Reshaping China

Characters in Chinese Films of the 1980s

According to Wang Yichuan, "'artistic image' or ‘imagery’ mainly refers to the imaginary’s concrete sensations which reveal the deep meanings of things that are created by certain types of ideographic symbol systems in art.”1 Literary and artistic theories have always attached importance to the artistic image. The creator's ideas are conveyed by the artistic images in a narrative text. Creating attractive characters is part of the vitality of artistic works. Classic literary and artistic theories have always emphasized “representative characters in representative environments.” Socialist realism also has its own definition for the images conveyed by characters. Cai Yi explains,

literary images are a concrete reflection of social life, from appearance to essence and from specificity to universality. Thus, it is possible to describe vivid phenomena as well as individuality in a way that expresses their essence and universality, giving them outstanding characteristics and universal social significance. Such images are typical or representative to a certain degree.2

Reading these theories carefully, it is clear that even if artistic images are fictional characters, they are tied to social reality, and society is the artistic soil for fictional characters. These characters must have unique personalities, which both convey their artistic charms as well as demonstrating the creator’s artistic skills. It should be noted that fictitious images possess a unique ability to convey generalizations about the society and reflect the social essence and psychology of a specific historical period. This quality has a particular value for social cognition.

From the perspective of cultural analysis, in-depth research into artistic images also has a high academic value. French scholar Pageaux believes that images describe cultural reality. Through their descriptions, individuals or groups who have created, endorsed, or promoted certain images reveal their desired social, cultural, ideological, and fictional spaces and perspectives. Therefore, he defines the image as “an object of the general social imaginary of a certain time period.”3 In another article, Pageaux further elaborates on this issue:

the term "imaginary object" that we proposed as an object of research is a bifurcated expression of basic research principles for addressing topics within the overall scope of a society, a community, and a social culture. The imaginary object we want to study is a theater, a place where a society uses methods of visualization, repurposed images, description, etc. to express modes of self-reflection, definition, and imagination (of which literature is one).4

The “representative environment” of the 1980s was the people’s united efforts to further the Four Modernizations in the context of Reform and Opening Up. In this context, party and government leaders, literary and art critics, as well as general audiences all expected films that could create “representative characters” of the era. It was assumed that these characters would represent the specific social context and reflect the collective imaginary of society in the 1980s. At the Fourth National Conference of the Representatives of Literary and Art Workers held in 1979, Comrade Deng Xiaoping, on behalf of the CPC Central Committee, made a request of literature and art circles:

Our literature and art should make greater efforts to describe and cultivate new socialists and to achieve more fruitful results. We should portray the entrepreneurs of the Four Modernizations, depict their revolutionary ideals and scientific attitudes, lofty sentiments and creative abilities, and broad visions and realistic spirits. The images of these newcomers can inspire the public’s enthusiasm for socialism and encourage them to engage in the creative activities of the Four Modernizations.5

In the spring of 1980, Hu Yaobang made another proposal:

Literature and art should feature scenes depicting the heroic devotion of workers, peasants, fighters, intellectuals, cadres, young people, women compatriots in Hong Kong and Macao, and overseas Chinese to the Four Modernizations ... it should reflect how people from all ethnic groups across the country work as one to engage in the Four Modernizations. This subject is the worthiest of publicity.6

On May 31, 1984, Hu Yaobang entrusted the General Office of the CPC Central Committee to convey his congratulations to the winner of the 1983 Excellent Film Award at the joint Fourth Golden Rooster Awards and Seventh Hundred Flowers Award ceremonies held in Jinan:

The public and the Party place great hopes on film workers as well as all literary and art workers. I hope that all comrades continue to work hard and strive for perfection in representing the vibrant nature of life during the building of the Four Modernizations. I hope they will create advanced socialist characters who bravely make innovations and actively commit to reforms. I hope they will continue to shape new developments in our country's socialist film industry!7

The top leaders of the party and the country repeatedly called for literary and art workers to represent the vibrant nature of life during Reform and Opening Up in their creations. They also called on filmmakers to create new socialist characters who reflected the values of the 1980s on the screen. These demands undoubtedly played an important role in promoting literary and artistic creation in the 1980s, while also providing strong support for literary and artistic innovation. Chen Huangmei, a literary and art critic who headed the cultural bureau in charge of film, responded to these appeals, as well as how they shaped artistic practices, in an article affirming the use of images in recent films:

Whether in Behind the Defendant, Blood Is Always Hot, or The Last Choice, the protagonists are all diligent in their thoughts and bold in explorations during these new historical conditions. They take practical actions to reform. They are determined to build a brand-new. modern, and powerful socialist country with Chinese characteristics in this vast land of 9.6 million square kilometers.8

In 1981, the critic Xu Nanming wrote an article on the concept of new socialists:

The concept of new socialists should have rich connotations. During the period of socialist revolution and national construction, people who boasted socialist consciousness and struggled towards socialism were regarded as new socialists. They are new because they have new styles, new beliefs, new qualities, and new spirits. These new qualities dominated their characteristics. Today, an obvious attribute of new socialists is that they firmly support the principles and policies of the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee and dedicate themselves to the realization of the Four Modernizations.9

Xu believed that Zhu Keshi was one of these new socialists for daring to bring order out of chaos in Tear Stains (Leihen, dir. Li Wenhua, 1980). “This era creates new socialists like Zhu Keshi. at the same time that Zhu Keshi’s life and straggles also mirror this era.” Similarly, Qiao Guangpu, the protagonist of the film Bell Tone (adapted from the novel Manager Qiao Takes Office), is a “new socialist with the characteristics of the times” who is determined to enact reforms. “He is at the vanguard of our era and a pioneer of the revolution.” In another example, in In and Out of Court, Shang Qin is a lifelike figure who advocates for strengthening the legal system, rather than continuing to rely on insipid political concepts. Xu Nanming argues,

the onscreen images of new socialists make us excited and proud. They enable people to feel that there is poetic nature and noble spirit in all aspects of life. These images show that our Party is strong, and our nation is full of vitality. They symbolize the dawn of the Four Modernizations. Let us unite in a concerted effort to work hard and create more new socialist characters onscreen!10

In China in the 1980s, modernization was the general touchstone, whether in regard to Reform and Opening Up policies, the construction of the rule of law, or individual freedoms. People in the 1980s not only yearned for modernization of the country, but also modernization of the individual. According to Wang Youqin:

Modernization, that fascinating word, has become the idealized object of straggle for all contemporary people. For a hundred years, it has been the unanimous pursuit of all the passionate and insightful men and women of our nation. Modernization is a historical process and has a multi-level internal structure. As far as macroscopic social phenomena are concerned, modernization means the renewal of productive capacities, social structure, technology, and cultural values, etc. At the micro level, and as far as personal life is concerned, modernization does not just mean refrigerators and color TVs, it also means changes in an individual's social consciousness and self-consciousness. Modern people are the main object of tire modernization and changes in their values are very important to the direction of historical development.11

All these yearnings converged into a “Chinese dream” that emphasized the realization of the Four Modernizations and the revitalization of the Chinese nation. This was seen as an arduous project requiring painstaking efforts and heavy sacrifices. Only courageous and idealistic individuals could undertake these tasks. Accordingly, culture in the 1980s. including the book An Essay On Man (by Ernst Cassirer), probed characteristics of humanity such as humanitarianism. human subjectivity, and authoritarianism. Chinese film and TV dramas urgently needed powerful characters, such as Li Xiangnan in New Star or Luo Xingang in Blood Is Always Hot, to lead people through the minefields restricting China’s development. This was necessary to realize the dream of revitalizing China.

"I Love You Deeply, This Beautiful Land": Reformers in Films

Writing in 1984, Li Shusheng argued that

history has been blocked for too long. After more than ten years of groping, ten years of turmoil, and two years of wandering, we are impatient. Once the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee opened the gates, long-awaited reforms have swept across our vast land like a surging river.12

In the early 1980s, Ke Yunlu’s novel New Star, as well as the TV series of the same name, caused a stir in China. In both the novel and the TV series, Li Xiangnan is the child of an intellectual who is born and raised in Beijing. He then becomes the secretary of the County Party Committee in a county on the Loess Plateau. In the face of the weight of history, the traumas of the Cultural Revolution, and official rules determined through common practices, the young secretary starts his road towards reform. Even if, at times, his personal efforts seem like Don Quixote’s battles with windmills, and his value system bears traces of upright official consciousness, audiences still embraced the image of this character. Li Xiangnan brought hope to audiences by demonstrating courage and boldness when facing straggles in the process of carrying out reforms. China needed to change, and Chinese people needed strong figures to lead them towards that change. According to Lin Dazhong,

he [Li Xiangnan] uses a sharp pen to engrave personal and unyielding answers in response to the most important and urgent questions of the times. These answers may not necessarily win the approval of all those who are concerned about the fate of reform, but they definitely elicited strong responses. This is undoubtedly beneficial to reform.13

Why does the character of Li Xiangnan have such iconic value in the cultural map of the 1980s? Because he is an artistic image in which the cultural imagination of intellectuals coincides closely with the subconscious needs of the general public. Lin Dazhong’s interpretation of Li Xiangnan provides a relatively clear statement about the features of such characters:

The author placed his visions for the future on Li Xiangnan, who was represented as a new star of reform policies. Once reform policies and trends had been determined, he envisioned that cadres with courage, knowledge, and ability should undertake the important tasks of reform. These figures should initiate the great cause of reform, and the authority to carry out reform policies should be handed over to them. This was almost self-evident.

He envisioned a blueprint for reform that included a strong Party and highly efficient system of organization that included right to supervise people, a fully developed legal system, and a series of far-sighted scientific plans for economic development. This was all also self-evident, even if he did not and could not put forward more specific ideas on how to realize every aspect of his plans.

What he envisioned was the backbone of reform, a generation of wise warriors, a generation of idealists possessing both historical perspective and realistic thoughts. They are full of passion and imagination at the same time. They are a generation of new revolutionaries who are rich in political wisdom and possess a modem system of knowledge.14

The people anchored great hope in such reformers, and, accordingly, artists and critics romantically imagined them. Society demanded much of reformers. They needed to integrate realism on the practical level and idealism on the spiritual level, while also incorporating concepts including the brave warrior and the wise man into their personalities. This was all quite difficult to achieve in the real world. Even in the fictional spaces of films, reformers’ futures and personal destinies were often unpredictable and fraught at the same time that their courage and dedication touched the people. In fictional representations, the heroes of reform often become defendants under investigation. These figures include Luo Xingang in Blood Is Always Hot, Zhang Guanyin in Xiangsi Women's Inn. Fu Lianshan and the chief engineer who supports him in Trouble Happened at Home, and Li Jiangchuan in Behind the Defendant. These characters all ultimately face tragedy. Indeed, the experience of these characters becomes a metaphor for the tragic fates of certain radical reformers during the 1980s.

After watching the movie Behind the Defendant, the critic Yan Gang describes the fictitious reformers seen in literary and artistic works:

The factory has gone through all kinds of hardships, finally turning over five million yuan in revenues to the state (a total of five million!). But still, the honorable factory director Li Jiangchuan becomes a defendant.... At that time, the factory was severely short of coal. If tire coal is not replenished within 13 days, then the workers feel obligated to hang themselves and collectively commit suicide. Then, the Provincial Party Committee’s investigation team arrives.... The director holds back his anger, enduring humiliation after humiliation as he begs for a little coal. For the moment, the railways section has not dispatched a train. There is yet another “noose” hanging over his head. Knowing there is no time to delay, he uses a coach for a long-distance transfer of coal. This was seen as tantamount to burning gasoline in a furnace. Unreasonable! Terrible! When I saw Li Jiangchuan (the defendant) and all the workers on the screen unloading coal, shoveling coal, loading coal into baskets, and sweating profusely in the heavy rain, I could not help weeping bitterly.15

As a result, Yan Gang considers Li Jiangchuan “a new socialist, a hero, contemporary hero, a selfless and wise innovator, entrepreneur, and industrial strategist.”16

Li Jiangchuan is under tremendous pressure as a reformer. To help the factory survive, he has to cultivate good relations with coalmines, railway sub-bureaus, transportation brigades, electricity power bureaus, tax bureaus, banks, and other unofficial departments that existed in the planned economy of the time. Despite these pressures, he is still attacked from all sides and placed under investigation as a defendant. The lack of coal threatens to immediately shut the factory down. All these contradictions and pressures weigh on Li Jiangchuan like a mountain. It is admirable that he neither deserts his position nor feels overwhelmed. Instead, he stands up to the pressure and fulfills his responsibilities. Yan Gang argued that, “in real life, factory managers like Li Jiangchuan are needed. On the screen, images like Li Jiangchuan are needed. Among writers and artists, fighters like Li Jiangchuan are needed!”17

The theme of Blood Is Always Hot is quite clear. Reform is a revolution in management and administration, but. more importantly, it is also a revolution in thought. At the core of the plot is the technical transition from machine printing to manual printing. This reform process produces a series of problems including changes in technique, updates to equipment, personnel recruitment, and bonus incentives. In order to realize this technical transformation, the factory director Luo Xingang suffers a great deal of hardship. These plot points both demonstrate the difficulties of reform and leave a relatively open space for the development of characters.

