Thomas Mao (dir. Zhu Wen)
By Shelly Kraicer
During a recent interview with an independent Chinese journalist, I was somewhat taken aback, but also quite amused by her rather pointed question to me: “In an online discussion of an article you wrote recently, some [anonymous] commenter was skeptical that Westerners could be so interested in debating Chinese movies and ideology, when in fact it has nothing to do with them. What do you think?”
What could I think? I remember reading the original comment the journalist was referring to, and noting at the time that the implied (and oft-heard) background to this attitude was something along the lines of “outsiders [like you] are fundamentally unequipped to comment on (write about / research about / review) our Chinese films (painting / dramas / novels), so just what do you think you are doing, anyway?
At the risk of answering one cultural judgment with another, I find this display of an aggressively protective attitude to Chinese culture to be distinctly Beijing-ese. Hong Kong, Taipei and Shanghai tend to be much more relaxed about foreigners in their midst, given their cosmopolitan histories. Their urban intellectual cultures more readily admit “other” voices — foreign voices, alternative points of view — with fewer hangups than Beijing’s thriving and otherwise open intellectual culture. Beijing has long been the capital of mainland Chinese independent film and avant-garde culture. No less than half of the dGenerate Films catalog are by Beijing-based filmmakers: Jia Zhangke, Liu Jiayin, and Cui Zi’en, to name a few. And yet, despite its openness to progressive artisitic activity, Beijing has an intensely policed view of the cultural “other” and the potential role of these “others” in its cultural discourse.
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