Working the System

Motion Picture, Filmmakers, and Subjectivities in Mao-Era China, 1949–1966


Qiliang He

ISBN : 978-988-8805-60-0

Film, Media, Fine Arts Crossings: Asian Cinema and Media Culture 跨越:亞洲電影與媒體文化

January 2023

180 pages, 6″ x 9″, 8 b&w illus.

  • HK$650.00

In Working the System: Motion Picture, Filmmakers, and Subjectivities in Mao-Era China, 1949–1966, Qiliang He inquired into the making of the new citizenry in Mao-era China (1949–1976) by studying five preeminent Shanghai-based filmmakers. These case studies shed light on how individuals’ subjectivities took shape in the cinematic arena under a new sociopolitical system after 1949. He suggests that a filmmaker’s subjectivity was not fixed or stable but constantly in flux, requiring a host of “subjectivizing practices” to (re)shape and consolidate it. These filmmakers endeavored to reap maximal benefits from Mao’s sociopolitical system and minimize the disadvantages that would make them victims under the system. In short, Qiliang He argues that the filmmakers not only worked under the socialist system imposed upon them but also worked the system in their best interests.

Qiliang He is a professor in the Department of History at Hong Kong Shue Yan University. He is the author of Newspapers and the Journalistic Public in Republican China: 1917 as a Significant Year of Journalism (2018), Feminism, Women’s Agency, and Communication in Early Twentieth-Century China: The Case of the Huang-Lu Elopement (2018), and Gilded Voices: Economics, Politics, and Storytelling in the Yangzi Delta since 1949 (2012).

“Through five chosen filmmakers’ creative control and their negotiation of their professional status within China’s newly adopted socialist system, the author presents a compelling case that illustrates how individual filmmakers constantly adjusted themselves professionally and ideologically to survive in a fast-changing industry and a highly politicized society.”

Lin Feng, University of Leicester

“This book is a strong example of how much more we can learn about Mao-era Chinese culture if we approach it less as alien due to Cold War prejudices and instead think of artists as creating under professional constraints in China just as they do everywhere.” 

Jason McGrath, University of Minnesota