Films such as Behind the Defendant and Blood Is Always Hot raised questions about how to make reform-themed films and how to shape reform-oriented characters. Academic circles discussed these questions and reached some valuable conclusions. Writing in 1983, Lei Da argued:

People could see that, since the publication of Jiang Zilong’s Manager Qiao Takes Office four years ago, a large number of works reflecting the struggles of reform have emerged in the fields of literature, drama, and film. Many of them should be regarded as excellent. At the same time, clichéd works, facsimiles, and overly schematic works have also quietly proliferated like shadows. Although there are several models for these derivative works, they are almost always about a new factory manager who authoritatively carries out reforms and solves the problems. Or about a reformer who is unable to stand up to large obstacles and ends up in tragedy. There is also always a plotline concerning love entanglements to add a little fun. Of course, maybe in the final analysis, the fates of characters and trends in life could not escape the above-mentioned patterns. However, many works are only facsimiles, lacking the flesh and bones of life. These truly are stereotypical.18

Blood Is Always Hot ends inconclusively with Luo Xingang giving an impassioned speech. Though this provides an emotional climax, the investigation of Luo Xingang is just beginning, and the following day is the delivery date agreed to in the Canton Fair contract. Luo Xingang’s fate is unknown, and the future of the silk factory is also uncertain. The film does not want to make reform appear too easy, but it also does not want to leave the audience too pessimistic about the future of reform. As a result, it settles on use of emotion to imply its conclusions. Lei Da argues,

the film does not allow people to draw pessimistic conclusions. It brilliantly realizes its positive themes. The audience would probably agree that compared to other protagonists in movies about reform, the image of Luo Xingang is much more credible, vivid and rich.19

Not only did Leida evaluate Blood Is Always Hot relatively highly, the judges of the Golden Rooster Awards also spoke highly of the film and its passion for reform:

Some judges pointed out that the subject of reform requires portraying the passion of reformers rather than just the content of. and plans for, reform. In this regard, Blood Is Always Hot is superior to Behind the Defendant and The Last Choice. The visual impact of this film on the screen is much more comprehensive and clearer than that of Behind the Defendant. Its artistic appeal is also stronger.

However, some judges believed that Blood Is Always Hot was inferior to Behind Defendant in terms of both the social problems it revealed as well as its overall conception. “Factory managers like Luo Xingang are less relevant to our lives today. The problems of reforms are far more complex than what figures like him thought.” The judges continued:

The film creates a somewhat idealized factory manager. He fits with the idealized characters that have become common in literary works since the creation of the character of Manager Qiao. It is unrealistic and impractical to depend on one cadre to change the face of a factory and to realize the ideals of reform. The obstacles encountered by reformers expose the imperfect parts of our socialist system while also demonstrating the necessity of reform. We cannot conduct reforms with a simple pattern, nor can films make prescriptions, but we should work to stimulate profound and deep dunking. In short, when representing today’s reforms, creators should take two aspects into account; namely, understanding life thoroughly and reproducing life in artistic and authentic ways. Artists should be thinkers, but they obviously cannot replace politicians and entrepreneurs. We must have a clear understanding of this.20

Like Luo Xingang. Li Jiangchuan faces many problems. Under the complex management system in the planned economy, these problems could not be solved according to established procedures. In order to achieve his goals, Li has to find new ways to solve problems. One avenue Luo and Li both explore is capitalizing on their relations and establishing underhanded connections. For example, Luo Xingang gives households appliances to well-connected people, while Li Jiangchuan gifts people vintage wines. These passionate reformers are wracked by turmoil when they are forced to do these deeds. Luo Xingang finds himself full of grief and indignation on his way back from giving gifts. Similarly, Li Jiangchuan feels depressed and blames himself after presenting gifts he bought with his own money:

“Oh, as the manager of a factory, I am not even as valuable as a few bottles of wine!”

“If I know there is a puddle in front of me, I have to jump into it.”

“Do I undermine the Party’s style? ... Almost every night. I make up my mind to withstand the temptations. But every time, I think of a thousand possibilities in the evening, but find myself only selling tofu in the morning.”

“I don’t believe that the world of the CPC can destroy itself.”

“I do speak my mind. What I have been waiting for is today. It feels like there is a ticking bomb strapped to my body that will explode along with these shady deals. As for whether I have been right or wrong, I’ll let others discuss that!”

These behaviors might have been inconsistent with the values of the reformers, but they were necessary to realize their own individual values. These tendencies demonstrated the awkwardness and helplessness of reformers in the 1980s, while also foreshadowing their tragedies. “Unhealthy” behaviors became compelling evidence for institutional investigations. Such investigations caused reformers unquenchable grief. The system harmed people while it also governed them. The reformers who slipped between the cracks were naturally miserable.

Films such as Bell Tone, Blood Is Always Hot, and Behind the Defendant each only addressed reform and development in one factory or enterprise. Compared with these films, the ideas of reform portrayed in the film Acting Mayor (Beijing Film Studio, 1985) were much grander. This film portrayed the reform and development of an entire city. Since the mid-1980s, reforms of all types of issues in the urban economic system had been initiated across the country. Acting Mayor focused on two important problems in urban construction: economic development and improving people’s livelihoods.

The construction of Acting Mayor Xiao Ziyun’s image depicts new features that are pragmatic, energetic, and effective, while being devoid of bureaucratic practices. He does not wear Chinese tunic suits or Western-style clothes, which were both political symbols in China at the time. Instead, he wears a leather jacket, which helps him maintain a kind of combat posture at all times. He never employs a driver and always drives himself. This is another unusual feature which ran against public perceptions of officialdom at the time. Xiao Ziyun’s background is also different from that of previous professional party and government cadres. He is a professional engineer, but he was born to a patriotic overseas Chinese family living in Thailand. He is a returned overseas Chinese with a map of China tattooed on his back. To a certain extent, he has an international vision as well as an open mind.

Although Xiao Ziyun was born overseas, the film needs to strengthen the connections between Ins family and his motherland of China. After all, Xiao Ziyun is the CPC’s mayor of Yingzhou. As early as the 1930s, Xiao Ziyun’s father sent his elder brother back to China to participate in the War of Resistance against Japan. This brother died in a battle at Taihang Mountain. In the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when Xiao Ziyun was just 15 years old, his father imitated the practice of Yue Fei’s mother during the Song Dynasty and tattooed the territory of China on Ziyun’s back. He asked Ziyun to love the motherland and sent him back to China to aid in national development. During 30 years of ups and downs, Xiao Ziyun suffered catastrophes along with others from similar origins, but his pure love for his motherland never vanished. The combination of all these conditions leads Xiao Ziyun to advance reforms in Yingzhou City. His vision is not just the reform of a factory or the implementation of a technological transformation project, but the reform and development of an entire city. The undoubtedly greater ambitions in this narrative prove even more challenging for the film’s characters.

As acting mayor, Xiao Ziyun first announces ten major goals to be accomplished during his tenure. These include sharing the valuable experiences of Baiyun Pharmaceutical Factory across the city; selecting 20 postgraduates from the city to go abroad for further study; solving problems with the phone system; building bridges across the Yingjiang River; and so on. These ten major goals address a wide range of problems. The experiences of Baiyun Pharmaceutical Factory emphasize how to enact corporate reforms and how to implement policies for intellectuals. The construction of the Yingjiang Bridge addresses the sensitive issue of whether financing infrastructure “belongs to socialism or capitalism.” Xiao Ziyun supports farmers to raise funds to build the bridge and plans to recover the capital through tolls in the first 3 years of the bridge’s operation. After 4 or 5 years, the country would take 40 percent of the toll revenues, and farmers would take 60 percent; 5 years later, the bridge would be handed over to the state. Xiao Ziyun says to the farmers,

Raising funds benefits the Four Modernizations. Now, we are raising funds to build bridges. In the future, we could raise funds to build roads, railways, and buildings in the cities. Raising funds is beneficial to both the country and individuals. It is a long-term policy.

In this era, when the planned economy took a dominant position and the state controlled everything, Xiao Ziyun’s plan to share benefits from the bridge’s construction with farmers arouses substantial debate within the leadership. Xiao Ziyun has a dispute about these ideas with Luo Ting, the secretary of the Municipal Party committee. Luo Ting breaks with Xiao Ziyun and applies for funds from the province to finance the project, planning to take the bridge construction project back from the fanners. For his part, Xiao Ziyun believes that the promise to the farmers must be fulfilled. In this policy dispute over reforms, Xiao Ziyun is under tremendous pressure.

At the critical moment Xiao Ziyun gains the support of the provincial leaders and temporarily reverses the situation. Xiao Ziyun excitedly exclaims at the press conference,

If the people are still leading a poor life, it is not them who are dishonorable, but our government. We cadres work for the people, and the people trust the Party. There was a song from more than ten years ago that said big rivers have water and small rivers are full. This is illogical. Where does the water in big rivers come from? It is the trickle of small rivers that create the Yangtze River and the Yellow River. Similarly, only when the people are rich can the country be strong.

Xiao Ziyun’s ideas were very rare in the 1980s. At the time, collectivist values dominated mainstream ideology in China. When discussing the balance between national wealth and people’s wealth, people always explained that, “big rivers lack water then small rivers dry up.” In other words, they believed that individual interests should be subordinate to collective interests, and collective interests should be subordinate to national interests. It was very rare in this era for a figure like Xiao Ziyun to advocate for respecting personal interests and building the wealth of people. After 10 years of turmoil defined by campaigns fighting selfishness and criticizing revisionism, it was still deemed unsatisfactory to respect individuals, to respect individual interests, and to protect private property. Individuals and families were squeezed in the name of the state, the collective, and justice. Personal space and private property were often vulnerable in the face of grand narratives and did not receive the respect they deserved. Xiao Zivun’s priority to make people rich is still developing as a value in China today.

When choosing between the collective and the individual, and between the system and the people, Xiao Ziyun favors the individual and the people, respectively. At the end of the film, Xiao Ziyun says frankly, “I am willing to stand with the people and be a public servant for the prosperity of the country. If I am a servant of the people, I’ll die without any regrets.” He argues. “I would rather violate the laws of God in heaven than provoke the wrath of the public.” Someone asks. “What does it mean to violate the laws of God in heaven?” He answers, “violating the laws of God in heaven means daring to change things that seem to be inviolable but in fact only hinder progress and harm the interests of the country and the people.” Of course, daring to “violate the laws of God in heaven” does not just mean acting willfully. He advocates putting people first and makes himself responsible for both the country and the people. If one keeps people’s interests at heart and stays consistent with the Reform and Opening Up policies, then it becomes necessary to violate those “laws of God” that restrict development. Otherwise, the “wrath of the public” would be triggered. Established rules and regulations that previously seemed reasonable in fact hinder development and run counter to the interests of the Party and the people. Therefore, in the face of pressures and misunderstanding, Xiao Ziyun does not alter his approach to reform, but continues to confidently push Ins plan forward. The image this portrays differs from the sentiments invoked by those more tragic figures of reform. Xiao Ziyun’s confidence and courage provide a new model for characters involved with reform. Five of the ten major goals that he promised have been accomplished when his term of office expires. He requests to prolong his term for another 3 months in order to fulfill all the promises he made to the people of the city. Xiao Ziyun says, “I never regret the path I chose. If history allows me to choose again, I will still choose this path.”

