Transnational China Project Sponsored Commentary:
"Feminism, Film and Literary Culture"
Roundtable on Feminism, Film and Literary Culture
Sponsored by the Transnational China Project at Rice University and the
Department of Asian Studies of the University of Texas at Austin
September 8, 1999

Roundtable Participants:
DAI Jinhua, Beijing University
Yvonne CHANG, UT-Austin
YING Fenghuang, UT-Austin
Cindy CHAN, UT-Austin
English translation by Marshall McArthur, Rice University)

Chinese Text:
Simplified Characters (GB Format)
Traditional Characters (Big 5 Format)

Today is September 8, 1999 and we are happy that Professor Dai Jinhua is our guest at The University of Texas at Austin. Yesterday Professor Dai presented us with a lecture, but due to the limited time and because the lecture had to be interpreted into English, some concepts were not able to be discussed in great detail, and much of what Professor Dai presented was necessarily condensed. So today we would like to take this opportunity to ask Professor Dai to speak in more detail, although we would like this to be an informal discussion. Generally, we hope that today's discussion can be divided into three general topics.

First, Ying Fenghuang will ask Professor Dai some questions regarding interchanges in literature between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. We know that last year Professor Dai was a visiting professor at Furen University in Taiwan. During the seven months that she spent in Taiwan, Professor Dai gave various lectures across the island, and as a cultural observer, she is certain to have many valuable impressions. Ying Fenghuang might also have some questions for Professor Dai regarding the publishing industry in China and questions on academic journals there.

Second, Cindy Chan will ask some questions. Because Cindy is expert in Hong Kong cinema, she will certainly have questions concerning film from Hong Kong, China, and perhaps Taiwan. Professor Dai has given us several articles she has written, among these "A Sinking Ship in the Frozen Sea -- China's Film in 1998", originally published in the China Evening News [Zhongshi Wanbao]. This article definitely presents us with some interesting topics to discuss.

Finally, I will have some questions of my own, because in the past ten years my understanding of China's literature and of the state of intellectuals in China has largely been from secondary and even tertiary sources. So I have always wanted to gain a clearer understanding of the situation in China. I feel that my own situation is quite representative of the types of questions that scholars of Chinese literature here in America might ask. Now, I would like to ask that Professor Dai give us some of her own views, so we may begin.

Ying: My question is related to publishing. As professor Dai has emphasized the current trend in literature is towards popularization and commercialization, which makes the existence of a journal such as Read [Du Shu] in this landscape quite special. Could Professor Dai say something about how this landscape encompasses literary phenomena?

Chang: Ying Fenghuang's question is a broad one, and similar to mine, so I will go ahead and ask it. In the eighties, whether in China, Taiwan, or America, there was a craze and a longing for elite culture, which we may refer to here as elitism. My question is, what differences are there in elitism when manifested in literature and cinema? Yesterday Professor Dai mentioned that Chen Kaige wanted to film artistic movies while at the same time he had to satisfy various commercial demands. This situation caused Chen some insurmountable problems, and is an example of the negative effect commercialization can have on film. So my question is, are there similar problems to be found in literature? We do know of Jia Pingwa's Ruins, and other such works. I would like to know whether we can see traces of this in the field of literary production in the nineties? In academic circles it seems that different people have different takes. Some people think that we should close our doors and do specialized, long-term research, while others wonder whether we should not£s become more aggressively involved in the societal realm. So we would like to ask Professor Dai these two questions.

Dai: You have made Ying Fenghuang's question quite big.

Ying: You could start by discussing Read, which might be an easier question.

Dai: Actually, Read is the more difficult thing to discuss [laughs]. I will try, but this question is really difficult to answer. Let me start with the question of elitism. Actually, any term in any given place can be ambiguous. We frequently have a term that does not match the cultural reality. And I feel that elitism is a very fuzzy concept in China. In the eighties everybody said without thinking that it was an era brimming with elitism.

Chang: This was a pursuit of elitism.

Dai: That is right, and it was a type of intellectual self-conception. Everybody discussed this question to no end.

Chang: Perhaps in another culture their conception would not be like this at all.

Dai: In the Eighties elitism became a trend and formed an important component of intellectual self-conception, with the reasons for this quite complex. Let me cursorily say that I think the conception of elitism is based on two important elements. First is the worker-peasant- soldier- literature of the Mao era, a type of overriding, mass ideology. Actually, this type of ideology did not begin just in the Mao era, but was inherited from before. During the Mao era it became the absolute, mainstream ideology. Therefore, the anti-mainstream postures adopted by intellectuals of the 1980s took elitism as its primary rallying call. The second element also goes back to the Mao era, and this is the low, despicable image of the intellectual. Mao Zedong said, "The despicable are the smartest, and the noble are the stupidest," and also remarked, "Although the peasant's hands are black, and beneath his feet is crap, he is still cleaner than the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, and intellectuals". [Dai laughs]. Even worse was Ke Jinshi who said, ""Intellectuals are both lazy and low, if you do not beat them every three days your roof will cave in [laughs again]. You can see from the statements of the ruling circles the especially broken and low social status accorded to the intellectual. We have already reached a consensus of the role of the intellectual in the Mao era. When we think of the Mao era, we immediately think of intellectuals as repeatedly oppressed, harmed, and of their particularly despicable, low position. And this is really true, all one has to do to verify it is to read anti-rightist documents or documents from the Cultural Revolution and it is very clear.

