Young Rebels in Contemporary Chinese Cinema


Zhou Xuelin

ISBN : 978-962-209-849-7

Film, Media, Fine Arts

September 2007

232 pages, 6″ x 9″, 20 b&w illus.

  • HK$295.00

Has China in the 1980s gone through a phase of “youth rebellion” comparable with that represented in films such as Rebel Without a Cause (1954), Look Back in Anger (1959) or Easy Rider (1969)? The present study is an attempt to look for evidence in the “youth-rebellion” films produced over that period of time that may help to answer the question.

In the last twenty years of the twentieth century, the People’s Republic of China underwent profound transformations, of which the changing situation of youth was particularly striking. In a society that has traditionally assumed respect for age, the prominence of youth and their new autonomy were conspicuous. A young generation born on the eve of and growing up during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) came to depart from the established social norms by the late 1980s and were considered “rebels,” standing in an antagonistic relationship with mainstream ideology. Young Rebels in Contemporary Chinese Cinema analyzes the construction of “youth culture” in 1980s China by examining young-rebel films in terms of three areas: products (rock ’n’ roll music), belief (or lack of it) and mode of behaviour. The study also contexualizes these films by tracing the relationship between changes in politics and changes in film from the 1950s to the present, with particular reference to the altered portrayal of young adults in the 1980s.

Zhou Xuelin is lecturer in the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies of the University of Auckland. He has publications on British popular culture and Chinese-language film, and his recent research focuses on the representation of “marginalized youth” in a variety of national and semi-national cinemas in East Asia, such as those of Japan, South Korea, mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“Zhou Xuelin’s Young Rebels in Contemporary Chinese Cinema is a very exciting addition to the burgeoning field of Chinese film studies. The scope of Zhou’s research is extraordinarily deep and broad, and among the other achievements of Young Rebels is its stretching the corpus of Chinese filmmaking in the 1980s beyond a canon of Fifth Generation classics, its discussion of film and popular music from Taiwan-born Teresa Tang, through the ‘Northwest wind style’ to rock ’n’ roll, and its comparison and contrast of Chinese films with those of the ‘angry young man’ generation in Britain of the late 1950s and early 1960s.” —Peter Rist, Professor, Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University, author of “Scenes of ‘In-action’ and Noir Characteristics in the Films of Johnnie To”, in Hong Kong Film, Hollywood and New Global Cinema: No Film Is An Island (eds. Marchetti and Tan)

Young Rebels in Contemporary Chinese Cinema is thoroughly researched and carefully written, examining the early generations of Chinese filmmaking to establish a firm historical foundation from which the argument about the recent rebel films grows. Zhou’s comprehensive commentary on many dozens of films is erudite and precise, and brings a knowledgeable insight to these important cultural products that many viewers may not know and likely have not seen. This book will have a most valuable impact on the expanding field of youth film studies.” —Timothy Shary, Associate Professor of Screen Studies, Clark University, author of Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema

“Zhou Xuelin renders vivid a heretofore neglected spectrum of Mainland cinema for the interdisciplinary areas of popular culture, media and society. His critical survey of social rebel films of post-Mao China characterised by increasing consumerism and individualism offers tremendous insights to the ‘midnight children’ of the Cultural Revolution who in their youth would live politically incorrect lives variously as superfluous heroes, disaffected urbanites, rock ‘n’ roll kids and earnest entrepreneurs. His study serves a timely volley at the current almost fetishistic fascination for the ‘Fifth Generation’ in contemporary Chinese film studies; and grants refreshing perspectives to a society in transition in the 1980s.” —Tan See Kam, Associate Professor of Communication, University of Macao, co-author of Chinese Connections: Critical Perspectives in Film, Identity and Diaspora (with Feng and Marchetti)