From Gone with the Wind to The Spring River Flows East: Melodrama and Historical Imagination in Postwar Chinese Cinema

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Melodrama refers to a historically discredited film genre that has witnessed a passionate revival over the past decades of film scholarship. Bringing into play stereotypically good and evil characters, heightened emotions, and exaggerated actions, the genre serves as a powerful tool for the examination of interpersonal relationships both within the confines of family and the larger parameters of social communities. I examine how A Spring River Flows East (Yi jiang chun shui xiang dong liu, 1947) enriches as well as complicates the western notion of melodrama as the Chinese film exploited the capacity of the genre for wider socio-cultural embrace. I explore how the melodramatic mode becomes a potential social imaginary to respond to representations of gender and the nation as they are enacted in a different social arena and historical China. The story of A Spring River is also one about how a local Chinese film competed effectively and most successfully with foreign film genres for local audiences. It used established stars and family drama in a local context, in dialogue with Hollywood big-budget films (A Spring River was dubbed China’s Gone with the Wind). The film’s interactions with foreign film aesthetics, popular tastes, and local histories reveal the inherently cosmopolitan culture of Chinese cinema of the 1930s and 40s. The paper is concerned with how Shanghai’s local discourses created a public sphere of social imaginings of gender roles in history with the help of powerful commercial forces in the mass media (the spectacles, the film stories, movie stars, review journalism). It seeks to rethink narratives of gender, commercialism, historical memory, and social identity as they throw light on the new age of globalized media publics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChinese Cinema
Subtitle of host publicationIdentity, Power, and Globalization
EditorsJeff Kyong-McClain, Russell Meeuf, Jing Jing Chang
Place of PublicationHong Kong
PublisherHong Kong University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9789888528530
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


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