The Republic Will Never Forget (Gongheguo buhui wangji, dir. Zhai Junjie, 1988) tells the story of the third-tier, large-scale enterprise Huajiang Steel Company (“Huagang”), located where Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces intersect in Southwest China. After the Cultural Revolution, the enterprise experiences difficult times. However, the state System still supports the enterprise, and the State Council approves it to earn out a pilot project in reforming the contract management system. The focus of the drama conflicts quickly turns to the characters’ emotional relationships. The narrative emphasizes how reformers deal with emotional relations with both their family members and their colleagues during the process of reform. The biggest hardship reformers experience is becoming lonelier and lonelier through the process of carrying out reforms. Although both the wider system and the individual enterprise value reform, reformers remain tragic figures in terms of their daily social relations. While selecting Huagang’s leadership team, Tian Geng, a pioneering reformer as well as the general manager, prepares to assign the agile and smart Lan Yumeng to the position of deputy general manager. But the Party secretary, Xiao Peicheng, has a different opinion, arguing that Lan Yumeng has problem in his personal life because he still has an ambiguous relationship with the assistant engineer Feng Lu, even though he is already married, winch is concerning to people. In this context Tian Geng begins to intervene in the emotional life of his colleagues in order to protect talented cadres and advance his own plans for reform. Tian Geng fully understands the key elements of China’s cadre policies. For a cadre to be promoted, issues in their personal lives are indeed political issues. Forging ahead in his own career, Tian Geng knows that he cannot promote Lan Yumeng, regardless of public opinions of Lan, so he tries to find other ways to solve the problem. Tian Geng reaches out to Feng Lu. He cooks for her and introduces a suitable match to her as a way to alienate her from Lan Yumeng. Feng Lu responds with embarrassment and anger, "You are the boss, you have the power to direct production, but you have no power to decide my marriage!" Subsequently, Tian Geng has no choice but to talk with Lan Yumeng. Speaking of the relationship, Lan Yumeng admits that he and Feng Lu love each other. Tian Geng is very angry and shouts,

Love, love, you’re talking nonsense! To be honest, Feng Lu is indeed a woman of great beauty. Thirty years ago, I might fall in love with her too. But you must listen to me; from now on, you must stay away from her. The ancient romantic emperor might have been able to sacrifice his throne for beauty, but you can’t. You must love your career instead of the beauty. I’m old now, and my working days are numbered.

The mise-en-scène at this point in the film is quite interesting. Although they are discussing a major program of reform and development, the scene’s straightforward, heartfelt, charming, and earthly sentiments are expressed through the mise-en-scène and the actors' performances.

After his soft approach fails, Tian Geng demonstrates the rough side of his personality. At a dance party, he asks Feng Lu to stay away from Lan Yumeng, which causes an embarrassing stalemate between the three of them. Tian Geng’s rude and patriarchal attitudes are seen not just in his interference in Feng Lu’s love affair, but also in his insistence on making his daughter return to Fluagang. His daughter, Tian Yuan, studies choral singing in Beijing and works as a solo actor. If she returns to the remote Huagang. she will have little chance to develop her career. Staying with a big theater troupe in Beijing would bring her a better future. Still, Tian Geng repeatedly asks his daughter to set an example and return to Huagang. Tian Yuan says that her father has “a mania for power, and a selfish spirit.” She declares. “You are a good manager, but not a good father.” Of course, Tian Geng has his own reasons and insists, "If I want others to stay in Huagang, then my daughter must first return.” As a result father and daughter have a falling out and Tian Yuan leaves without saying goodbye.

Tian Geng also faces a test of his comradeship as he carries out his reforms. To continue developing Huagang, they must start the second phase of the project but the funds are insufficient. Tian Geng determines to take out a loan of US$350 million from an international syndicate. Tian Geng and the chief economist and legal expert of Huagang, Zhong Tianwen, get into a fierce argument. Mr. Zhong says, “If we cannot repay the debt on schedule, Huagang will collapse, and the entire Chinese steel industry will be implicated. Then we will be condemned in the history of China’s steel industry!” Tian Geng responds, “Why don’t you want to be commended in the history of China’s steel industry?” Zhong Tianwen answers. “If we fail, I’m truly afraid that I will be headed towards the crematorium and won’t be able to extricate myself from that path.” Tian Geng argues, “It doesn’t matter. At worst, our tombs will serve as a message for future generations, even if they are messages of failure.” After this fierce disagreement, they still cannot reach a consensus to solve the problem. Zhong Tianwen refuses to sign the loan contract, but Tian Geng decides to bypass Zhong Tianwen and signs the contract himself. At this point, these close comrades who have worked side by side for 40 years part ways. Tian Geng decides to send Zhong Tianwen to work at the Baogang Steel Company. He had once refused to dispatch Zhong Tianwen there owing to his need for Zhong’s services, but this time he does it on his own initiative. After reporting to his superiors, Tian Geng bursts into tears at Zhong Tianwen’s departure. But, in front of the secretary, Tian Geng firmly states his principles. “He can be the boss of Baogang Steel Company, he can be the minister of metallurgy, but he cannot be my chief economist.” This is because Zhong Tianwen’s economic directions are inconsistent with those of Tian Geng. The more negative energy generated, the more needs to be offset. Tian Geng’s close associate Lan Yumeng firmly stands by his side, saying, “It makes sense, one minus one equals zero.”

Tian Geng has invested too much emotion in the development of Huagang. Tian Geng has also noticed this problem. As a result, he asks his daughter to forgive him for his lack of care for his family. Tian Yuan says, “No one has to ask for forgiveness, only for understanding.” As the second phase of the project starts, a new chapter for Huagang seems set to unfold. At this time, Tian Geng invites Feng Lu to dinner at a restaurant. Feng Lu does not know Tian Geng’s intentions, thinking that he wants to introduce her to another potential boyfriend. Tian Geng says he has made an appointment with a friend that will make her smile. Feng Lu is furious and turns to leave. Suddenly, she sees that the person Tian Geng is referring to is Lan Yumeng. She understands Tian Geng’s intentions and breaks into tears.

Tian Geng had forced Lan Yumeng and Feng Lu to separate, but now he helps them to reconcile. He recommends Lan Yumeng to become the commander-in-chief of the second phase of the project. When Tian Geng returns home, he finally has time to spend with his wife. Looking at the photos of his wife at a young age, Tian Geng sighs that he owes too many emotional debts that he will have to sort out later. Still, he believes the People’s Republic will be unable to forget Iris contributions to the national steel industry!

In the early 1980s, the reformers depicted in films often expressed strong resentment towards the obstacles erected by China’s economic system. They approached dilemmas in reform with idealistic and romantic passion. Even when they were misunderstood and the future of reform seemed uncertain, they could still infect the audience with a fighting spirit, inspiring them to dauntlessly face down difficulties. They awakened people with a spirit that declared, “I will dare to make sacrifices to fulfill my ambitions” and “I will serve my motherland with my blood.” All the reformers portrayed in films seemed to have a sense of tragic consciousness possessed by Tan Sitong and other famous reformers in Chinese history (Tan Sitong was executed in 1898 after the failed 100 Days’ Reforms near the end of the Qing Dynasty). They were willing to use their failures and deaths to draw the attention of society and the people to the need for reform.

However, by the late 1980s, the expression of such idealism and heroism was declining. People viewed reforms in a relatively pragmatic manner and took more practical stances towards life. As a result the status of reformers came to be reduced. They were no longer iconoclasts attacking the system, but had calmed down and were undertaking reforms in a rational way. Films began to describe their personal emotions instead of their passion to rage at thousand-year-old conventions. More relatable and understandable descriptions of family affection and friendship began to appear. Reform was depicted as not just a declaration of war on the established system. Reformers also had to focus on themselves. Narratives began to focus on how reformers dealt with their emotions and social relations while carrying out reforms. The pain of reformers such as Tian Geng was part of the process of reforms. Throughout this process, Tian Geng gradually got lonelier and lonelier. In these circumstances, people like Tian Geng still regarded reform as a solemn and stirring act and immersed themselves in a tragic mood. The reformers in the films of the 1980s were all shrouded by tragic fates. These included Luo Xingang in Blood Is Always Hot, Li Jiangchuan in Behind the Defendant, Liu Zhao in Number 5 Garden Street, Tian Geng in The Republic Will Never Forget, and even Zhang Guanyin in Xiangsi Women’s Inn. These characters were deeply proud of the sense of sadness and grandeur derived from this kind of tragedy. The satisfaction achieved by the implementation of their assumed missions and ideals surpassed the pains of life. These sentiments completed the image of the idealistic reformer. In an unseen way, the tragic consciousness of the reformers foreshadowed types of social fates in the 1980s.

Young People Gather Together: Youth in Films

Young people are the future and embody the prospects of any nation. In the 1980s, Chinese youth were brimming with passion. A popular song of the times, “Young People Gather Together” (Nianqinde pengyou laixianghui), reflected the pride of the new generation:

Young friends, gather together today.Let us sway on the boat, and feel tire gentle, warm wind.The flowers blossom, the birds sing, the spring makes us happier.Cheerful songs and laughter flutter through the colorful clouds.Dear friends, to whom does the wonderful spring belong?It belongs to you; it belongs to me.It belongs to us, the new generation of the 1980s.

This song and its mood have become an archetypical cultural symbol that still evokes public memories of the 1980s.

The Chinese music industry had a remarkable record of composing songs for the youth in the 1980s. Many songs carried the stamp of the times. In the film industry, authorities also highly valued themes relevant to youth. At the Enlarged Meeting of the Executive Board of the Film Association in 1982, Xia Yan specifically emphasized youth films:

I agree with Comrade Zhao Ziyang that the Four Modernizations depend on policy and science. However, our films do not reflect new achievements in science and technology. Instead, they indulge in romantic notions about love, adventure, mystery, and so on. A very limited number of films are about industry and science, and the number of films about young people is even fewer. The audiences of films are mainly young people, who today constitute a large percentage of the population. I have read materials that argue a considerable proportion of today’s criminals are young people who are unemployed despite the circumstances of their births. Due to the ten years of upheaval [of the Cultural Revolution], these people lost the opportunity to learn. The negative ideas of the “Gang of Four” still linger in their minds and they have little confidence in socialism. Therefore, educating and training this younger generation is a major task for us. Educational films and newsreels should serve this mission. It is also an unavoidable task for feature films.21

In fact, right after the Cultural Revolution, the film industry enthusiastically devoted itself to portraying the youth of the new era. The young people in films such as The Young Kids, A Sweet Life, and What a Family (Qiao zheyijiazi, dir. Wang Haowi, 1979) represented brand-new images of socialist youth that differed from ideas common during the Cultural Revolution. As one example, Chen Guangzhong, a famous writer as well as the director of Central Studio News Reels Production, produced a documentary entitled Don't Let the Youth Go by (Mo rang nianhua fu shuiliu, 1981) that demonstrated his love and passion for young people. This film called on young people to “advance bravely along the road of the new Long March.” Chen Guangzhong sincerely addressed audiences with the poetic language of the 1980s, “young people, I love you!” This statement captured the main concept of the him. Chen Guangzhong argued,

as newsreel workers who are dedicated to reflecting the pulse of the times and expressing the voice of the public, we should care for the youth. We should let them shine in their best years and guide them to work hard to realize the Four Modernizations.

