Remaking China: The Canonization of Fei Mu's Cinema

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


This chapter examines Tian Zhuangzhuang’s 2002 remake of Fei Mu’s 1948 Spring in a Small Town concerning issues of cinematic memory, cultural nostalgia, and aesthetics. Highly regarded as a world-class film in Chinese-language cinemas, Fei Mu’s work, however, is hardly known outside China. It is Tian’s rendition of this unknown classic with colour and English subtitle that has brought the film to international awareness. While it seems to be an Oedipal problem about surpassing one’s own master, the main issue hinges on the historical question of cultural nostalgia and memory. It is about the director’s wilful determination to revive the master and to reinvent himself as well as Chinese cinema in the new millennium under the crisis of globalisation and marketization of Chinese films. What motivates a Fifth-Generation filmmaker to remake the past work of a forgotten master? Why has the Chinese director to take up such a formidable cinematic challenge as a way of resituating the present in relation to the past? Is Tian trying to correct the earlier cinematic source, or to render a more accurate version of the original text? Recreating a past work in Chinese cinema becomes a sophisticated act to probe the meaning of memory, which is different from the Western postmodernist injunction to parody or negate the past. The labour of reconstructing a neglected classic is an index of absence, a painful reminder of something lost, a regret of what Chinese cinema is not. When his fellow filmmakers are busily involved in the globalisation of Chinese film, Tian chooses to go back to a small-budget production to appeal to an expectedly small audience in arthouse theatres. I ponder the meaning of the cinematic memory of Fei’s ‘classic’ text, and challenge the establishment of an auteurish charm in the vein of the national-cultural discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChinese Culture in the 21st Century and its Global Dimensions
Subtitle of host publicationComparative and Interdisciplinary Perspectives
EditorsKelly Kar Yue Chan, Chi Sum Garfield Lau
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9789811527432
ISBN (Print)9789811527425, 9789811527456
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2020

Publication series

NameChinese Culture
ISSN (Print)2662-9755
ISSN (Electronic)2662-9763

User-Defined Keywords

  • Fei Mu
  • Memory
  • Nostalgia
  • Remake
  • Ruin
  • Spring in a Small Town
  • Tian Zhuangzhuang


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