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Scholars call for Chinese film theory

BAN XIAOYUE | 2022-06-09 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

FILE PHOTO: “Dying to Survive,” a 2018 Chinese movie that won public praise

The Forum on the Construction of Film Theory System and the Study of Chinese Film School was held online on May 26. Scholars shed light on the frontier theory of film art and how to construct a Chinese film school. 

Theoretical explorations 
Chinese film has embarked on a journey since China’s first film “Ding Jun Mountain” was released in 1905. The past century has seen great progress made in the creation and research of Chinese films, yet there still lacks an established film theory system as well as a Chinese film school clearly recognized by international academia. 
Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Society, noted that in the 1930s, the film critic Wang Chenwu proposed building an evaluation standard for Chinese movies, followed by multiple scholars investigating the topic. Their theoretical elaboration provides valuable experience as we discuss the film theory system and the Chinese film school today. 
The Beijing Film Academy proposed to “develop and consolidate the Chinese film school” in 2016, and founded the “Chinese Film School Research Department” in 2017, ushering in the construction of a Chinese film theory system and the Chinese film school. 
Regardless of multiple controversies about the Chinese film theory system and the Chinese film school, Chinese film critics have reached an academic consensus that stems from the common concern for the nation, the country, and the people’s films. All theoretical arguments will converge into the same path in the future development of Chinese films, said Jia Leilei, a research fellow with the Chinese National Academy of Arts. 
In Rao’s opinion, “Chinese artistic traditions” and “Chinese characteristics” have always been a focus of the Chinese film school. More extensive space is granted to expand the two topics in the new era. 
The construction of the Chinese film theory system is not one-dimensional. It involves multiple issues composing an interconnected network and staying constantly iterative, gradually forming a structure with depth and breadth in the building process. Gu Yaqi, a professor from the School of Arts at Renmin University of China, suggested that the Chinese film theory system be closely linked with the broad Chinese film market and be put into practice. A more complete, scientific, and systematic theoretical system needs to be incubated based on national characteristics and considering the forces of policy, society, and technology. 
Cultural base and social reality 
In the 20th century, Chinese film theory was basically in the stage of introducing, selecting, and absorbing Western film theory. Undeniably, Western film theory, supported by philosophy, the humanities, and social sciences that have been well-developed for nearly two centuries, offers rich and beneficial experience in terms of its systematic nature, integrity, as well as methodological rigor and diversity. However, to gain a greater influence in the international arena, Chinese films must take root in the practical fertile soil of Chinese civilization. 
As an integral part of refined traditional Chinese culture, the idea of “harmony” also cultivated our ancestors’ aesthetic orientation, Rao added. The Chinese nation has spanned thousands of years because of “harmony,” and the concept also leads to the booming of Chinese films. Thereby, Rao put forward the theory of “community aesthetics,” advocating the development of Chinese films with inclusive thinking featuring mutual learning among civilizations. For instance, “The Wandering Earth,” a movie released in 2019, has a typical color of “community aesthetics,” the success of which presents values and imagination different from those of the West. It bears the mark of Chinese farming civilization to a certain extent, but surpasses the thinking of farming civilization. 
According to Chen Xihe, a professor from the Shanghai Film Academy at Shanghai University, telling China’s story well requires a thorough understanding of people’s life and reflection on social realities. For example, the movie “Hold Your Hands” released in 2017, concerns the “left-behind” elderly and children as it shows the charming local flavor of Shibadong Village. The movie has successfully created a real, vivid character named Yang Junjie with typical Chinese integrity, showcasing his experience converting from confusion to active responses when meeting with the poverty alleviation policy. 
Against the construction of new liberal arts, the application of digital technology and interdisciplinary research are playing an increasingly prominent role in building the Chinese film theory system and the Chinese film school. 
According to Chen Xuguang, a professor from the School of Arts at Peking University, every step forward of science and technology has had a significant impact on how films are transmitted and received. In the 21st century, with the obvious acceleration of technological updates and iteration, especially after the replacement of film technology with digital technology, films and technology have formed closer relationships. Coupled with the intervention of the internet, the film industry is experiencing an all-round reform, with endlessly emerging new aesthetics, new concepts, new thinking, and new issues. 
Chen Xuguang added that film itself features a trans-media and super-media compound, which determines that the film theory carries an obvious interdisciplinary tendency from the very beginning. Meanwhile, film possesses a cultural, recreational, and aesthetic attribute. Film watching activities are one of the optimal ways to silently cultivate correct ethical and moral concepts among an audience.