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Rural geographies and the New Chinese Cinemas: Imaging progressive places in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Dust in the Wind and Jia Zhangke’s Platform

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The New Chinese Cinemas were unprecedented in critiquing official narratives of progress through dramatic location-shot images of rural Taiwan and China. Much more than standing in as a picturesque backdrop, the rural was a site of complex ideological contestations. Yet, existing scholarship overlooks the richness of rural representations, reductively interpreting rural films as works of nostalgia and cultural salvage. Through a comparative analysis of representations of landscape, travel and visual perception in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Dust in the Wind (1986) and Jia Zhangke’s Platform (2000), this article brings into focus the important but largely ignored roles that Hou and Jia have played in envisioning new frameworks for thinking about rural geographies. Drawing from Doreen Massey’s notion of the ‘progressive place’, I investigate how Jiufen and Fenyang ‐ the films’ shooting locations ‐ are stages upon which the directors experimented with imaging and imagining communities. Jiufen is represented in Dust as a porous interface between the urban and rural, a metonym for the film’s representation of Taiwan as a contact zone with China. Platform, by contrast, fashions an image of Fenyang as a non-place, a microcosm of China as it undergoes unchecked neo-liberal development. Significantly, these films went beyond revising rural imaginaries on-screen, to making a material impact on Jiufen and Fenyang by transforming them into landmarks of global film tourism. This work demonstrates how Hou and Jia responded to disorienting social changes not by resisting, but by tactically embracing the blurring of divides between the urban and rural, and local and global.
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Keywords: Hou Hsiao-Hsien; Jia Zhangke; Sixth Generation Chinese Cinema; Taiwan New Cinema; film landscapes; film tourism; location shooting; rural representations

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 000000012179395XJames Madison University

Publication date: September 1, 2020

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  • The journal aims to provide a platform for the study of new forms of cinematic practice and fresh approaches to cinemas hitherto neglected in western scholarship. It particularly welcomes scholarship that does not take existing paradigms and theoretical conceptualisations as given; rather, it anticipates submissions that are refreshing in approach and exhibit a willingness to tackle cinematic practices that are still in the process of development into something new.
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