He went on:

The film tells people the truth: life is magnificent, yet hard. It is not as magical, romantic and sweet as poetry depicts. At the same time that life is always full of sunshine, there are also storms. The future might be bright, but our road is bumpy and rough. We want young people to know something about the dialectics of life, because life is full of contradictions. The question is how to deal with contradictions and use the proper perspectives and attitudes to resolve them. Don’t idle away the life. This is not only a request of the youth, but also a call for the times. Everyone should meditate upon these issues and answer them through practice.22

Film creation paid considerable attention to young people, but it apparently still could not satisfy all young audiences’ needs for both culture and cultural consumption. This was the time of passionate Reform and Opening Up, a period of pioneering and innovation. As Guo Moruo once said, “ten thousand years are too long, seize the day, seize the hour!” A survey conducted by China Youth Daily showed that:

Young workers from factories and mines, especially those in tough fields such as coal, steel, construction and geological exploration, pointed out that there were too few films reflecting the hard work of the Four Modernizations. Many young workers wrote letters saying that they are fighting on the front lines of the Four Modernizations, where the working conditions and living environment are very tough. However, due to social prejudices, the young people in these industries encounter many difficulties in love, marriage and family life. They hope that moving films could reflect their lives and help remove people’s prejudices.23

Socialist realist creation requires literary and artistic works to reflect the times. The important responsibility of artists is to mirror the essence of society through artistic images. In response to the appeals of top leaders as well as the hopes of general audiences, the film industry explored how best to represent both the times and modern people onscreen. From August 11 to August 20, 1982, the Symposium on Contemporary Film was held in Beijing as well as neighboring Zhuo County in Hebei. The symposium focused on how to portray modern people, especially contemporary youth, in films. An anonymous account of the symposium explained:

One obvious fact is that the youth of the 1980s are different in many ways from the youth of the 1960s and 1950s. As both society and the economy have developed, today’s youth have become more literate. In rural areas, the change is significant; in the cities, the change is rapid. The modem youth prefer films to help them gain a deeper understanding of life, rather than boring political sermons. Filmmakers must be sensitive to the level of modernity of their films. Your work should be immediately recognizable as a work of the 1980s, then it will be able to touch the hearts of the young people.24

At the symposium, modern people became a significant concept. The anonymous memoirist continued:

In order to reflect present-day life, we must first solve the problem of understanding today’s generations ... Only by grasping the characteristics of modern people, which are different from those of past generations, can we truly reflect social life. When some hear the term "modern people," they only think of the youth. This is not precise. Modem people are the products of contemporary social living conditions. To be more specific, our modern people are the products of the contemporary social living conditions in China. So, how should we summarize the characteristics of modern people? Some comrades say that they possess a sense of history, self-consciousness, and inner complexity; others say that they are reflecting on things in the midst of distress and straggling in the face of difficulties.25

Chinese people were both learning about the present and imagining the future by contemplating and reshaping the concept of “modern people.” Huang Shuqin embraced these trends in her first film, Modern People (Dangdai ren). This film emphasized industrial themes. In South China, the products of the Advance Tractor Factory have serious quality problems. The old tractors do not work, and the new tractors cannot be sold. Farmers haul those old vehicles back and block the factory entrance. Despite these dramatic problems, the factory leaders do not improve production because they remain too self-absorbed. Instead, they ignore the problems and hold a celebration for the 20th anniversary of the Red Flag Workshop. That day, when tire leaders are all present and everyone is in a good mood, Cai Ming, an engineer and the new deputy director of the factory, raises the problem of old tractors and asks the leaders to solve the problem as soon as possible. Cai Ming’s proposal spoils the fun and causes discontent. Still, Cai Ming overcomes most of the obstacles in his path, disbanding the factory’s propaganda team and changing it into a technical service team. He leads the team to the countryside to repair tractors. However, they soon face many problems in carrying out their work. They have neither enough money, nor enough resources, making it hard to carry on. At the same time, Cai Ming organizes people to develop new tractors, a plan that vested interests oppose. However, Cai Ming receives the appreciation of the old factory manager, Wang Kaiji, who recognizes Cai Ming as a trustworthy successor. Ultimately, Wang gives leadership of the tractor factory to Cai Ming against the objections of the majority.

What characteristics define “modem people”? They undoubtedly possess qualities such as youthfulness, style, and cutting-edge interests. These qualities are demonstrated by characters in films such as Wang Weidan, Cai Ming, and even the old factory director Wang Kaiji. Director Huang Shuqin theorized a more in-depth idea of modem people. When conceptualizing the role of Wang Weidan, she said,

Wang Weidan is a character with the features of modern youth. Zhang Xiaolei played this role, and said to me, if she loves, she loves boldly; if she is jealous, she spits in disdain without fear. She does not conceal her feelings. We wanted to make her embody the image of a new young woman who is free from any new forms of arranged marriage and who is a new type of young woman who has broken free from the “daring love” of individual liberation.26

The work brings not only young people such as Wang Weidan, but also the old factory manager, Wang Kaiji, closer to representing a certain sense of the times. Others have disagreed with this interpretation of Wang Kaiji. According to Zhao Cheng,

Wang Kaiji has absolute authority over the factory. No matter what it is, no one can challenge his word. All the factory cadres have to listen to him and rally around him. This "individual-centered" mentality, a concept and method of leadership that makes others unconditionally subservient to oneself, possesses some of the characteristics of feudal patriarchy.27

But when we carefully analyze the narrative threads of the film, we find that Wang Kaiji is defined by a peculiar quality of modern people: open-mindedness. He is the director of the Advance Tractor Factory, and the burden of the success or failure of the enterprise is all placed on him. He sometimes enjoys compliments for his contributions to the tractor factory, but he also bears responsibility for its problems. Still, when facing the problems raised by Cai Ming and others, he neither fails to acknowledge them nor throws a fit in rage. He acknowledges their existence and supports Cai Ming in addressing them. When Cai Ming confronts Wang Kaiji about false reports of the value of the Red Flag Workshop’s output, he says, “there are many habitual forces in life that bind us together. Director, you are a senior, and I look forward to your support.” At the end of the film, Wang Kaiji attends the factory conference and does not dodge the issue of the false reports that were released during his administration. Ultimately, Wang Kaiji decides to entrust the future of the factory to Cai Ming. Wang Kaiji hands the key to Cai Ming to the sound of singing. In these respects, Wang Kaiji is a modern man, with an open mind and a broad vision. He is able to get rid of his personal prejudices and prioritize more important affairs, putting the cause of the factory and development first. In the 1980s, old cadres were giving way to the new, but old cadres like Wang Kaiji were still needed for their tolerance and openness. It has also been proven that, if the handover of leadership from old to new cadres is not handled properly, then society will suffer serious problems. Thus, looking back upon history from a current perspective, a figure such as Wang Kaiji appears truly precious.

Cai Ming is another typical example of a “modern person.” According to Zhao Cheng, “the young deputy factory manager, Cai Ming, is a modern person that the him is dedicated to portraying. Modern people are not born out of nothing; he is the favored son of contemporary social life and social contradictions.”28 Director Huang Shuqin devoted extensive effort to creating this character. She elaborated:

The most important thing is the conceptualization of Cai Ming’s image. He is a new type of socialist entrepreneur of the 1980s who is practical and full of pragmatic spirit. How much does real life need such people! The social significance of this artistic archetype is self-evident. The establishment of Cai Ming's image is the key to the success of the whole film. The script gives him many merits. He is smart, capable, dashing, and good at singing and dancing ... but what is his most important temperament? Or, what, in my view, is the defining modem temperament that Cai Ming possesses? It is soberness. Ten years of upheaval has shaped a sober generation. They have learned to think and no longer no blindly follow. He is one of those who emerged from the movement for ideological liberation with the will to reform and the ability to achieve victory. He has long broken away from the “revolutionary sentiments” of “having food for all” (Li’s words) in favor of economic efficiency. The film removes all the grand words. But when Cai Ming makes a long-distance phone call to Xu Yan to insist on changing his order for a diesel engine, he shouts: “This is competition. Learn to do business. Don’t blush. Act like a real businessman.” In the scene showing him singing and dancing with the youth at the entrance of the club, he gives him a clear motive—to encourage the youth to join the team that repairs tractors. That is why Xu Yan says he was “like a chameleon.” He knows that he is not an exceptionally capable person or a hero, but just like tire child in the story of The Emperor's New Clothes who tells the truth.29

Truth-telling and pragmatism were the cornerstones of Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up policies of the 1980s. The film uses practices of artistic creation to reconceptualize grand narratives into aesthetic images. It makes great efforts to reflect the spirit of the times and contemporary consciousness. The film also accurately captures key elements of society. Cai Ming’s courage to tell the truth about the factory’s economic crisis at the celebration is a key step in shaping the characters and framing the conflict. Zhao Cheng wrote:

Exposing such contradictions not only requires a sober head and clear eyes, but also great coinage. Once the contradiction is revealed, the struggle begins. He knows that this move will certainly offend the powerful factory manager Li. the personnel manager Liu Lifang, and the ambitious Li Baoben in addition to offending the factory director Wang. But he still resolutely steps forward and fires the first shot of the straggle, demonstrating the selfless and fearless character of the entrepreneur.30

In order to portray Cai Ming’s characteristics, the director used many methods to highlight his identity as a modem young man. For example. Cai Ming’s first appearance is upbeat and extraordinary. He first appears in a conversation with Wang Kaiji. Some people say that Li Baoben is the best talent in the Red Flag Workshop. The old factory manager says, “there is more than one talent in our factory.” Then others follow up, “Do you mean Cai Ming?” The camera moves on to the next scene, and the main character. Cai Ming, appears. As light music plays. Cai runs through the middle of a stand of trees. He exercises on his way to work with a healthy, athletic, and energetic spirit. This matches the expectations of youth of the times. In order to strengthen Cai Ming’s sense of the times and emphasize that he is not a bore or a control freak, the director portrays him from many perspectives. For example. Cai Ming puts a model of a Rodin sculpture in his house. He also leads a propaganda team to participate in an open-air gala while holding his guitar and singing songs. These acts naturally cause the other young people in the film to appreciate him. Through this character, the filmmakers hoped to show the style of Chinese youth in the 1980s. They also hoped that the image of Cai Ming might become a model for youth in reality. The characters in this film are reformers, entrepreneurs, and pioneers, and they are all building their own poetic lives. This is consistent with both the social atmosphere and the personal values that existed during the early 1980s.

These poetic pursuits are scattered throughout the film. For example, when Cai Ming and Wang Weidan are riding their motorcycle back to the factory from the repair station in the countryside, the film’s theme song. “Young Heart.” plays. The lyrics go:

The dusk wind blows in one’s face, the intoxicating fragrance is everywhere. We are like the flowers in the field, and young hearts are like blooming buds.

When the song starts. Cai Ming is driving his motorcycle through the picturesque wilderness. A train seems to be racing with him. The mood, the landscape, the song, and the emotions all merge. Spirited emotions, poetic depictions of life, and free-flowing feelings were all typical characteristics of representations of “modem” youth during the 1980s. Huang Shuqin explained her thoughts on the song “Young Heart”:

The composer, Shi Guangnan, shares a common understanding of the script and has great enthusiasm for the film. When we first met he already had the theme score written. Listening to him playing and singing. I immediately felt that this was the melody the film needed. It has an overwhelming power, and is so bright, dashing and energetic. This piece is really like a march for contemporary youth. I enjoy the theme music so much.... We want the film to be like a person who has reached a mature stage of youth. It is reliable and full of confidence and energy. Our country is in exactly such a state. Or rather, this, is how we understand the pulse of the times and is what we’re trying to capture!31

Cai Ming is cheerful, free, and rational. But. in an era of reform, when the old is meeting the new. the world’s affairs cannot be realized according to his liking. Cai Ming finally becomes the factory director, but his lover and supporter Xu Yan is assigned to a diesel engine factory. The products of that factory are abandoned because Xu Yan strives to use high-quality diesel engines from Shanghai, a decision which creates a difficult working environment. According to Huang Shuqing’s description, at the end of the film:

Cai Ming sits in the factory director’s office reading documents. He looks focused and grounded. Them Wang Weidan hands him a form and asks, “why didn’t you stop the transfer of Xu Yan?” Cai Ming answers her while approving the form, “now I don’t have such power to stop everything. That is unreasonable,” Wang Weidan asks with concern, “is it stressful?” Cai Ming looks up and replies, “pressure can turn into power.” After he says that, the camera slowly zooms in for a close-up. He looks squarely at the camera and smiles, as if he is saying both to himself and to the audience: “this is how our society is moving forward, isn’t it?”32

