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Hangping Xu (PhD Candidate), Modern Chinese Lit and Film, Stanford University-- "Toward an Ethic of Care: Staging the Disabled Body in Contemporary Chinese Cinema"

Event Type
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Room 2090B Foreign Languages Building
Jan 25, 2018   4:00 pm  
Hangping Xu (PhD Candidate), Modern Chinese Lit and Film, Stanford University
Free, and everyone is welcome!
Lenore Sroka, Office Manager for EALC and Slavic Languages and Literature
Originating Calendar
School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics Calendar

The first Taiwanese film ever screened in Mainland China, He Never Gives Up (wangyang zhong de yitiaochuan, 1978), dramatizes the overcoming narrative of a protagonist born with polio. The film’s curious afterlife across the Taiwan Strait facilitated the birth of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation in the 1980s. This talk will first use this cultural moment to theorize a semiotic-affective account of disability as social-political formation. Next, I will focus on two Chinese films, namely, Morning Star (qimingxing, 1992) and Ocean Paradise (haiyang tiantang, 2010), both of which stage a son with intellectual disabilities and a single father dying from terminal cancer. I argue that disability—with its “representational power, disruptive potentiality, and analytical insight”—figures in these films as a “narrative prosthesis” with which to shore up a moral drama (Snyder and David Mitchell). The films "kill" the disabled son's parents, rendering kinship impossible as a unit of care. A comparative reading will contextualize these films in China’s changing moral economies of care as it grapples with its socialist past and embraces a neoliberal mentality. While Morning Star narrativizes the process by which statist agents interpellate the disabled son, recruiting or even redeeming him as a socialist subject, the glaring absence of the state in Ocean Paradise leads to a moral situation where the father figure—made into a moral subject by the trope of altruistic love—mobilizes his neighbor/lover, employer, friends, and strangers as care-givers upon his death. Critiquing both films for their disability aesthetics and politics, this talk ultimately posits an ethic of care that requires the participation of the state as well as a culture of acknowledged dependency.

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