But I feel that this conception actually covers up another reality. In the Mao era, intellectuals were actively made part of the organizational structure. And within this "equal society," intellectuals were in the higher income brackets, sometimes the highest. For example, at that time first and second tier Peking University professors on the whole earned close to what Mao Zedong made. Of course Mao had given himself the highest pay-grade, and nobody could exceed that. Nevertheless, at that time the wages of more renowned professors approximated Mao's. As compared to the approximately eight yuan a month made by apprentices and 32 yuan for workers, these professors made over 300 yuan, really quite high. So in terms of material wealth, and with the role set for intellectuals by the Communist Party of service to the Party and to society, intellectuals were actually able to move in a position of authority within society. I believe we have ignored and perhaps conscientiously covered up this peripheral view of intellectuals. More recently I have had a fundamental view that when discussing the 1980s in China we must take both the positive and negative aspects of each phenomenon and reference them back to the historical reality of the Mao era. People treat the Mao era as they would a debt or an inheritance. In most cases, we treat it as a debt, and when you pay off a debt, this is oppositional. With elitism in the Eighties reaching its climax, there were two aspects linked together. One was the low status of intellectuals in the Mao era, the other was that in the Mao era popularization and extremism repressed the development of elite culture. Given this situation, the eighties gave way to a kind of cultural fever. Yet, from the standpoint of the 1990s, the primary aspects of elitism in the 1980s do not seem elite at all. For example, "Scar Literature" is a complete extension of worker-peasant-soldier-literature; "Scar Literature" is a variation of this literature. With the exception that worker-peasant-soldier-literature was originally opera, this is clear. In terms of language, "Scar Literature" completely uses the characteristics of worker-peasant-soldier literature.

Moving a little further into the future, it is not until we pass "Root-Seeking Literature" and reach avant-garde literature that we can somewhat reach consensus of what might constitute a category of elitism. Elitism in films was seen a little earlier with the "Fifth-Generation". But in the Eighties, when intellectuals were able to successfully carry out their vision of elitism, to a large extent it was due to the fact that they had some status within the organization of the Mao era. It had been the case that all magazines, journals, film production units, and publishing houses belonged to the state, and were directly subject to state authority. But when state authority loosened up, intellectuals easily took control of these resources, and these resources became a powerful condition for intellectuals to express their voice. Intellectuals in the eighties believed that they were resisting and speaking of their own accord. Yet from today's standpoint, individualism was not a large factor, and they were all really quite similar. Furthermore, their own self-conception of being victimized and of resisting is quite hollow. This self-conception is reinforced by cultural and political setbacks in the late-seventies and beginning-eighties. These setbacks are very clear to us, such as the "Clean Up Spiritual Pollution" campaign and two instances of "Oppose Liberalization". In these instances, there were very few victims, and when there were victims, it was not as in previous years when they lost all and were stripped of everything.

For most people involved, it looked like dark storm clouds were pressing down, but the result was just a splash of water. Most interesting was that after the splash, these people's cultural and political capital increased exponentially. And this phenomenon solidified the conception that these people were risking their necks in order to rebel against authority. Why was there only just a splash? It was because the sharp clash between Dengist and Maoist ideologies was long-standing, whereas actual struggles to transfer political power are short-lived. Dengist ideology very quickly became mainstream. So, what actually occurred was that so called elitism and the discourses created by intellectuals all became the effective "practice" of the legitimized Dengism.

Elitism in the Eighties then, on one hand was an extension of culture from the Mao era, and on the other was over-engaged politically, so it cannot be said that it was elitism in a pure sense. Regarding art and literature, towards the end of the eighties there was a gradual pursuit and building of European-style art and literature. However, before this process had fully developed, the Tiananmen Incident erupted. This is how I see things. After Tiananmen, elitist culture took another disastrous blow. Because elitist culture had not developed and was rootless, it was seriously affected when political violence came on the scene. Upon entering the nineties, elitist culture was in a naked state. At this juncture two things happened, one was the influx of multinational capital that was first directed at Chinese elitist culture. The most obvious manifestation of this is in film. The first director to be discovered was Zhang Yimou, and following him was Chen Kaige.

"Fifth Generation" directors of artistic films all received sharp focus from those investing in making movies for the European film festivals, and became a cultural resource from the third-world which investors wanted to excavate. At that time in China, Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige found themselves in an unstable position. One facet of this was that commercialization did not lend itself to art films, while at the same time there was political pressure. After Tiananmen, this political pressure was directed towards elitist art. It was not a case of artists holding dissident positions or subversive behavior, but that the Communist Party had never been comfortable with unfamiliar things and the appearance of unfamiliar art. From the perspective of the Party, this type of unfamiliarity constituted a threat.

Chang: If I could interrupt for a moment, I would like to say that this is a very common phenomenon. I recall that when we were speaking about Taiwan literature, Wang Dinggou said that in the 1960s in Taiwan a result of the high political pressure from the Kuomintang led to a reciprocal pressure on themselves in the form of Modernism. The cultural cadres in the Kuomintang did not understand Modernist poetry and painting and did not know what was implied by the works of Modernism. Yet this was a government which wished to control cultural production. Much of the Kuomintang's fear of Modernism came from the sense of unfamiliarity, regardless of whether artists were in fact paid importance by the West. Actually, in Taiwan there were few such artists, and as for Taiwan's Modernist poets, they were totally unknown in the West. However, because the artists had a connection with the West in the sense of symbolic capital, one could say they were attached to the West. Therefore, Modernism posed a threat to the Kuomintang's local turf.

Dai: At the turn of the Eighties, officialdom had a latent fear of a connection between avant-garde art and the Western world, but once into the Nineties it became more and more clear that what was regarded as positive by artists was seen as negative by the government.

Chang: This is similar to Taiwan in the beginning, when criticism was more latent. That is to say, the West was a separate category. And this Western symbolic capital was at odds with the interests of the party, or at least in competition with the party. You are saying that after the Nineties this opposition was more direct. Actually, the West was using those same individuals to criticize China.

