Localizing Surveillance Cinema: Counter-Espionage Films in the Early People’s Republic of China

Key information

5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Russell Square: College Buildings

About this event

Dr Xiaoning Lu

The increasing penetration of surveillance technology in everyday life as well as the wide spread concern for national security in the face of global terrorism in the past decade has not only boosted surveillance studies in general but also fostered critical attention on surveillance cinema. Rather than pursuing epistemological affinities between surveillance and cinema, this talk returns to those questions of cinema’s political role in the actual surveillance culture that contributes to the production of subjectivity desired in a particular socio-historical context. In localizing surveillance cinema, it takes as its case study the Chinese counter-espionage films (fante pian), a burgeoning film genre in the newly established People’s Republic of China (PRC) during the heyday of the Cold War. Special attention will be paid to the political campaign cum counter-espionage film The Might of the People (Renmin de ju zhang, dir. Chen Liting, 1950). Through an examination of cinematic narratives and formal strategies in relation to the prevalent geopolitical discourses and the ongoing political campaigns in 1950s China, this talk aims to shed light on how this particular genre was configured into a surveillance culture predicated upon the political mobilization of the masses and in turn modelled mass surveillance — a mode of surveillance in which the masses act as surveillance agents instead of surveillance subjects in order to safeguard national security.

About the Speaker:

Dr Xiaoning Lu is Lecturer of Modern Chinese Culture and Language at SOAS, University of London, UK. Her research focuses on the relationship among the aesthetic, the affective, and the political in the making of modern Chinese identities. Her recent writing on various aspects of Chinese cinema and culture appeared in journals and edited collections, including Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Journal of Contemporary China, Surveillance in Asian Cinema: Under Eastern Eyes and Words and Their Stories: Essays on Chinese Revolutionary Discourse.  She is currently completing a monograph entitled Forces of Spectacle: Chinese Cinema and Socialist Modernity (1949-1966).