Cambria Press author Wendy Larson (University of Oregon) spoke about her new book Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture at the Cambria Press reception. This book is in the Cambria Press Sinophone World Series headed by Professor Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania) and the Cambria Press Contemporary Global Performing Arts Series headed by Professor John Clum (Duke University).
Below is a transcript of Professor Wendy Larson’s speech:
“I have been working on this book for ten years. When I first thinking about writing on Zhang Yimou, it was because of the film Hero. As you probably know, the film was extremely controversial. It came out and was widely criticized as being an apology for an authoritarian government as well as many other bad things. As I watched the film, I felt that it was more complicated than that, and I thought that wasn’t quite fair. So that got me into thinking about Zhang Yimou. I had done a little writing on him in the past. So I wrote an article about Hero with a different kind of argument and got a bit of a reaction–Nick Kaldis wrote a response–and I wrote a counter-response. But my idea at the time was to look at the way in which literature and film theorized the position of culture in China–not Chinese culture; that is not to say Chinese culture versus Western culture, or something like that, but rather how culture is structurally working at a time of transformation and crisis in China when there is a lot of pressures from globalization, from consumerism and capitalism, and there’s just rapid change in the information society going on. So, originally, at first I thought I would put Zhang Yimou in there as one person that I will look at. And then I thought I was so tired from doing the book before that, where I looked at so many filmmakers and authors. So I thought maybe I’ll just focus on one, and that will make it easier. [Hahaha] So I did focus on one, but it didn’t make it easier. The choice wasn’t that easy, but I looked at Zhang Yimou’s films and I felt that about half of them, maybe three-quarters of them, could work within my argument. So what I did really is not an auteur-type of study; it is not a study of Zhang Yimou that is going to give you his whole history, his biographical information, his every single film–it is not a survey. It’s really an argument about the way that the films are in themselves a kind of investigation into the way culture is working in China.
There are two questions I often get, so I’ll answer them now. Number 1: Have you met Zhang Yimou? The answer is no. I have not met Zhang Yimou, and that’s on purpose because I feel compromised when I personally know the subjects of my study and I think it is an unconscious thing that I slightly back away from perhaps some of the things I want to say. And that may just be me; it’s not every single person that falls into that kind of trap.
And the second question is: Do you like all of Zhang Yimou’s films? The answer is no. But I like enough of his films, which I think are interesting and I think sometimes they have gotten a bad rap. I’ve had many arguments about this, and that has of course brought out the contrarian in me, and I’m happy to argue about what the films are doing.
So, finally, I just want to say that I am really to be pleased to be able to publish with an independent academic press, and I want to thank Toni Tan and Victor Mair and everyone else who has worked who has worked on this. A lot of people worked very hard on this. I’m very impressed with the speed and quality of the work, and I’m really happy to have published with Cambria Press. Thank you.”
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Zhang Yimou has the reputation for being one of the most famous filmmakers of China, as well as one of the most controversial. Despite his stature among Chinese film directors, Zhang Yimou has not yet been the subject of a book-length treatment in English. Film professors who teach his films only have access to a relatively small corpus of articles and book chapters published over some twenty-five years. This book is the first attempt to remedy that situation by laying out not simply a biographical or empirical study, but a polemical argument that counters some of the critical trends in the interpretation of Zhang’s films. In this first critical study of films by Zhang Yimou in English, Wendy Larson plumbs the larger field of debate to suggest thought-provoking ways of thinking about the films and their relationship to Chinese culture. This is an important book for film scholars and for scholars of Chinese culture and history.
Title: Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture
Author: Wendy Larson
Publisher: Cambria Press
440 pp. | 2017 | Hardback & E-book
Book Webpage: http://www.cambriapress.com/books/9781604979756.cfm