Dai: I have seen many discussions about the Eighties that totally ignore this factor. As I just said which pertains to the high level of intellectuals in the organizational structure, all of the intellectuals were within the system, there were no intellectuals who were more systematized than they were. The art of this period was art of the organization. For example, all of the "Fifth Generation" movies were state-financed. The amount of copies sold had no economic connection to the directors, and the directors did not have to worry about any commercial factors. All they had to worry about was the art, and this was great luck. This was unprecedented and could not have happened anywhere else in the world. This phenomenon took place within the socialist structure in an era where socialist consciousness governed incorrect positions. To take the state's money and make state films, one should have been making state propaganda. But because at that time state control over ideology slackened, the "Fifth Generation" directors landed a unique opportunity. They referred to it as "submit the script but make a movie," which meant they would send a script to the government and once the government approved it, they would make what they wanted. Of course they had the real script, though all of this would have been unthinkable in the Nineties. They were using this freedom as artistic food.

Chang: I have a question, you keep saying "Everybody thought they were intellectuals who suffered". Do "they" refer to discourse within China, or to intellectuals outside of China who knew less about what was going on?

Dai: I am not talking about outside of China, I am talking about the self-conception of intellectuals in China which continues up to the present.

Chang: And the image of suffering?

Dai: Well, they use all means of texts that unintentionally reveal this conception, whether in literature, film, or prose. If one were now to take a stroll to some Beijing bookstores, one finds big book counters related to anti-rightist and counter-revolutionary actions. The intellectual£r conception is evident from the titles, for example The Fiery Phoenix or Thorn Road, using such titles to make one imagine the difficult state of Chinese intellectuals.

Chang: In the Seventies such things were authentic.

Dai: That is right, but one must consider what it means to produce these things now; what it means to produce that history again at this time? I think it is an imaginary, the process of self-conception reproduced. If you refer to the actual history, you will find that intellectuals have continually been in these sad straits, and this can be verified by looking at Tiananmen. This was essentially a process of development for intellectuals within China.

Chang: I would like to make a clarification. Looking at things from outside of China, we do not always feel that Chinese intellectuals have the image that they project for themselves. When we speak of elitism, we do not necessarily have to use a definition that those intellectuals would give it. The salient aspect of your interpretation is that the intellectual£r conception of elitism has not been evidenced in art and literature. I totally agree with this view. In the nineties, before such aims had been realized they dissipated. And this situation is also applicable to Taiwan. In Taiwan, although there was no political equivalence of a historical episode like Tiananmen, elitism stagnated before it fully developed. Why? It was due to the development of Nativist writing, and after that the development of middle-class values and commercialization in the Nineties. So with people critiquing Modernism, and with the rise of a middle-class and with commercialization, those elitist things were abandoned with the turn of the times. There is a lag. So what I would like to know is whether the pursuit of elitism in the Eighties has left traces in the Nineties, with the focus on the Nineties. For example, Chen Kaige's Temptress Moon and similar works are obviously pursuing some sort of ideal. But because the roots were not deep enough or mature enough, artists ran into problems with the creative process. This is a question I am concerned with, because such elitist culture requires a substantial amount of time to develop, so is there really any such possibility of development? Also, are there individuals, whether from the avant-garde or "Root-Seeking" movements of the eighties who have continued this pursuit of pan-modernist art?

Dai: I will talk about that next. When I just now mentioned the influx of multinational capital, this has had a tremendous influence on film. Before the influx, the film industry had no way to survive, the industry was being squeezed by both government and by the market.

At that time it was said that all of the films that won international awards were poison at the box office, and that such directors would go to hell before anybody would invest in their films. But by the Nineties, with the exception of Zhang Yimou, all of these directors had gone abroad .... and once they did never came back, as if they had gone in a flood. It was at this moment, which I have just recalled, salvation emerged in the influx of foreign capital. Zhang Yimou at that time became the lucky-star of film because he allowed us to see a hope, a great hope. But judging from later materials, even before he made Red Sorghum Zhang was already extremely pragmatic, one might even say utilitarian. He never misinterpreted the significance of foreign capital, when most had illusions about the implications. Yet Zhang Yimou always knew clearly that if you were to win an award, it had to be at an international film festival. If you achieved this, it meant your film could sell in the West, and although this was a departure from the Chinese government and Chinese market, it was moving into the market of the European art world, which was a separate way of marketing. On the surface, it seems that that this offered a way out. We may call this the "Zhang Yimou method" and after Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, and Raise the Red Lantern, the "Zhang Yimou method" was extremely clear. I call it "The Iron Room". "The Iron Room" is Lu Xun's saying and it is a symbol of China that is an empty symbol: An old house. In all of Zhang's films there is an old house, and in this house an imprisoned woman, with the film narrating the desires of the woman. What is the advantage of such a story? On the one hand this fits the West's imagination of the East while at the same time it fits Westernized logic --- that of being peculiar while readable. While Zhang Yimou was achieving great success, Chen Kaige became a negative system of reference. Chen Kaige thought he would be able to enter America and enter Hollywood. Of course when it was evident that he could not, then he returned to film Life on a String. In this movie you can see Chen's struggle, and even though this is a terrible film, it is useful for seeing this side of Chen Kaige.

Chan: Is this when he had already finished making Farewell My Concubine?

