Conjuring the Masses: The Figure of the Crowd in Modern Chinese Literature and Visual Culture

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Conjuring the Masses: The Figure of the Crowd in Modern Chinese Literature and Visual Culture

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Title: Conjuring the Masses: The Figure of the Crowd in Modern Chinese Literature and Visual Culture
Author: Rodekohr, Andrew Justin
Access Status: This work is under embargo until 2014-10-05
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Abstract: This dissertation argues that the figure of the crowd in literature and visual culture constitutes a crucial component in the emergence and construction of the cultural, political, and historical values of modern China. From Lu Xun’s momentous recollection of the lantern slide that compelled him use literature as a means to heal the souls of the Chinese people to Zhang Yimou’s spectacular staging of the crowd at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the numerous ways the crowd has been written and pictured not only demonstrates its utility as a motif, but also asserts a mode of literary and visual imagination and even critical inquiry. Although the question of how a work of art or literature stands in relation to the masses has long been a preoccupation of writers, artists, critics, and policymakers in China, this dissertation sees crowd representation as a narrative or visual act that compels us to reconsider the conventional categories that would relegate the crowd as strictly synecdochic for the politically reified nation. To that end, I focus on how concepts such as crowd and mass are under constant revision, laying bare the negotiations and struggles entailed in the process of defining China collectively. Chapter One investigates the role of the crowd in the self-construction of the modern intellectual through two themes, the public warning (shizhong) in the case of Lu Xun, and the idea of superfluity (duoyu) in Qu Qiubai. Chapter Two considers the term “massification” (dazhonghua) as a narrative technique of writing the crowd into being, and in particular the volatile means of its manifestation through violence, death, and annihilation. Chapter Three inquires into the reciprocal relationship between crowd and image in two films (Big Road and Prairie Fire) as well as propaganda art from the 1930s and the Cultural Revolution, with a special focus of the technological means of exhibiting the crowd. Chapter Four positions filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s use of the crowd within the context of the “red legacy” of revolutionary history and technological visuality to argue that efforts to define the Chinese masses remain an ongoing concern.
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