Women Through the Lens: Gender and Nation in a Century of Chinese Cinema
315pp. February 2003
Women Through the Lens: Gender and Nation in a Century of Chinese Cinema
Author: Cui, Shuqin;
Women Through the Lens raises the question of how gender, especially the image of woman, acts as a visual and discursive sign in the creation of the nation-state in twentieth-century China. Tracing the history of Chinese cinema through the last hundred years from the perspective of transnational feminism, Shuqin Cui reveals how women have been granted a "privileged visibility" on screen while being denied discursive positions as subjects. In addition, her careful attention to the visual language system of cinema shows how "woman" has served as the site for the narration of nation in the context of China's changing social and political climate.

Placing gender and nation in a historical framework, the book first shows how early productions had their roots in shadow plays, a popular form of public entertainment. In examining the "Red Classics" of socialist cinema as a mass cultural form, the book shows how the utopian vision of emancipating the entire proletariat, women included, produced a collective ideology that declared an end to gender difference. Cui then documents and discusses the cinematic spectacle of woman as essential to such widely popular films as Chen Kaige's "Farewell My Concubine" and Zhang Yimou's "Ju Do." Finally, the author brings a feminist perspective to the issues of gender and nation by turning her attention to women directors and their self-representations.

"Stands out for its ambition and breadth. . . . Women Through the Lens not only lays a foundation and road map for other scholars but it should be used as a reference book by anyone interested in Chinese film." —Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (27, 2005)

"A primary resource for many years to come." —China Journal (52, July 2004)

"A very fine introduction to Chinese film for students approaching the topic in a feminist film criticism course or in a course in which grounding in film theory cannot be assumed but is absolutely necessary for the students." —China Review International (10:1, Spring 2003)

"Women Through the Lens is a theoretically engaged work supported by illuminating textual analysis. Cui’s systematic and insightful analysis of the female image and women’s films in modern China not only contributes to the growing corpus of Chinese film studies but also provides critical evidence to buttress the concept of a transnational feminism recognizing geopolitical and national differences in the discourses of gender." —Pacific Affairs (78:1, Spring 2005)

"Shuqin Cui’s book is the first of its kind: a study of the complex discursive interaction between gender and nation in Chinese film. Arguing forcefully and with careful attention to the films as films, she contends that images of women have been appropriated by Chinese filmmakers not only for the nation-building project and class struggle, but for intellectual ends such as cultural critique and national allegory. From leftlist films of the 1930s to the Hong Kong postmodern cinema of the present, Cui shows how Chinese filmmakers, with the exception of a handful of recent female directors, have all but silenced female subjectivity even as they draw attention to women’s oppression. This is a feminist study, but one that takes a wisely skeptical attitude toward the application of Western feminist assumptions to the Chinese cultural context. Women Through the Lens is a book that all scholars of gender representation in film will want to read." —Kirk Denton, Ohio State University

"Women Through the Lens breaks new ground by tracing the relationship between women and Chinese cinema from transnational feminist perspectives. While offering meticulous textual analyses of selective key films, the book covers the entire history of twentienth-century Chinese cinema and examines important periods and topics such as early film production, socialist cinema, the new wave, and women’s films. The author adroitly unpacks and navigates a series of key questions and issues in Chinese film history: nation and narration, image and representation, identity and difference, gender and feminism, socialism and capitalism. This is an insightful major study in both scope and depth, and should be consulted by students interested in film studies, gender studies, and modern China." —Sheldon H. Lu, University of California, Davis

Author: Cui, Shuqin;
Shuqin Cui (Shu-chin Tsui) is associate professor of Asian studies at Bowdoin College.
Read the table of contents (PDF) and/or the introduction (PDF).