Dai: No. Farewell My Concubine actually signified Chen Kaige's biggest compromise, and he was not struggling by then. I think that this was the influence of the Zhang Yimou method" on film-making as a whole. Are you going to make a movie? Do you want to survive? This was the only way, and it caused directors to make a shift. The most frightening example was 1993, and I have written an article titled "1993". What was so frightening? That year several things occurred. One was that all of the good "Fifth Generation" directors who were making films on contemporary, urban life stopped and began making films about the countryside, which were all like Zhang Yimou's rustic films. Allegories of repression, desire, and craziness cast in the space of a Chinese story. The second thing that occurred was related to literature. You could say that all of the better writers were "rounded up" to work in television and film. Everybody was busy making their scripts, with the first-rate writers working on film and the slightly less talented writers working on television. Even writers who did not write screenplays, including the better writers that we consider elitist or modernist began to change their styles. For example Liu Heng -- who I feel is one of China's best writers and has always been a modernist -- was working on a script called Always Daydreaming to be used by Zhang Yimou. Zhang Yimou was going to film this, and was going to cast Gerard Depardieu and Gong Li. Another example was China£r best avant-garde novelist Yu Hua, who had started to work on films such as To Live. To Live was Yu Hua's first transitional work and was immediately liked by Zhang Yimou. I cannot say that Yu Hua was opportunistic in writing such a film. But it is definite that as soon as Zhang Yimou decided to use him, a lot of money instantly came forth to buy up Yu Hua's world copyrights. Zhang Yimou not only provided a way out for Chinese directors and for Chinese film, he also built a bridge for China's writers, allowing them to come out into the world and be noticed in the West. Ever since the Eighties everybody knows the circumstances about the Nobel Prize. People became aware, and thought that the reason Chinese could not win a Nobel Prize was because outside of China people did not know Chinese. So naturally a shift towards getting things into European languages was needed. How could such a shift be accomplished? There needed to be notoriety and success. And so Zhang Yimou had provided a good road. This was another "round-up". In 1993 there was an ugly sight, which was the publication of six separate novels called Wu Zetian. Why six? It was because Zhang Yimou, without spending much money at all, had commissioned five writers to pen Wu Zetian. It did not£s matter the extent to which the writing was fiction, imaginative, or historical, Zhang Yimou simply instructed each of them write a novel titled Wu Zetian.

Chang: Did any of these writers know what the others were doing?

Dai: Some did, and some did not. When some of them found out what was happening, they felt insulted, like Ge Fei. But, if you had accepted payment, you had to do the work. Then there was the sixth writer who became extremely angry because Zhang Yimou had not hired him, so he wrote one of his own [laughs]. That year there was also a television miniseries called Wu Zetian, so counting that TV script, there were a total of seven.

Chan: Was this the miniseries starring Leslie Cheung?

Dai: That is correct, it was Leslie Cheung. So this phenomenon allows us to see the influence of the "Zhang Yimou method," which is not only cultural, or one might say a question of dominant cultural prevailing over marginal culture, but there is also an important element of control. This was the year that Zhang Yimou finally made it to the Oscars, but did not win an award.

Chan: Which year?

Dai: 1993, when Raise the Red Lantern won an award for Best Foreign Film. At this time, we can see the influence of multinational capital on so-called elitist culture. This is why I say that at this juncture Chinese writers entered a phase of writing for the sake of being translated. The most typical example of this is The Story of Qiuju. The original writer of this story was totally unknown, but after all of Zhang Yimou's script changes his The Story of Qiuju was published in book form and he became an important writer, somebody the critics had to pay attention to. This is a flagrant example of writing for money, and simply speaking this is the lure of money. And this force gave a shattering blow to the still undeveloped elitist culture. Another point, which is my own view, is that at this same time an important yet problematic phenomenon appeared. Around 1992, postmodern fever began, so postmodern theory began to be introduced and translated, but this translation and introduction was neither deep nor complete. And before this postcolonialism had come on the scene. But before postcolonialism caught on -- and I feel that comparatively speaking postcolonialism is more interesting and more forceful for discussing the Zhang Yimou phenomenon -- postmodernism arrived. Some cutting-edge critics began to use postmodernist theory to discuss Chinese cultural phenomena, which they did with resonance and power. I feel that the biggest problem with postmodernism, and perhaps this is not significant, is that critics began to use it to discuss and interpret the Chinese reality, but this interpretation was not of a critical nature, it was an interpretation of legitimacy. Prominent is that these critics constructed a cultural divide between the Eighties and the Nineties. I think there was a cultural divide, and this can be confirmed by Tiananmen. However, this is a cultural divide constructed by these critics, who thereby produced a cultural divide. They believe that the Eighties is modernist and elitist, and that the Nineties pertains to postmodernism and mass culture. What I can least accept is that these critics use postmodernism to easily judge failure -- concluding that in the Eighties those people were modernist and elitist, so they are failures, and we are now in the postmodern era. They use postmodernism to mock and give an accounting of modernism and elitism. Therefore, elitism not only lost its means of survival, its cultural significance was proclaimed as totally illegitimate. So I think that although elitism has left some traces, actual circumstances not only smashed elitism, elitism also had its cultural roots torn away.

Chang: This is something interesting, using postmodernism to critique modernism, as this has happened in Japan and in Taiwan. In pre-martial law Taiwan we have modernism, whereas in the post-martial law period we have postmodernism. At least this is the case in criticism, but not so clear-cut in the realm of creative writing. Perhaps we can separate critics from writers. If we do we might ask if there are still traces of elitism, or of elite culture and aesthetics in creative writing?

Dai: This is also a complex question. On this point, I think China and Taiwan are quite dissimilar. China's literature was originally intended to serve the people, as was criticism, which was also intended to guide literary production. Or one might say theory should guide literary production. This entailed that there was an intimate connection between criticism and creative writing. This connection can be said to be quite abnormal. In the Eighties, critics wielded great influence, critics could make or break a writer. In the Nineties, this trend remains. So, when critics and theorists began to discuss postmodernism and modernism went out of vogue, this had a tremendous influence on creative writing. There was another extremely important element, this was that postmodern theorists would regularly say that Chinese culture in the Nineties has a "loss of language", and I feel that to a certain extent this is true. Before the shock of June 4th, people did not know how to interpret, confront, or orient themselves. June 4th was indeed the rational outcome of the entire cultural logic of the Eighties. But after the failure of this cultural tragedy, how was this cultural logic to be re-established? For a long time there was a deficit. There was a deficit of resources and of language, there was an inability to speak.