The 1980s were a time when the planned economy still dominated. The commercial attributes of Chinese cities were not obvious at the time. Instead, they remained essentially industrial and manufacturing centers. Industrial workers dominated the population of the cities. According to the theory of the CPC. the industrial working class is the vanguard of the proletariat and the first group of proletarians to be awakened. They are organized and disciplined. The base of the CPC’s power is the worker-peasant alliance formed between the working class and groups such as peasants and intellectuals. Therefore, urban youth, especially young urban workers, have a particularly important position in constructions of China’s cultural imagination. In the era of the planned economy, industry and youth were popular themes of films. and young workers combine both themes. In the early 1980s, young people played an important role in grand narratives emphasizing the furthering of the Four Modernizations and the revitalization of China. Many films were produced that treated young workers as important subjects in the cultural imaginary. The films attempted to shape the image of young workers as role models who could lead social trends. Such depictions included the shipyard workers in The Happy Bachelors (Kuaile de danshenhan, dir. Song Chong, 1983), Against the Light, and A Corner in The City (Dushi li de cunzhuang, dir. Teng Wenji, 1982); the sanitation workers in Is It Love? (Chulianshi women budong aiqing, dir. Chen Xuejie, 1987): the tractor factory workers in Modern People; the chemical factory workers in The Beach (Haitan, dir. Teng Wenji, 1984); the textile factory workers in Red Skirts Are in Fashion on the Street (Jieshang liuxing hongqunzi, dir. Qi Xingjia, 1984); the chemical fiber factory workers in The Power of Women; the silk factory workers in Blood Is Always Hot and Freshwater Bay (Qingshuiwan, qingshuiwan, dir. Xie Tieli, 1984); the transport workers in Full of Colors (Chi cheng hua lü qin lan zi, dir. Jiang Shusen, 1982); the garment factory workers in A Story of Fortune Makers; and so on. All of these films of the times had young workers as their main characters. Although tire young workers in these films all had their own troubles, their tone was healthy and positive, and they depicted values of dedication, optimism, and confidence in the future. This was an innovative time when every one had dreams for the future and was willing to work hard to achieve those dreams. Most of these young worker characters used their spare time to study and work on culture, science, innovation, or invention. These characteristics are related to common narratives about “the wellspring of science.” the fetishization of knowledge, and the cult of the diploma, as well as the folk myth that emphasized “if you learn science, then you will not be afraid to go anywhere.” The young workers in The Young Kids all keep themselves busy studying and inventing. The chef is developing an automatic baking machine; the driver’s dream is to invent an automatic car washer: and the ticket clerk’s dream is to develop a machine that will automatically announce station names. Similarly, the cleaners in Is It Love? long for a future machine that will automatically bag and load garbage as they swing their shovels with tears in their eyes. These sanitation workers also have artistic talents and eventually become fashion designers. Spending all day long working with garbage does not prevent their thoughts from flowing freely. In another example, the garment worker character in A Story of Fortune Makers loves to do nothing more than inventing. This movie is somewhat over-the-top in its farcical atmosphere. But. in an era that worships modernization and automation, this worker’s invention of an “automatic tie” represents a practical accomplishment for Chinese people dreaming of Reform and Opening Up while also feeling helpless in the face of Western norms.

In 1984, Ying Zi wrote, “youth films were ‘hero worship’ in 1981, ‘group portraits of ordinary people’ in 1982, and representations of ‘ideal restoration’ in 1983."33 The 1983 film The Happy Bachelors (Kuaile de danshenhan, dir. Song Chong) takes a group of workers in a forging workshop at the Zhonghua Shipyard as its subject. It depicts these characters lives as a comedy. The film’s promotion reads: “They are happy while studying culture, happy both in workshop labor and in their spare time.” This statement reveals how Chinese artists focused on the all-round development of people while constructing their representations of youth. The young workers love their jobs and use their spare time to learn knowledge that will improve themselves. Work might ensure subsistence, but gaining new knowledge can open new horizons. When both material and spiritual assurances are fulfilled. human life can naturally be rich and meaningful. In the West at the time, there existed anxiety over the onedimensional development of the human being, especially among intellectuals associated with the Frankfurt School. Chinese cinema, on the other hand, was straggling to portray the all-round development of human beings. Whether or not such people existed in real life, the construction of these artistic images served as an appeal to reality.

In The Happy Bachelors, Shi Qilong’s team in the forging workshop at Zhonghua Shipyard is the most advanced team in the whole factory. This means that their business and working abilities have been recognized by the society. However, owing to the Cultural Revolution, the members of this team are not well educated. When they get upset they start lights. Under pressure from factory leaders, these young workers are forced to attend an amateur school. At first, they straggle while reading and learning. They tease the female teacher, even making her cry. In this context, the factory manager conducts intentional ideological work by taking them to visit a modem factory. The factory manager challenges them, “can you do these jobs?” The group leader, Shi Qilong, recognizes the importance of culture and says to himself, “if I learn, I can do it.” With the value of learning now instilled in their hearts, these self-respecting young people become highly motivated to study. Finally, Shi Qilong wins second place in the final exam. This accomplishment shows how the power of role models is infinite. Shi Qilong’s vigor in learning subsequently drives other young men to strive and succeed. As a result, the forging team’s enthusiasm for studying has increased. Their spare time has been enriched, and their spirit has been greatly enhanced. While acquiring knowledge, their creativity also comes into play. These young men work together to create automatic forging machines, engage in scientific inventions, improve work processes, and treat their work with greater creativity. All of them eventually become happy bachelors. On behalf of the youth, Shi Qilong says to tire factory manager, “we have shortcomings, but we look forward to the future and would like to build a better one with our hands.”

The Happy Bachelors serves as an example of the films that depicted images of well-rounded young workers. However, the character Liao Xingming in Against the Light should be taken as the archetypical image of a young socialist worker in the 1980s. Tins film, produced by Pearl River Film Studio and directed by Ding Yinnan, is valuable for its portrayal of the shipyard worker Liao Xingming. This character fits with idealized images of a new type of socialist worker that emerged in Chinese society during the early 1980s. Therefore, studying this characterization can contribute to our perceptions of how films constructed images of youth in the 1980s.

Liao Xingming, the main character of the film, fits exactly with the new mode of socialist modernization of the 1980s. First of all. he is a child from the slums, an authentic proletarian child. Second, he is an eighth-grade mechanic in a factory, meaning he is an advanced worker who belongs to the working class. Third, he spends his spare time writing science fiction, writing stories titled World Under the Sea and Noise of the City for children, as well as publishing many popular science books. He is one of the newcomers belonging to the “spring of science.” Loving literature was also in fashion among young people during the 1980s. Anyone who is skilled at writing can write novels, but Liao Xingming writes science literature because he thinks science can educate the next generation and be more meaningful. Through this choice, he shows his sense of responsibility to his society and country. Fourth, he spends his spare time studying English by himself. He can talk fluently with foreigners and is open-minded, paying attention to building the global image of new Chinese people. Fifth, he is frank with his opinions and openly advocates that members of the Communist Youth League should pursue their material lives, but that they should do so through hard work. This reveals his dialectical and unified values. Representing the ideals of a new socialist modernizer, when he has a choice between his career and love, he prioritizes his career, but knows that both a career and love are indispensable. Naturally, this new socialist modernizer eventually gains the support of his beautiful heroine. Xia Yinyin resolutely breaks away from her relatively wealthy family and embraces the lower-class life of Liao Xingming. The two live in difficult conditions, but the film gives them and their lives their due.

The film also features the type of poetic, romantic, and cultured atmosphere that is unique to cultural products of the 1980s. Director Ding Yinnan hoped that tire film could become “a prose poem . . . allowing the audience to find poetry in the atmospheres of life and giving people spiritual enjoyment.”34 The film opens with a poetic subtitle, “spring has arrived with its damp footprints.” During a poetic rainy season, the character Su Ping, a writer, expresses his concerns in a monologue:

A traditional China and a modern China, these two shadows are superimposed on people’s hearts. I try to identify them and find both hope and the future in them. Gradually I realize that hope and the future are here in my present life, located by my side and in the spaces between these concepts. They are in the crowds of people going to work; the open umbrellas, and the crowded buses.

Su Ping’s abstract perception of China is soon embodied by the couple of Liao Xingming and Xia Yinyin, who are both shipyard workers living in a comer of a slum area. They live in difficult conditions, but live full, happy, and hopeful lives. The film begins to retrace the couple’s love story while Su Ping’s poetic monologue continues, “it is the season when green is everywhere, and every leaf is dreaming of green.” At the same time, subtitles appear, “two years ago. during a scorching green season ...” The imagery of these monologues—the “wet” spring, the “scorching green season,” and the leaves “dreaming of green”—all evoke many emotions. These words are fresh, vibrant, and full of hope, just like the mood of people in the early 1980s. Xia Yinyin loves to read the love letters Liao Xingming writes in his role as a ghostwriter. She exclaims,

I love those letters of yours, and how well they are written: "Youth is a wonderful time, you get up every morning and it seems like there are so many opportunities waiting for you, and a new world appears in front of you. You will find that the sun is different today than it was yesterday.”

The film is filled with poetic philosophy, and having a main character who is a writer helps rationalize this poetic language. At its conclusion, the film continues to define the style and pursuits of the film through poetry:

My friend, my friend, don’t be sad.You say that life is like a desert,because there is no oasis in your heart.Let’s first dream a green dream,before we have a golden autumn.My friend, my friend, don’t you ever be sad.You say there are shadows on the groundbecause you always keep your head down.Puff up your chest, walk against the sun,and leave the black shadows behind you forever.

Against the Light features a group of young workers that includes Liao Xingming, Xia Yinyin, Huang Mao, Liao Xiaoqin, and Jiang Wei. Among them, the writer and director emphasize Liao Xingming and Xia Yinyin, types of characters who are newcomers of the 1980s. The origins of these two characters are very different. In the words of Xia Yinyin’s mother, a high-ranking intellectual, “a girl who grows up in a large apartment with a full set of modem equipment, and a worker’s son who lives in a ‘shantytown’ for three generations, are two different ‘plants’ that cannot grow up together.” But. in the film's narrative logic, these two characters are on a path away from their respective birthplaces, but towards their personal kingdom: the place where they meet.

Actor Guo Kaimin, who plays the film's leading man Liao Xingming, said he loved the script of Against the Light.

what the director wants is also what I hope to achieve. Liao Xingming is a vivid character who possesses the ideological characteristics of young people in the 1980s. At that time, everyone wanted to live a better life. Fortunately, he used the right methods to build up material civilization with his creative labor.35

Born in a factory's shantytown. Liao Xingming is a real working-class man. In the midst of workers, he knows the pain brought by a lack of knowledge combined with spiritual emptiness. As a result, he actively studies science and uses his spare time to write popular science articles. In a small room of only 6 square meters, he writes books with titles such as Sounds of the City and Nature as an Optical Engineer, hoping that the next generation of young people would no longer suffer from a lack of knowledge. Liao Xingming has a clear understanding of his intentions:

Xia Yinyin asks him. “Why don’t you write a novel?"

Liao Xingming replies, “there are many people writing novels in China, but it is this kind of popular pamphlet that the people need most.”

Xia Yinyin says, “but your superior always feels sorry for you. saying that you have reached the level of eighth grade worker, and could already become an engineer in the factory.”

Liao Xingming says, “I grew up in ignorance, and I know that China needs another kind of engineer.”

Xia Yinyin asks, “So, you want to be an educator?”

Liao Xingming: “I have dedicated my entire life to this goal. I just need a good environment.”

This young worker works with steel and iron all day long. and. even when exhausted, still thinks about the spiritual life of the nation. He is undoubtedly a model for intellectual imagination in the 1980s. Liao Xingming’s type of thinking is certainly noble. Whether these ideas exist or not. it was seen as necessary to reproduce and amplify them in the cultural imagination. Xia Yinyin’s life is different. Where Liao Xingming evolves from an industrial worker to a spiritual worker. Xia Yinyin transforms from her origins in a family of senior intellectuals to a worker. She conies from an elite intellectual family, and her mother is the editorial director of a publishing house. Xia is well educated and goodlooking. but she also is proud and has her own ambitions, hoping to become a shipbuilder.

Xia Yinyin’s “downward” mobility is a result of popular values in the early 1980s. At this time, the working class enjoyed considerable political importance, and so the him portrayed workers and labor with great respect. This respect is demonstrated in scenes such as Xia Yinyin’s arrival at the shipyard, the education session at the factory, and her visit to the factory. Through mise-en-scene and frame cuts, the director uses Xia Yinyin’s perspective to show the workers’ working. The music reflects her emotions as she watches heavy machinery and the strength of the workers. The scene proceeds as follows:

1. Xia Yinyin and others are walking through the forge with its red iron. The background is Xia’s white dress.

2. The face of Huang Mao concentrating. The sound of crashing. Music starts.

3. The master worker introduces the factory to Xia Yinyin and others. Music.

4. Huang Mao is commanding the work. There is a sense of sacredness. There are flames in the background. Music.

5. Red forging pieces.

6. The expression of Huang Mao.

7. Hammering and forging.

8. The forging.

9. Huang Mao.

10.The forging.

