Cinematic Guerrillas in Mao’s China

Jie Li
(Harvard University)

Commentary on Jie Li’s Talk

By Weihong Bao

This talk proposes “cinematic guerrillas” as a new framework to understand media infrastructure, filmic representation, exhibition practice, and audience reception in Mao’s China. After tracing a theoretical genealogy of “guerrilla media networks” from the 1930s to the 1970s, I argue that cinematic representations of guerrilla warfare helped to militarize discourse, labor, social organization, and everyday life even in the absence of military engagements. Next, I discuss mobile film projectionists as cultural guerrillas setting out to conquer the landscapes and mindscapes of China’s countryside. Despite their attempts to patrol cinematic meanings, “guerrilla audiences” still derived unauthorized, even subversive pleasures from propaganda films. The conclusion puts Maoist cinematic guerrillas into a transnational conversation with the better known “guerrilla cinema” as “Third Cinema.”

Jie Li is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. She is author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (2014) and Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era (2020). She has also published articles on the cinema of Manchuria, on contemporary Chinese documentaries, and on radios and loudspeakers.