Animation in postsocialist China : visual narrative, modernity, and digital culture

動畫在後社會主義中國 : 視覺敘事, 現代性及數字文化

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Weihua WU

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Awarding Institution
Award date3 Oct 2006


This project therefore hopes to conduct a digital ethnographic study to question how postsocialist literature, arts, social text, and the circumstances of new media forms order the domain of computer-mediated representation that we may call the “digital cinema,” “computer graphic,” the “cultural interface,” “visual effects,” and “new animation.” So this dissertation combines theories and methods from visual anthropology, film history, literary criticism, and cultural studies, adopting an interdisciplinary approach intend to bring new perspectives on animation study. This project also attempts to understand Chinese animation within the problematic of postsocialism, to explore the relationships among image, narrative and modernity, with hopefully to penetrate the ideological mask of postsocialist culture. This project is based on observations and analysis of recent works in animation and cultural criticism. The perspectives represented and contexts considered are the result of an effort to provide an interdisciplinary research model. Each chapter of this study tries to situate a phenomenological sample of the digital animated genres presented in postsocialist China. Chapter One reviews the animation studies related to Chinese animation with an introduction to the historical conceptualization and catachresis of “meishu dianying” in socialist China. Chapter Two focuses on the reconceptualization of the Chinese School, its aesthetic practice, and its second historical rise and fall in the post-Cultural Revolution new era. Chapter Three focuses on the cultural implications of the reconfigured animation industry that was gradually institutionalized as a state discourse under globalization, and offers a mapping of the prevalent models and local development of industrialized Chinese animation. Chapter Four opens up a theoretical critique of the emergence of Chinese independent animation which pays more heed to the porous boundaries between the overlapping concerns of the minzu style and the minjian discourse. Chapter Five continues the discussion of independent animation begun in Chapter Four, with particular attention paid to Chinese Flash animation and its connection with digital culture and the postmodern aesthetic practice in China, and in relation to historical developments in animated visuals, filmmaking, sociocultural discourses, and representation more generally. In looking critically at the way animated visual representations work in various media and multimedia platforms, the problematic I have traced can be described as the relationship between “Chineseness of modernity” and “digitalization of visuality.” These are key concepts within a process that hopes to unlock contemporary discourses addressing the visual allegory of socialist China, the political-economical structures of new media technologies, and individual resistance against institutionalized filmmaking and media products. In a very real sense, to understand Chinese new animation and the transformation of Chinese visual culture is indeed to understand the shifts in the idea of cultural identity in the digital era. The story of my dissertation tells how digital animation filmmaking in China becomes not only a new beat for a new generation, but also a refracting social mirror, the digital narrator of a prominent contemporary cultural zeitgeist, and a paradigm of China’s version of the hyperreality encompassing increasingly visually-centered cultures around the world. It has aesthetic, ethical, political, and anthropological implications, and is part of a national and global reorientation of mediated experience.

    Research areas

  • Animated films, China