11.Huang Mao partly obscured by the rise and fall of tire hammer.

12.The forging.

13.Huang Mao partly obscured by the rise and fall of the hammer.

14.Close-up of the forging.

15.Medium distance shot of Huang Mao.

16.Xia Yinyin and others watching the work.

17.The forging is completed, and the completed pieces are dragged away from the work station.

It is because of Liao Xingming’s “upward” trajectory and Xia Yinyin’s “downward” trajectory that their lives intersect. Xia Yinyin complains, “people around me either know how to dance, but don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit; or they have the spirit, but don’t know how to dance.” Liao Xingming enlightens her. “then you should find an enterprising person and teach him to disco dance. It is much easier to teach someone to dance disco than to teach someone to be enterprising.” Against the Light focuses on exploring philosophies of human life. Through the relationship between Liao Xingming and Xia Yinyin, the film attempts to bridge the gap between lovers from different family origins and to offer a new view of marriage for the 1980s. This exploration requires both Liao Xingming’s “upward” motivations of workers and Xia Yinyin’s “downward” (at least in Xia’s mother’s view) embrace of workers. In terms of narrative, a love affair without opposition is not dramatic. It is thus unsurprising that Xia Yinyin’s mother, an intellectual, only considers young people’s marriages from a material perspective. After breaking up Xia Yinyin’s cousin’s marriage, she then interferes with Liao Xingming and Xia Yinyin’s relationship. In her view. Liao Xingming’s poverty is unbearable, and her daughter should not suffer with him. As a result, she completely ignores Xia Yinyin’s own pursuit of the spiritual world, which entails a neglect of material insufficiencies.

Xia Yinyin’s mother even negotiates a deal with Liao Xingming for her daughter’s happiness. She will transfer Liao Xingming from the factory to a publishing house. Then, she will rent a room for Liao Xingming with the publishing house’s funds so that he will be able to write in leisure. Her condition for these favors is that Liao Xingming must break off his relationship with Xia Yinyin once and for all. For Liao Xingming, who is bent on changing his fate through his own efforts, this offer seems quite generous, and he is somewhat tempted. But at this point the film arranges for him to encounter a spiritual teacher. That character is Liao Xingming’s cultural teacher and spiritual godfather, a wheelchair-bound disabled man who helps Liao Xingming write. He is a Zhang Haidi-type character of the 1980s (Zhang Haidi is a disabled writer and translator who rose to prominence as an inspirational speaker in the early 1980s). He might be paralyzed and disabled but is still full of vigor. He is cheerful, goal-oriented, and never misanthropic. He even plays basketball in his wheelchair. In an era where the power of the spirit is magnified, the success of such a figure could be inspirational to others. Just as Zhang Haidi became a spiritual role model for the nation’s youth in reality, tins disabled man becomes Liao Xingming’s spiritual mentor. He tells Liao Xingming about art. life, science, writing, and even relationships, becoming a source of spiritual wisdom for Liao Xingming. When Xia’s mother asks Liao Xingming to choose between career and love, this sage man points out the clear and correct decision: you should have both love and career. As an idealized figure of 1980s youth. Liao Xingming pursues material rewards as well as spiritual advancement. The film uses a conversation between Liao and a foreign tourist to highlight Liao Xingming’s values:

The foreign tourist asks, “don’t you want to live better; don’t you want televisions and refrigerators?”

Liao Xingming responds, “we Chinese are not born as ascetics. But we know the only way to get these is through our own labor and straggle.”

This conversation reveals the spiritual values of young workers during this era while also highlighting Liao Xingming’s talents. He is able to talk with foreigners about quite profound issues in relatively fluent English. This is not easy, even for a well-educated college student. That a worker can communicate directly with foreign tourists and express his views in a foreign language demonstrates the high esteem filmmakers held for young workers in the 1980s.

The filmmakers took advantage of the atmosphere of the times to present debates over ideas. Liao Xingming’s values clash with different opinions and are constantly deepened in order to better resonate with the audience. Liao Xingming both supports Xia Yinyin and provides a clear statement of his values at a Communist Youth League meeting.

He begins: It is the human pursuit of a materially better life that realizes the development of society. In the process of creating a material civilization, we must also build a high degree of spiritual civilization. We should not be afraid of young people pursuing a better material life but should guide young people to achieve that better life through struggle, through competition, and through creative labor!

The opposing side asks: What about the motherland, what about our mother? We are all sons of the motherland, but you disgrace your mother in front of foreigners!

He responds: As you know, our situation is plain to see. We merely speak the well-known truth; our anxieties and worries come out of love. If this is not love, does the motherland need a coy. pandering, lying son ... If all of us of this generation turn our pursuits and aspirations into creativity, then in the future a rich and beautiful motherland will appear in the East—it will appear on this prosperous and bustling Earth.

Though their road to love is bumpy, the young couple are eventually brought together. Xia Yinyin comes to live with Liao Xingming in the shantytown, and they have a child. Their status is still that of workers, but their spiritual life is full and abundant. Still, their life truly is quite hard, living in a shack without adequate living facilities. They do not have a toilet or a kitchen and they lack private space. Every day the couple have to take a 3-hour bus ride to the shipyard, where they work for 8 hours. Liao Xingming says. “It truly is a Long March of life, and we have to change buses twice,” His wife smiles. "I'll accompany you on this Long March.” According to the narrative of the film, the young couple are happy, and their current situation is enviable, or at least the cousin whose romance was broken up by Xia’s mother might think so.

Against the Light had a relatively large response across society. Workers loved it. but opinions about characters such as Liao Xingming and Xia Yinyin were polarized. In his 1983 article in Film Stories Monthly, titled “The Sublimity of Emptiness and the Depravity of Reality: A Review of the Characterization of Xia Yinyin and Liao Xiaoqin.” Cao Baosheng raised the huge discrepancy between the image of Xia and real-life logic. In his opinion. Xia Yinyin’s romantic willingness to leave her comfortable environment to go on a “Long March of life” with her lover is certainly noble, but also unconvincing. From Cao’s perspective, she is an idealized character, a paper flower standing above the world’s prejudices. To make her life more meaningful, she believes she has to many someone living in a shantytown and suffer through coal smoke. Perhaps it is only in this way that she can be a noble-spirited role model to the youth of the 1980s. But, in the film, it is hard to see the logic that leads to her actions. These inconsistencies are even raised in the film. At a symposium held at the factory, a young worker speaks out against the falsity of Xia Yinyin’s artificial characterization: “why does Xia Yinyin go to the shantytown to make things difficult for herself instead of just getting married at her home?” This also raises the issue that the film uses the pursuit of spirituality to amplify the aura of its characters, which conveys the idea that spiritual triumphs are somehow enough to transcend poor material conditions. This theme was confusing to young people who had just emerged from the “Cultural Revolution,” when they had suffered owing to the concept that “spirituality determines everything." They questioned the logic of Xia Yinyin’s actions and even worried whether the girl would regret her choices after suffering material hardships.

Earlier in 1983, Film Stories Monthly had published a series of reviews of the film by audiences, and especially young audiences. In an article titled “The Unbeautiful Mind of Liao Xingming,” Shanghai's Chen Xiaoguang found it disgusting that Liao Xingming wrote love letters on behalf of Jiang Wei. “Selling words with one’s thoughts and feelings is a deceptive act. which is not allowed by social morality.” Chen continued.

Liao Xingming does not value time. He spends a lot of time writing love letters for others, taking buses, touring, and taking pictures, falling in love . . . The film, however, insists on putting the responsibility for his “lack of time” on both others and his work.

Chen ultimately believed that Liao Xingming’s actions are “not worthy for our youth to study.” Still, social views were not unified during the era of Reform and Opening Up. and many people agreed with the film. For example, the same issue of Film Stories Monthly also published an article by Zhang Qihua from Shanxi Province titled “Liao Xingming Is Hope." According to Zhang, after watching Against the Light and coming to understand Liao Xingming. he felt inspired to “eliminate ignorance and seek knowledge, not only in material pursuits, but also in spiritual pursuits.” Zhang argued that Liao Xingming is

good at thinking about problems and has an enterprising spirit. In the factory, he is a young man trusted by the old masters; and in his spare time, he does his best to study. Whenever the factory is closed, he always spends time in the library. He is not a nerd who only knows how to read and does not ask questions about the world, but persistently pursues what he thinks he should attain. I see our future, our hopes, in Liao Xingining.

Scholars and experts, on the other hand, approached the dichotomous interpretations of the film with a more rational attitude. For instance. Xu Nanming argued:

In Against the Light, Liao Xingming is a young worker in the shipyard who is active in his labor and diligent in studying. He is not only engaged in amateur science, but also dares to write love letters for friends who are less educated; he dedicates the most beautiful language to a girl he has never met. and this girl. Xia Yinyin. is touched and duly falls in love with this ghostwriter of love letters ... Liao Xingming’s act of writing love letters seem almost absurd and to belong to near-mythical stories, but it should not be said that it is groundless in life. Instead, it shows some real changes in the attitudes of the young generation towards life. love, and their ideals during the period of transition between the old and the new. His remarks about people’s pursuit of a better material life are pointed but wise.36

During the Cultural Revolution, one of the reasons for the transfer of educated youth to the countryside was employment pressure. As attempts were made to bring order out of chaos after the end of the Cultural Revolution, many educated youths who had been sent to the countryside returned to the city. In those days, tire number of college students was extremely limited. This situation, combined with the large number of recent high school graduates searching for jobs, led to many unemployed young people in cities. Unable to find jobs in industries or institutions, they were scattered throughout all layers of society while waiting for employment. Additionally, attitudes towards the economic system were also changing with the adoption of Reform and Opening Up policies. Individual economic activities and private businesses were allowed to exist and develop on the premise that they would be supplemental to the primary economy, which continued to rely on the monopoly powers of the socialist state and collective ownership. As a result some urban young people who had exhausted their patience to wait for a job embarked on the road of self-employment.

A self-employed person starts a business at his or her own risk, but the freedom of earning one’s own money and spending it oneself is something one cannot feel as a worker employed in a state or collectively owned enterprise. Self-employed people in the 1980s accepted that they might lose all their money because of poor management, but they might also become the first group of people in China to become rich because of a combination of their opportunities and good entrepreneurship. At the time, society was ambivalent about the self-employed. They were despised because they existed outside the mainstream socialist economic system and could not enjoy the stability of work within the system. At the same time, some people held exaggerated expectations about the freedom and the possibility for overnight riches the self-employed enjoyed. As a whole, the Chinese people were still experiencing widespread poverty, and many were jealous of the wealth of the self-employed. Owing to the “Ah Q mentality” (a term used to mock those who have an unjustified belief in their superiority and are unwilling to change) and standards of moral success, they tended to despise the self-employed for possessing moral values such as “putting profits first.” As a result, self-employed young people are a group that cannot be ignored when considering cultural constructions in the new. post-Cultural Revolution era. How films represented this group and what types of cultural values were projected onto them are issues that should not be neglected and are worth studying.

