph.Ds. to even MA students. According to the organizers, the China Film Archive and the Chinese Center for Film Art Studies, a selection committee was formed to screen all the conference submissions. Each paper, after its author’s name was erased, was read by an expert group to determine the eligibility of participation, a rare practice in Chinese academia. The result of this is a thick conference paper collection with many interesting or even groundbreaking researches.
From the very beginning, the conference highlighted the importance of micro-histories of Chinese cinema, or 微观历史 in Chinese, emphasizing the great benefit of digging for new materials and checking factual details. If you are a cultural studies scholar with a sole focus on textual analysis and interpretation, you would probably find yourself largely sidelined or marginalized. Several papers won high praises from veteran researchers, simply because they claimed to have discovered new materials about some filmmakers and critics, or have found new evidences that would lead to changes in dates and years in the writing of Chinese film history. This “micro-approach” to Chinese cinema is probably a reflection of a written history that is marred by factual mistakes and ideological prejudices. It could be also a backlash against theory-driven subjective readings of filmic texts, represented by the cultural studies approach.
Because the conference had many parallel panels, I was only able to attend three of them after delivering my keynote on A Girl in Disguise (化身姑娘, 1936), and these panels are: “Film Theory and Criticism,” “Interaction between Chinese and International Cinemas,” and “Studies in Individual Cases”. While there were some interesting presentations, I found Chen Mo’s keynote, titled “Rethinking the Banning of The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple,” most stimulating and refreshing. Based on a careful reading and checking of materials and evidences, Chen concluded his research by saying that the banning of this first martial arts film in modern China “is the result of a co-oped conspiracy between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party”.