But in total contrast to this we had mass culture and popular culture, so the postmodernist theorists could talk on and on. Some people say that here there was no "loss of language" and that on the contrary there were abundant voices. But I feel that in terms of the elitist culture, there was a period that experienced a loss of language. Returning to the topic of the journal Read, how was Read able to survive under these circumstances? For one, it should be observed that even with the circumstances of commercialization in China, there were no publishers or magazines that went bankrupt, all of these magazines and journals stayed in circulation because they still remained within the state system. Superficially all we see is the commercialization, but what was actually occurring was that commercialization was gradually becoming mainstream, and what was previously mainstream was pushed into the background. I often discover that such journals with a strong Eighties influence still exist when I thought that such things had disappeared. But currently such journals might only have a circulation of around 2000 copies, and in a place as large as China it is difficult to come across them.

Another reason that Read has survived is that in the 1980s it became a cultural symbol, basically the symbol conceived of by the elitists. What did Read symbolize? It symbolized the spirit of elitist Chinese intellectuals. So if after June 4th one could still say "Read survived", this was psychologically reassuring. With Chinese intellectuals making this a symbol and supporting it, if we subscribe to it and read it we then become an element of this culture. I think that with such colossal intellectual deficits, and the deficits of spiritual resources and the loss of language, people need new intellectual sources. After 1993, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown [laughs]. Part of this was due to both concrete pressure, which was the pressure from the wave of commercialization, because you start to wonder whether you can keep living and whether you are really too stupid to keep living. At the same time you discover that all of your knowledge is outmoded, that the knowledge and cultural logic you possess is incapable of interpreting the current buzz, and this is terrible. Before you find new resources you feel very frightened. After a brief interim, Read found a new logic -- Wang Hui. And before Wang Hui took over, Read had already begun to use a lot more writers from abroad, who introduced new theories, including problems dealing with the process of globalization. Once again Read became a window which provided new intellectual resources. After Wang Hui took over, this trend was augmented. This is a second reason that Read remained robust. A third reason was that under the circumstances of marketization, cultural status became a symbol, and culture became a symbolic resource. In the midst of commercialization, Read was an excellent sign of cultural status. It was this type of psychology that made Read able to maintain its status in the tide of commercialization.

Chang: Does Read represent any pursuit of elitism?

Dai: I think it does. Of course it does. In the Eighties it was elitist cultural image everyone was familiar with, so now we should say that it gives an intellectual image. By the Nineties, many more contradictions began to emerge, such as are we intellectuals of the institute, are we intellectuals of a discipline, or are we organic intellectuals?" This became a big question. At this point Read was an intermediary. If you published an article in Read it signified that you were an institute intellectual, while at the same time, Read was widely read and was a journal of social influence, so it was a also medium for entering into society. Perhaps this is an area in which other academic journals and popular magazines were unable to compare, since Read was in this intermediate position. It was not in the style of the institute, it was more informal while at the same time it had a high degree of academic writing.

Chan: *[Question not clear on audio tape].

Dai: That is another side of the question. Now you are getting me to paint a complete cultural trajectory. At the intersection of the Eighties and Nineties, there was a cultural rupture due to political violence, this was a natural occurrence. As this rupture developed, Wang Shuo became a bridge. Wang Shuo began writing in 1983, and he had a wide readership by 1985. But critical circles never paid him any attention. This was because he was not very elitist and wrote at the popular level so critics did not know how to deal with him. At that time his values for most people were still quite shocking.

For example, these types of values are expressed in Player. Wang Shuo was not discovered until 1987, up until then movie directors were a bit sensitive. Actually this was also a failed change. At this juncture directors felt they did not have to make fifth-generation movies -- Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige type movies -- and that they could make something different. In 1988 Zhang Yimou made his Code Name Puma, but these types of commercial films were failures. For those directors who did not want to make movies like Red Sorghum and Yellow Earth, they felt Wang Shuo was their only choice. In 1987 four of Wang Shuo's novels were adapted into films, and hit the screen in 1988. In Chinese film circles 1988 was called the year of Wang Shuo. If we make a careful check we will find that the directors who adapted Wang Shuo's films were all elitist. They all took Wang Shuo's popular texts and dealt with them in elite fashion. At that time, the female "Fourth Generation" director Zhang Manxin wanted to adapt Playing for Thrills. Most interesting was that of Wang Shuo's four adapted films, in three the main character committed suicide. But in Wang Shuo's novels, they had not killed themselves (laughs). The elitist directors of that time really focused on Wang Shuo.

After 1989, Wang Shuo was included among those who were the main objects of government criticism. This was because Wang Shuo represented commercial and capitalist ideologies, and with the rise of classical socialist consciousness, obviously he was criticized. But just as the government was going to criticize him on a large scale, Wang Shuo abruptly became a cultural hero. In 1990 there were two events, one was the shock of Longing, China's first soap opera which was quite melodramatic. That melodramas were in vogue was of course related to the trauma of June 4th, and Wang Shuo was one of the main engineers of Longing. The second thing that happened was the publication of The Collected Works of Wang Shuo. These immediately appeared at all the book stands and were best-sellers. Wang Shuo was the first local best-selling author.

Quite interesting was that while Wang Shuo's novels were very popular, at the same time he was liked by the elitist intellectuals; who all had copies of his works. Wang Shuo had made it his task to insult the elitist intellectuals, yet they really like his work.

Chang: Did Wang Shuo's novels have a negative influence, or some special influence?