Director Bai Chen’s Under the Bridge (Daqiao xiamian, 1983) is about two young self-employed people living in Shanghai: Qin Nan, a tailor, and Gao Zhihua. a bicycle repairman. Both of them were victims of the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution and took years to return to Shanghai. When they failed to find official employment, they had to make a living setting up their own stalls along Suzhou Creek. According to Xu Ruzhong, “Bai said that it was a new era to have the self-employed represented onscreen as a new form of economic activity in China in the 1980s.”37 Being self-employed is a specific identity for a specific era. The core issue in creating these films was the question of what types of ideas might become universally accepted through representations of this identity. Xu explained that, in Under the Bridge, Bai

writes about her spirituality by putting this character in her specific historical context. It is highly topical to write that she dares to challenge fate, to fight worldly notions, and to admit in front of everyone that the child is “mine.”38

Qin Nan has been hurt emotionally and is disillusioned with life. In accordance with die values of the 1980s. Qin Nan’s situation must be improved. On the one hand, she needs the warmth of society, and. to those ends. Gao Zhihua appears. On the other hand, she needs a role model who can stimulate her courage to change. Like Against the Light. Under the Bridge also features a disabled person as a spiritual mentor in the form of a girl named Xiao Yun. Xiao Yun has been crippled by polio. In addition to the hardships she was born into, many other social disasters have befallen her. Her mother, who was branded a “rightist," died before the end of the Cultural Revolution. Her father went insane because of the family’s misfortunes, and her brother was taken to jail. In the imagination of the filmmakers. Xiao Yun is a person who suffers from all the hardships of the world. However, she is not a pessimist who yields to her fate. Her fighting spirit enables her to continue be a strong person in life. She paints and carves stamps to enrich her life. She lives in a hut. but her spiritual world is filled with hope. Xiao Yun’s spirit of self-improvement and self-reliance are infectious to Qin Nan. a woman who has been emotionally traumatized. She gathers up the courage to get her life in order again. According to Xu Ruzhong:

With Gao Zhihua’s help. Qin Nan eliminates the shadows on her mind that were brought on by the ten years of upheaval. They walk side by side towards a new life to illustrate the idea that a person will experience many difficulties, hardships, and traumas in life. However, in the face of these adversities, one should not be passive and resigned, but should strive with confidence, and dare to pursue a new life and to create a new future. In general, the film writes about the fates of young people.

Under the Bridge is about several self-employed people, mainly about their mental, emotional, and physical traumas. In the end. the film integrates these marginalized people into the mainstream value system and into the main cultural trends of the era. all of which are directed at repairing the trauma of the Cultural Revolution. Now. the Party is trying its best to remove the residual poisons brought by the ten years of upheaval and is issuing a great call to revitalize China. Young people should be enlightened on the issue of destiny so they can establish new concepts that link their personal destinies with that of the motherland. They should do this instead of thinking about their personal destiny as isolated from the realities of the motherland. Thus, when the film progresses to its end. its thematic ideas will be sublimated into the concept, "when the country is well, we are well, and this is our destiny.”39

Self-employment did not just mean peddlers’ stalls; it also meant hair salons. “Hair salon” is an equivocal term in today’s China. Indeed, it has been the target of repeated anti-pornography campaigns. But in the 1980s, state-run barbershops and collective barbershops still ruled the market. However, individually owned hair salons and beauty salons began appearing gradually, improving the lives of citizens and solving employment problems. The owners of these hair salons were also selfemployed. which is unlike the image of today’s hair salon owners. When films of the 1980s showed these hair salon owners, they usually wrote them from a positive, upward, and healthy perspective. For example, in Xu Tongjun’s film Zhenzhen's Hair Salon (Zhenzhen de fawu, 1986). the main characters are self-employed hairdressers in Beijing. According to Xu Tongjun, the director

treats the competition between them as the background and focuses on “relationships.” This conception is precisely due to the film’s grasp of its themes. Throughout the film, money becomes an indispensable element. It is no longer synonymous with filth or sin but has become a symbol of labor and success. This is partly a reflection of the times, and it plays an important role in the expression of the film’s themes.40

The film describes the pride of workers who rely on their labor to get paid for their work. It also portrays these workers through their emotions and their morals. Where today’s hair salons are treated as a symbol of society’s hidden degeneracy, films of the 1980s showed more care for. and placed more expectations on, hair salon workers. As Xu Tonjun reported,

we chose not to touch on the dark side, but instead to express romantic feelings and to enhance the audience’s aesthetic experience . . . The film’s eulogy of truth, goodness, and beauty provokes people’s thinking, and achieves the purpose of cultivating people’s taste while educating through joy.41

Of the films that depicted the lives of young, self-employed people in the 1980s. Yamaha Fish Stall {Yamaha yudang, dir. Zhang Liang. 1984) deserves thorough study. Reform and Opening Up policies caused both vigorous development of the individual economy and new problems. The filmmakers of Yamaha Fish Stall executed a work of creative imagination, and the film is a visual presentation of political purposes. At the time, conflicting values were already present in society. On the one hand, marketization was gradually progressing, and the desires of the masses were surfacing. On the other hand, the question of how one could maintain moral integrity in the face of money was emerging. At the policy level, some people were encouraged to get rich first, which would then drive others to follow. At the same time, there were many serious questions such as how those who did get rich first should deal with their money and approach business ethics. Should socialist self-employed people be profit-oriented, or should they have a higher social responsibility and embrace business ethics? The filmmakers of Yamaha Fish Stall gave a sophisticated answer to these complex and difficult questions. According to Zhang Liang:

The theme of the film can be summarized in one simple statement “how should one make money and how should one be a real person.” It is necessary to possess both money as well as human values and human dignity. The value of a person is not in his position or occupation, but in his contribution to society. Since the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, Guangzhou’s economic situation has been prosperous and fruitful. Against this background, the film reflects the superiority of the socialist system and the new policies.42

The story is set in Guangzhou, a city at the forefront of Reform and Opening Up. Zhang Liang recounted:

Starting with our general conception of the film, we wanted to thoroughly show the contemporary situation of economic reforms in Guangzhou. In the alternation between the old and the new, the rise of the new is emphasized. In terms of scenery, the old alleys exist in contrast to the modern overpasses. The old streets are represented by the bustling Longzhu Street food market, which highlights the comparison between the old and the new. That this street is surrounded by many modem department stores and superstores presents yet another perspective on the contrast between the old and the new.43

It is in this fast-changing place that the main characters of the story emerge. There is Ah Long, who has been in a detention center; Hai Zai, a hooligan; Ah Jia, from the hair salon; Ah Jin, from the roast goose stall; and Ah Qiang, from the hardware store. They are all active in Longzhu Street and reveal the lives of the self-employed. Ah Long and Hai Zai earn their living by setting up the Yamaha fish stall, which is named after their Yamaha motorcycle. These two young people both have previous convictions and bad reputations. For this reason, people do not patronize their business. In order to make profits, they come up with some bad ideas. As a way to establish their reputation in the market and make people think they have changed. Hai Zai takes out a debt of 5 yuan and lies about repaying the money. To win against their competitors, they sell fish at a viciously low price. To recoup the cost of selling fish so cheaply, they add raw flour to the fish balls they make out of dead fish, creating “fake” fish balls. With these acts. Ah Long and Hai Zai become bad examples of self-employed people. They set bad precedents in their efforts to disrupt the market.

As slacker youths, these characters need to be remolded. The character Kui Mei is the model of an exemplary individual, relying on her spirit and actions to inspire the lazy and lying owners of the Yamaha fish stall. According to Zhang Liang. “Kui Mei is a positive character. She seems to exist for the transformation of Ah Long, and she appears at critical moments in Ah Long’s development. The conflict between them is the conflict between progress and backwardness.”44 In contrast to Ah Long. Kui Mei is a pioneer of the private, market economy, and the filmmaker strives to portray her as an idealized self-employed worker. At the beginning of the film, she is already a part-time officer in the Association of Individual Workers. Kui Mei is a romanticized pioneer in the market economy who answers the call for common prosperity. She teaches contenders in the highly competitive market, such as Ah Long, the rules of the trade and how to run the fish stall. However. Ah Long and others seize on Kui Mei’s expertise for their own benefit, selling fish at low prices to undercut Kui Mei and her father’s business. She has no complaints about this, but only wants to lead Ah Long and others on the right path so that he can make a living, knowing that Ah Long cannot continue his business owing to how he cheats the consumers.

As a competitor in the market economy, Kui Mei is not complacent. She takes the initiative to help Ah Long, boosting his confidence in his self-perception, spirit, and career. Kui Mei invites Ah Long to listen to lectures on how to make money and how to behave that are delivered by Ah Qiang, a former street bully who is now a virtuous self-employed businessman. These lectures, given by a person who was once similar to Ah Long, lead him to contemplation. At this moment in the film, we hear police sirens on one side and applause on the other, which represents Ah Long’s mental struggle. The police chief Wang enters at this point to reinforce Ah Long’s train of thought: “Look at your previous friend. Now he earns both respect and money.” This is the model of self-employment that the film repeatedly emphasizes: make money at the same time that you are complying with the mainstream values of society. Ah Long begins to understand the right path in his heart, but he still has no solid course of action. Kui Mei again lends a helping hand and takes the initiative to ask Ah Long to come and jointly run a fish stall. Ah Long asks the sensitive question of whether he is a joint owner or an employee. Kui Mei makes an offer that surprises Ah Long: she asks Ah Long to join her fish stall and work with her and her father as a co-owner. She gives Ah Long 40 percent of the shares, while she and her father together only hold 60 percent of the shares. This is obviously a huge gift, and whether such a thing could or would happen in real life is questionable. However, the filmmaker has written the plot with political considerations in mind. Through the twists and turns of the plot, the film achieves an artistic presentation that is universally enriching. Kui Mei, Ah Qiang, and Ah Long are all in the process of developing as people, serving as idealized images of the self-employed during the imaginative 1980s. They exist on the screen for people’s scrutiny. The director undoubtedly hopes that the idealized version of self-employment presented might not just become a reality but might be surpassed by reality. According to Zhang Liangs,

Kui Mei’s father’s small business is replaced by Kui Mei’s new way of doing business. The combining of Kui Mei and Ah Long’s fish stalls reflects trends in economic reforms and contemporary self-employment to move towards the development of large corporate enterprises. This “confused generation” has now become a “rising generation.” They are shaking off poverty and removing the stumbling blocks that stand in their way, moving on to create a brighter future.45

Artists of the 1980s embraced optimistic social trends and strived to represent the positive sides of society. Through their artistic images, they hoped to depict values in fictional worlds that would serve China’s reforms, hoping that art could lead reality. Everything is difficult at the beginning of a process, but this beginning is also the most important. It is by recognizing the importance of beginnings of social processes that artists can keenly observe new phenomena, incorporate them into the worlds they create, conceive of possible futures, and inspire people in real life. It is for these reasons that the self-employed were included in the scope of cinema. Under the Bridge was designed to inspire self-employed people to forget their pain, build up confidence, and face the future; Zhenzhen's Hair Salon is full of positive values: and Yamaha Fish Stall reveals the conscience of the self-employed. While public opinions of this group today differ from how they were originally imagined in art, these differences highlight the value of the idealism of the 1980s.

On the Path to Happiness: Farmers in Films

China is a large agricultural country. Looking back through history, peasant uprisings have been a major cause of social unrest and historical change. The Chinese Revolution under Mao Zedong’s leadership recognized the profound contradiction between the peasants and their relationship to the land and thus enlisted them as allies of the revolution. The Great Agrarian Revolution served as an important foundation for the eventual victory of the Communist Party of China. However, after the founding of the PRC, the authorities’ desire to quickly achieve communism and a collective economy outpaced the actual state of productivity and the relations of production. Peasants were forced to organize themselves, enter people’s communes, speed up the development of public ownership, fight against selfishness, and criticize revisionism. The authorities naively thought that all this was good for rural areas and farmers, but, in fact, the policies damaged the development of the rural economy. By the end of the Cultural Revolution, life in rural China had fallen to a very low level of development. In many areas, even food and clothing remained insurmountable problems.

Deng Xiaoping’s policy of Reform and Opening Up first began in the rural areas through the implementation of the so-called contract responsibility system. Through this policy, the peasants gradually gained autonomy over production. Their personal interests were respected and protected, and their individual enthusiasm was brought more into play. These policies quickly improved the situation of peasants and the countryside. In 1983, the number of production teams implementing the contract responsibility system reached 98 percent, and in 1984 it reached 99.1 percent.46 With the enforcement of this policy, agricultural productivity was quickly liberated from its previous shackles. In 1984, the gross national grain output reached 407,310,000 tons, an increase of 33.6 percent from 1978. The gross national cotton production in 1984 was 2.89 times that in 1978.47 The transformation of rural areas was like the spring bird of Reform and Opening Up, influencing the whole country. Improving the livelihood of farmers, who represented 80 percent of the country's total population, brought hope for China’s future stability and development.

