Socialist Hot Noise: Loudspeakers and Open-Air Cinema in Maoist China

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5:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Virtual Event
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Jie Li (John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University)



Drawing on current book projects on Chinese broadcasting and film exhibition, this talk excavates a media history of loudspeakers and open-air cinema through the conceptual framework of “socialist hot noise”: a participatory sociothermic affect and a synergy between body and electricity that soldered scattered populations into the revolutionary masses. The first half examines the growth of loudspeaker networks and grassroots sonic practices, from broadcast rallies to sparrow warfare, from labor competitions to quasi-karaoke, from enhancing the Mao cult to engendering violence and terror. The second half discusses open-air cinema as a hot noise of attractions that generated revolutionary energy through cinematic liturgies led by mobile projectionists before, during, and after screenings. Maoist audiovisual propaganda, I propose, was at once a physical and spirit medium, whose improvised and impoverished infrastructure contributed to the Mao cult, converted skeptics of communist miracles, and exorcized class enemies. The conclusion addresses the revival of loudspeakers and open-air cinema in the new millennium.


Jie Li is a John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. She is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life and Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era . She also co-edited Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution . Her forthcoming book, Cinematic Guerrillas: Propaganda, Projectionists, and Audiences in Socialist China , explores film exhibition and reception in Socialist China and theorizes Chinese propaganda as spirit mediumship. Li’s essays have appeared in journals such as Grey Room, Modern China, positions: asia critique, Public Culture, Screen, and Twentieth-Century China.


This webinar will take place online via Zoom. Click here to register .

Chair: Dr Xiaoning Lu, Reader in Modern Chinese Culture and Language, SOAS University of London.

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

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