Dai: I do not feel they had any bad influence. Wang Shuo resembles Zhou Xingchi in terms of being outlandish. Wang Shuo's uniqueness is that he mocks what is sacred, like having somebody use revolutionary heroic discourse while sitting at the Mahjong table, and this will make you die laughing. Most important is that everybody could vent their dissatisfaction for the government. That is why we can say that Wang Shuo is a true cultural hero. Everybody made him a rebel. This is to say, if we cannot make a straightforward attack, then we will turn it into a joke. After The Collected Works of Wang Shuo, he became one of the main planners of Story of the Editor's£r Office. In 1993 he established the "Seahorse Creative Center". This name did not have any meaning in itself, but it brought in China's most renowned writers. Here you can again see the submission of elitism to commercialism. China's best middle-agee and young writers were all honored to join the "Seahorse Creative Center". This was "Successful People" logic, and it was if under Wang Shuo's name things were thriving. In 1993 money again became the standard by which to measure everything. Actually, the main force behind the "Seahorse Creative Center" did not come from the elitist writers, but from a group of Wang Shuo's friends. One of these was Feng Xiaogang, who was quite representative. He had been a silk worker, and then became an art designer. Around 1990 he wrote two screenplays, one called Mishap with Passion, the other Da Sa Ba -- both very successful. This was followed by a large piece titled Beijinger in New York, and The Central Television Station mortgaged the station to the Bank of China to get a loan to film it. They used the loan to take the entire production crew to America, where the whole series was shot. This type of television genre was a great success when broadcast in China, It was a large investment but it was an economic miracle because the expenditures were all recouped, so at this juncture Wang Shuo was not only a cultural hero, he was a commercial hero as well. He had become a true "Contemporary Hero", a cultural entrepreneur [laughs].

Chan: Why were they so confident about filming Beijinger in New York?

Dai: I am not sure that they were, since it is possible that they could have filmed a different series on the same grand scale and it might have been a flop. But this money belonged to the state. The Bank of China put a lien on the Central Television Station, but is it really conceivable that the Bank of China was going to close CTV? [Laughs]. This is an important aspect of the Nineties, taking state capital and making it entrepreneurial capital, and then taking that money and converting it into personal capital. This became a common phenomenon at every social level, especially in cultural organizations.

Chang: Furthermore, state policy encouraged this.

Dai: At the same time there were some series about students abroad that were state-filmed, and these were flops. This was also state capital.

Ying: But in the Nineties, every work unit was supposed to be self-supporting, and so they had to think of ways to survive.

Dai: On the surface it looked pretty desperate because all of a sudden you were forced to make money. But if you consider things carefully, you will find that everything still came from the state. In just a day one could take every machine in a factory and transfer ownership to the factory, make it the property of the factory manager, or of the workers.

Chang: This situation was good for the publishing industry.

Dai: The publishing industry was one of the most successful. At the beginning of the Nineties, when the repression of Chinese culture was superficially at its height, the publishing industry slowly began to commercialize. This was done on two fronts. The first sign was evident at the end of the Eighties and flourished in the Nineties -- book vendors who were individual entrepreneurs. These vendors would buy the rights from publishers to manage sales. So the actual publishers were not making money, it was the distributors. The first channel here is the New China Bookstore, which is a state channel, they would get books from state-publishers and sell them. A second channel was to purchase books from book dealers or from state-publishers and sell them at bookstands. Bookstands were really an eye-catching phenomenon of the Eighties and Nineties. Whether in the big cities or in the countryside, there were bookstands everywhere.

Chang: Did these have an impact on the business in bookstores?

Dai: Yes, a large impact. The bookstore business became more and more bleak. And the bookstands were not underground either, they were marketing legitimate publications, it is just that their distribution method was very, very direct. This indicates that state-run distribution methods were a failure. The next development was the emergence of privately owned bookstores, which were mostly selling academic books. Given the large numbers of bookstands it was difficult for privately run bookstores to compete.

So, first privately run academic bookstores of larger and larger scales began to appear in the vicinity of Peking University, stores such as Feng Ru Song, Wan Sheng, and Guo Lin Feng. This was due to the fact that such stores had noticed the disdain booksellers had for the academic market. The managers of many of these stores had backgrounds of becoming victimized and unemployed after June 4th, and when they opened their stores, they received a lot of moral support. Furthermore, these managers were savvy in buying what people wanted. Given the situation of publishers being state-run, there was no real competition in the publishing industry. What was important was to observe the thinking of the book managers and see how they operated.

Chan: You just mentioned that Feng Xiaogang's movies became mainstream, were you saying that the style is mainstream, or were you talking about the technical and production aspects of his films?

Dai: I mean two things by saying mainstream. First is the cultural mainstream, or the narrative mode of the story. The logical aspect of the behavior of the characters gradually becomes a type of mainstream value. Second is that I feel if the Chinese movie industry survives, it has to be in a popular form. Now speaking in this sense of mainstream, I think that in the future if Chinese movies will be like this, then Feng Xiaogang is initiating a bad practice. Therefore, in a production sense, I cannot say that he is mainstream, and he is really not. The current mainstream is still the state-operated large film studio.

Chang: Yesterday you mentioned that the only talented people in films are still trained in the Beijing Film Academy. There, the standard for training directors is taken from European Art films and from American critical theory. Yet these directors still have to confront the development of the Chinese film industry. So how should the Beijing Film Academy go about training new directors?

Dai: This is an irresolvable contradiction for those who hold an elitist stance. For example, I am extremely clear that the style of Feng Xiaogang's films is the future for China, and a possibility for the survival of Chinese films. The Chinese industry must depend on this style of film to resist the Hollywood model, and not use the Zhang Yimou method. In this sense we of course hope to have more directors like Feng Xiaogang. But I really have to bite my lip when I voice my support of him.

Chang: Do you really mean to say that you do not want the places that train film makers to have a hand in bettering this situation? You mentioned that your article "Sinking Ship in a Frozen Sea" speaks to the bleak state of film. What role should education play in this?

Dai: I think there does need to be some basic training. This is my thinking although it clashes with my value judgments. I mean that a successful film institute is not really a place to cultivate artistic talent. Such talent has never been cultivated by such places. Genius is innate, and is created given favorable cultural and historical circumstances. Film institutes should foster the basic production techniques and the ability to narrate via cinema. Currently, the film institute is confronting the problems of a new period and problems of a lack of intellectual ability. Perhaps we are not teaching elegant artistic interest, but just teaching basics. In this sense, the only successful major the film academy can have is cinematography. Majors in directing, literature, and film aesthetics fall short. Why? Our directors all say very frankly: "We do not want to look down on commercial films, it is just that we do not know how to make them [laughs]. We do not know how to teach people to make such films since we ourselves cannot grasp the logic of them." So this is a conceptual problem, a question of value judgments, and a question of changing eras.

Chan: So have people in commercial films been invited to teach? And are the students hired by those making commercial films?

Dai: On the contrary, our professors are all drawn away by the commercial industry.

Chan: What if people were asked to be visiting professors?

Dai: People in film production would be delighted to have the honor of being a visiting professor at the Academy. But they are not willing to actually do it, so this is a big problem. In France, America, and even in Russia, directors often lead production classes. In China, it is impossible to compete to get the really excellent talent to participate in film education. Another problem is that we have invited some producers, and nobody knows why, but they cannot express themselves, and are really incapable of putting their production experience into words, and putting it into a logical form of expression. So students do not want to take their classes. However, the most important problem is that most producers are unwilling to come. This is because they have too many opportunities, and these opportunities all mean money and success. So coming to the Academy would be a great waste of time.

Chan: The Film Academy could offer courses in business operations.

Dai: The Beijing Film Academy has recently established a major called Film Management, and majors in this field are getting the best jobs when they graduate.

Chang: Yesterday Cindy and I thought that you were saying that the Chinese movie was a sinking ship, and still going down. But according to what you are saying now we are getting the impression the boat has already vanished because now people making films are only doing it for the money and as a commercial enterprise.

Dai: This does seem to be the Hollywood concept of film making.

Chang: The film industry is definitely going to be determined by the market. If one wants to have a film industry that can compete with Hollywood, then you have to make mass market products. With the national movie industry developing against the competition of Hollywood films, could there be any other route?

Dai: I am not sure, and I cannot make a prediction because there will be a lot of peripheral things that occlude one's original expectations. I agree that the film industry has commerce as its main objective, but I do not think that linking the film industry and commerce necessarily means the death of the Chinese film industry. Factors in the decline of the Chinese movie include a combination of all types of powerful organizations, for example the system of official censorship and Hollywood. But this does not mean there can be no change and resistance. The Chinese movie used to exist in a sealed system, but upon opening up it must change. And how has it changed? What form of change is there? Currently the change is a disastrous one that is destroying it.

Chang: Well, if we take television for example, most people really do not want to import television and would prefer local products. This is the Feng Xiaogang style, and shares the logic of movies about the lives of city dwellers. Perhaps when the local products reach a certain standard, then people would prefer to watch these types of things.

Dai: Last time I did mention an important factor, that China has 800,000,000 peasants, which is a large number and a huge movie market. In the village markets people do not watch Hollywood movies, and much less watch the films of Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, so there are really too few films made to reach the rural market.

Chang: I grew up in Taiwan, and there Hollywood films basically held a dominant position. People who received higher education did not really watch local movies. So why did the production of local movies continue? They still had an audience and some market, so what you mentioned is one hope. But could we discuss another topic? Could we talk a little about gender studies and questions related to feminist movements?

Ying: If you could say something about this in literary circles.

Dai: In the Nineties, at the surface level, there was another wave of feminist literary creation. As everybody knows, the turn of the seventies and beginning of the eighties was a flourishing period for women writers. The Nineties was another flourishing period when feminist writers emerged one after another. However, I do not feel that this period was so simple. We just discussed that Wang Shuo was a transitional figure, actually Chen Ran was another. Chen Ran begin to write in the mid- and late Eighties, and her main collected works are contemporaneous with Yu Hua, although Chen Ran's work did not attract any attention whatsoever. Chen Ran's writings express something different than the gender characters in other fiction of the eighties. Hers have a strong gender consciousness, and a second characteristic is that her work is very individualized and she never writes about China in a political or historical context. Chen Ran's works in my opinion are an attempt at self-negation, but she is unable self-negate her memoirs of lesbian intent. She is obviously a lesbian, but confronted by the pressure of the current culture is unable to acknowledge it, even to the point of being unable to admit it to herself. So of course this type of work would not have received attention in the Eighties. In the Nineties, one of her novels was published and became a bestseller, quickly giving her a large readership of urban youth. In 1991 and 1992, there was a "Chen Ran Fever", and she was voted first by readers in a selection of the most outstanding writers. Literary critics at that time also praised her. There were two journals of literary criticism which ran exclusive issues on her. Most interesting is that all of these critics were men. Every male critic had their own text of Freud so they could explicate Chen Ran [laughs]. Actually, Chen Ran herself was a member of the International Association of Psychoanalytical Criticism [laughs]. Her novels were constructed with a psychoanalytical frame of mind, and were not just psychoanalytical in the minds of critics. I think that at this time feminist individualized writing, feminist autobiographical writing, and one might say feminist resistance writing was exploited and taken advantage of. "Individualized" writing later became a specific term to discuss Nineties writing. Actually, this was an unexpected cultural strategy in the transition from political and social crisis. It is as if everybody reached consensus to have a tacit understanding to take social tragedy and turn it into a tragedy of destiny. This makes it easier for us to explicate and easier to accept things. For example, it allows us to blame life's misfortunes on our childhood scars, and not on the Cultural Revolution or June 4th.

Chang: This is also true of Taiwan in the last thirty or forty years. Individualization.

Dai: However, before this period China relied on the traditional Socialist narrative, everything was social tragedy, individual fates were determined by society and by history.

Chang: What was the reason for individualization? In Taiwan after 1949, it was necessary to use this method to transform the residual "poison" of mainland writers who had been exposed to leftist ideology, so this is a classic example.

Dai: In China we were a little late, but we also have a need to get rid of the poison.

Chang: When I look at writers from the Fifties I can see this point, for example Lin Haiyin's Memories of Peking: Southside Stories. This type of writing is the same strand evident in China in the Thirties and Forties, it is just that they give it a different interpretation. For example, Zhu Xining's At Dawn and similar writings have to be seen with a child's eye; if you individualize such things, there is no danger.

Ying: The writers you are referring to have different backgrounds than what Professor Dai is referring to, at that time Chen Ran did not have any danger to speak of.

Dai: How can we say that there is no danger to speak of? After June 4th it was very dangerous. You have just asked where did this individualization come from? It is not so simple a case that because one could not talk about June 4th they spoke of the individual. Actually June 4th shattered China's last communal dream, which was demanding that in China socialist democracy be completed, and to have democracy in China. After June 4th, people saw the ruthlessness of the government, and the so-called elitists had nothing to rely on. To put it bluntly, hope for government solutions was bankrupt. At this time, to use Wang Shuo's phrase, your only choice was to save yourself or help each other. This is to say that if at that time you had no hope, all you could do was come back to yourself. At this juncture commercialization intended to establish individualist culture, which had never taken root in China. In this sense, individualism and individualist culture became linked with psychoanalysis. In the Eighties, a lot of Freudian theory was introduced, and everybody accepted this as a new thing. However, it seemed that there was no place to apply these tools. Of course, some people did joke about using psychoanalytical theory to explicate the model operas (revolutionary art) [laughs]. But in the Nineties, the theory found a playing field. If you carefully research the literature of the Nineties, you will find that not only female writers have this element of individualization. In the Nineties a group of people born in the sixties emerged who evidenced a cultural phenomenon, I call it the development of revolutionary childhood memories. They used the eyes of children to view the Cultural Revolution. These writers really were children in that era who would have been in elementary or middle school. For example, a way that Chen Ran deals with the Cultural Revolution in her novel is to use the example of Nixon visiting China, seen in her depiction of a young girl's internal pressure. The girl's parents are getting divorced, and she is always depressed. In class her teacher tells her that we have never been obsequious to the Americans. Of course all of the students asked what obsequious meant. So the teacher told the girl, "Stand up.". The girl stood up and the teacher said, "That is obsequious" [laughs]. So that is the only act of the Cultural Revolution the girl gets to see. What is interesting is that the critics only speak of individualization when discussing women authors but not men. I feel that this indeed encapsulates a gender strategy. This is to say, Chen Ran wants to quickly bring women writers back to the social scene. It takes the subversion and resistance of women's writing and changes it into some other cultural construction.

Ying: What does "It" refer to?

Dai: "It" refers to male critics and represents the perspective of male authority. I have had some conversations with a male critic named Wang Gan. You all might think that our dialogue is naive, that the topic is naive, but I really cherish this dialogue, because I have an opportunity to hear men speak what is on their mind. Wang came straight out and said, "Why do women want to get involved with society, why do they want to write about society this way; they cannot write about society better than men." They say this kind of thing so bluntly. Another thing, quite clear from my conversation with him was his saying, "Okay, so we objectify women."

Moving women out of the public space into a private one. Chen Ran has a novel titled "Private Space", in which she drives women out. Something else she does is to take women's own sexual mind and the writing of their own experience of growing up and turns this into a baring of self, an object of peeping male lust. I believe this is a particularly obvious strategy that is becoming more and more apparent. Then they quickly feel that Chen Ran is not worth applause, but Lin Bai is. Lin Bai's novel One Person's War begins by relating the experience of a young girl's£r masturbation, and ends with her selling out her own marriage. In between the novel relates how she gets pregnant out of wedlock, has a miscarriage, this sort of experience. At one level of meaning, this novel subverts a male-dominated society. However, male critics really welcome this work, and enthusiastically explicate it. It first presumes an obvious horizon of the male critics, then totally quells their guard against subversion and ends up being something that fulfills their needs. At the same time, these kinds of works are well suited for the market, Chen Ran and Lin Bai's novels sell very well. One of my friends told me that she went into a bookstore to ask what they had that was slightly off-color which readers really like to read. So the bookstore clerk gave her some Chen Ran and some Lin Bai. My friend was really surprised as those writers had not at all occurred to her. So this aspect of culture suits the market, and hints that the market consumes feminist culture.

Ying: Do you feel that these works lack value for feminist culture, and that they are actually a negative thing?

Dai: No, I feel that these works have a positive meaning, but that this meaning has been covered up by the male critics and the market. One can not just simply say that these mark a flourishing feminist culture; it is only a small part. There were other women writers in the Nineties whom I feel wrote extremely well. For example Yang Zidan, and Qu Lan. In a literary sense these two women write very, very well. Another writer is Wang Anyi who continues to write. Her Chang Hen Ge and works like this are outstanding works of the Nineties.

Ying: This assessment is related to your area of gender studies, right?

Dai: That is right, it is, but it is also related to my literary research. If I speak positively of a writer or of a work's stance on gender, that does not necessarily mean it becomes a label, or that my affixing a feminist label necessarily means it is an outstanding literary work. For me I still differentiate.

Ying: Then you would prefer leaving criticism to the critics.

Dai: I want to do criticism too. I will not use my gender critique and disguise it as pure literary criticism. But I will say that I am carrying out feminist literary research.

Chang: Let us ask a few more questions related to film before we wrap up. Was the Hong Kong Film industry influenced by the return to China in 1997?

Dai: First of all, the retrocession influenced all of Hong Kong, that is without a doubt, so there was definitely an influence on film. However, I feel that the decline of Hong Kong films cannot only be attributed to 1997. After 1997, China began its colonial rule over Hong Kong. This is a fact. On the other hand, because of the return of Hong Kong, Hong Kong got a lot of benefits from China's colonial economy and colonial culture. For example, it became fairly reasonable for Hong Kong films to move into China, much more so than America or Taiwan films. Also, films made jointly by China and Hong Kong began to surface. From 1990 to 1995, before Hollywood made it into China, the big selling movies in China were all from Hong Kong, like A Better Tomorrow, New Success Inn, Green Snake, and so on. Then the Hong Kong director Yu Ke became a China film hero, everybody wanted to learn his secret, thinking that if they did they would earn a lot of money.

Chang: We are going to have to stop here, and I would like to thank all of you.