The new atmosphere in the countryside delighted intellectuals who were concerned about the country and the people. A passage published in Reading well captured the state of mind of intellectuals of the time:

In recent years, a series of profound changes have taken place in China's rural areas, creating a new and unprecedented situation.... It makes one feel like a fresh breeze is starting up. This breeze, in short, is the agricultural production responsibility system ... “A great wind came forth; the clouds rose on high. Where will I find brave men to guard the four comers of my land?” In the history of China, there have been great winds that excited the righteous. These winds started in the poor countryside, but eventually entered the inner palace and the boudoir, becoming part of the personal majesty of the great king. "I see those valleys stirred by the fierce wind whistling and chirping, and the rivers and streams stirred by the violent waves roaring and rushing, all greater than the sound of the chants of praise in the high court.” In Chinese history, there were also winds that caused pessimistic scholars to lament. Although they started in obscurity, they ended up blowing like a god and became winds that encouraged hermits to escape from the world. The former wind is great, but people were afraid, who dares to move with it! The latter is pure, but disappointed people, who wants to move with it! ... In China’s history. only the rural breezes of today make people truly happy because they are now becoming their own masters. This wind originated leisurely in the pristine hearts of farmers. It neither had the momentum of mass mobilization, nor the style of banging the gongs and drums, but it could heal diseases and enlighten people. It did not contain brilliant works, but it could comfort people, so that they could dispel the clouds and see the truth clearly and accept it in a rational and ordered manner.48

Along with this “fresh breeze” of reforms in the countryside, many excellent films about the current situation in the countryside were also blowing in the winds of the 1980s.

Fengyang, in Anhui Province, is the birthplace of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It is also known nationwide for its Fengyang Drum. Long after the days of Zhu Yuanzhang, Fengyang is also credited with the beginning of an important policy at a key turning point in China's Reform and Opening Up: rural land contracting. This historical event is famously documented in Beyond the Horizon (Zouchu dipingxian, 1992), directed by Yu Benzheng of Shanghai Film Studio. However, as early as 1983. the him Spring Dawn in Fengyang (Guxiang chunxiao, 1983). made by Shanghai Film Studio’s Ge Xin and Zhuang Hongsheng, also depicted the important precedents set through land contracting in Fengyang.

The tagline of Spring Dawn in Fengyang reads: “In the past, I played the sad drums, expressing the sorrow and bitterness in my heart; today, I sing happy songs, expressing the joy and happiness in my heart." In 1978, just after emerging from the Cultural Revolution, the people of Fengcheng were suffering through a severe drought. The poor, underdressed peasants had to go out and play drams while begging to make a living. Meanwhile, the leader of the Willow Lane production team, Pin Nose (Zhen Bizi), stays at home to secretly plan a household responsibility system together with a few members of the community. They quickly change the nature of production, exponentially increasing the motivation of community members. Following this development, Zhu, who had been pretending to be crippled for a long time during the collective labor period, suddenly “recovers" and borrows money to buy cattle. The developments in Willow Lane generate differing reactions among cadres. Gao Fande, the secretary of the local party committee, opposes land contracting. However, Ding Yingchuan, the deputy secretary of the local party committee who has just returned from a class on the idea that “practice is the only standard for testing truth” in Beijing, holds a different view. As a result, Gao Fande and Ding Yingchuan have a fierce ideological exchange. On a stormy night, the people rush to the committee, asking to switch from collective labor to land contracting. Gao Fande refuses this demand, and, in response, the formerly crippled Zhu, who had just regained hope, angrily jumps into the river. At this critical moment, the provincial party secretary supports the masses’ demands, adopting the attitude of “seeking truth from facts.” This leader points out that beating drams and begging for food are not socialist and could not continue for long. He protests and promotes land contracting, transforming the prospects of the countryside. In the past, the people of Fengcheng had gone begging with their drums, but, by the end of the film, they are celebrating a good harvest with their drums.

In contrast to this vision, the 1975 film The Golden Path (Jinguang dadao, dir. Lin Nong) had represented Chairman Mao’s basic idea for solving China’s rural problems. In the film, as in reality, individual farmers and households were organized into mutual aid groups, cooperatives, production teams, production brigades, and people’s communes. People participated in collective labor and divide the proceeds equally to provide enough for people to survive. The original intention of the so-called “organization” policy was to use collective power to advance towards communism in such a way that no one would be left behind. However, as a result of this policy, there were few examples of collective prosperity, and instead collective poverty became a widespread phenomenon throughout the country. In the spirit of seeking truth from facts, Deng Xiaoping abolished the systems of collective labor and collective distribution. He implemented the personal responsibility system, which was based on land contracting. Farmers with labor and means of production were the primary beneficiaries of the policy. In contrast, disadvantaged groups in rural areas, such as the old, the weak, the sick, the disabled, the widows, the widowers, and the lonely, continued to face the difficulties in the challenges of production and making a living. Although the government implemented new policies, in the new socialist countryside, people continued to think about how to improve these policies and mobilize the enthusiasm of farmers. They also continued to consider how best to protect disadvantaged farmers from being marginalized in the new comprehensive contract system. All these questions required rural grassroots cadres to respond creatively. In the arts, creators saw determining how best to address the new situation and how to construct images of the new socialist countryside as urgent tasks. In 1983, two films were released about household contracting quota. The Story Shouldn't Have Happened (Bugai fashengde gushi, dir. Zhang Hui) and Our Niu Baisui (Zanmen niubaisui, dir. Zhao Huanzhang).

The Story Shouldn't Have Happened tells the story of party members who were abandoned by the masses in a village of Northeast China. This occurs after the implementation of the responsibility system for joint production divides production groups. To provide some context in the era of people’s communes, being a party cadre had become a profession. Cadres specialized in guiding the masses to work, but they themselves were detached from the front lines of agricultural production and became complete amateurs in this field. Therefore, after the implementation of the responsibility system, the masses excluded such party members from their production efforts. People did not want the party cadres because they were seen as a burden. Whereas, before, the masses had been forced to support these professional cadres, now they had the power to make their own choices. Party members were cast aside and became underprivileged. In the film, these developments impact several cadres who were deeply loyal to the party. After the masses spurn them, they reexamine the value of party membership and interrogate their own problems. These cadres go to the commune secretary and say. “we have discredited the Party.” They then set up a party group, recognizing the role of the party organization at the grassroots level. This group includes others who were rejected by the two production groups, consisting of the old, weak, sick, and disabled. Through these efforts, Liang Cai, Li Fachun, and other party members regain their strength, undergo a difficult self-transformation, and endure humiliations as they overcome the various hardships of agricultural production.

These party cadres have not worked on the front lines of production in a long time and are indeed rusty at doing farmwork. When shoveling dung, Li Fachun cannot figure out the technique, and the crowd ridicules him. “Shoveling dung is no harder than holding a meeting, and the world is not difficult for the Communist Party members.” In this situation, the party members endure humiliations, but solve their own problems through personal transformations. Party members recognize that not only should they be directly involved in production, but that they should also be able to play a pioneering role in production for the sake of the people. Because of the lack of water for irrigation, the party group lets the other two production groups use water first. In another critical moment, when the village lacks sufficient fertilizer for the cultivation season, the party group volunteers to provide their fertilizer to farmers to ensure normal production. Through such acts, the party members gradually win the trust of the masses. By the year-end profit-sharing meeting, the party members have become popular candidates that the two working groups compete over. Liang Cai and Li Fachun both became group leaders. With the party members back in power, the old cadres are also happy. They leave the meeting happily, walking out with smiles on their faces.

The public strongly responded to The Story Shouldn't Have Happened. Some people disagreed with the film's choice to portray party members, while others were in favor of it. According to Ye Juelin:

The film was able to cause strong reactions from the audience. First of all, this was because it reflects certain dysfunctional situations in the relationship between the party and the people. At the same time, it correctly represents the contradictions in life. These party members, who were once disliked by the masses, are able to raise consciousness in the midst of conflict. The film depicts how the party members who set up the working group united the needy farmers and gave water and fertilizer to other groups. We see the new spirit that emerges in the party members after they put themselves in the right position. The film also depicts the change in mindset of Han Xizhu, as well as others who initially rejected the party members, who goes from looking down on party members to applying to join the Communist Party. The audience is able to see that once party members are disciplined, they can be supported by the masses and can serve as examples for the masses. Thus, the film always gives audiences inspiration, education, and hope.49

In the early stages of the Reform and Opening Up policies, the development prospects of rural areas were not clear, and there were differing opinions about the changes. First of all, it was recognized that the people’s communes were not conducive to the development of rural productivity. It was also recognized that respecting the individual interests of peasants would be beneficial to agricultural production and rural development. According to Deng Xiaoping’s idea that reforms should be like crossing a river by feeling the stones, the focus of rural reform was on breaking up the big communes and transforming them into smaller communes. That is, the authorities looked to change large collective organizations such as production teams, production brigades, and people’s communes into smaller units of working groups. This was similar to the mutual aid groups of the 1950s. In fact, in the initial stages of implementing the contract responsibility system, the social construction of the countryside was still being conducted according to Mao's ideas of organizing. In general, this meant small organizations replaced large ones. First, production organizations were condensed to facilitate the peasants’ enthusiasm. Second, small production units were retained so that disadvantaged groups in the countryside could be included in the collective. This was done so that nobody would need to worry about food, which would in turn demonstrate the superiority of socialism. Third, it was thought that the smaller working groups might provide partial possibilities for common prosperity. It was in tins context of rural reform that a film as unique and alarming as The Story Shouldn't Have Happened emerged. In this wider context, it was also fitting that another film. Our Niu Baisui, would depict a protagonist such as Niu Baisui, who was a grassroots Party member who had adapted to the needs of the times in the face of the changes in the countryside.

Cheng Gu wrote of the film:

If Changchun Film Studio is making a “story that shouldn’t happen,” then Shanghai Studio is making a “story that should happen.” The films are “brothers” in that they address similar subjects, but they each have their own characteristics. It is no coincidence that, in the second half of 1983, two films portraying Party members appeared on the Chinese silver screen in rapid succession. It illustrates the change in cinema, a deep exploration toward the requirements of the times and historical tendencies.50

The message of Our Niu Baisui is that the new contract responsibility policies are not leading the party to abandon the masses, but instead leading the masses to prosperity. For Party members. Niu Baisui represented a new type of symbol. The new policies were not intended to lead the masses to work only for themselves. Instead, it was thought that Party members should also play a new, cohesive role. A new era should create new opportunities for party members to play a role. Cheng Gu wrote, “one reason to be particularly pleased is that the film portrays communists straggling at the grassroots as well as raising the question of ‘what role should a communist play?"'51

The film tells the story of a village in Shandong Province where five farmers are rejected by every workgroup for various reasons. Niu Qi is notorious for fighting, Xin Liang is a thief, Tian Fu is known as lazy, Ju Hua has a bad reputation, and Tian Sheng is known as a vagrant. In the eyes of the public, these people not only cannot work, but also are difficult to get along with. It is thought that, if they join a group, then they will drag everyone down. Tian Fu is very dissatisfied with being abandoned by various production groups. He complains. “Who wants this contract responsibility system, all of our superiority is gone.” Tian Fu’s complaint represented a common view in society towards the new policies in rural areas. Facing suspicions that socialist superiority might be lost, the government needs to address this issue at both the policy level and the public relations level. In the film, the old party secretary decides to assign the five fanners by drawing lots as a way to successfully complete the grouping task and not leave anyone behind. At this critical moment, the commissioner Niu Baisui grabs all five lots and declares in public, “these five people, I want them all!” His action stirs up the whole village. For one, his wife is very upset when she finds out that her husband has taken charge of a lazy group. But Niu Baisui’s explanation is quite touching: “helping people with shortcomings so they can improve is the honorable mission of Communist Party members.”

The first task for a lazy group is to develop discipline. Niu Baisui announces the group’s regulations: each person has his own land, the individual determines the yield, and rewards and punishments are clear and depend on individual production. He repeatedly admonishes everyone not to repeat their previous mistakes and encourages them to establish new images of themselves. The leading role of a model rural party member in the new era is not only to guide the masses in agriculture and to solve the problems of securing food and clothing, but also to guide the masses in getting rich. Niu Baisui encourages people to do everything possible to develop side businesses and revitalize the economy. After some ups and downs, Niu Baisui’s efforts greatly improve every member of the group. Ju Hua gains self-confidence, Niu Qi stops fighting. Tian Sheng becomes a star at miming a side business, and Tian Fu gradually changes with everyone’s help. Finally. Niu Baisui leads the people, and they sing together, “With both feet on the road of harvest, the more you walk, the sweeter your heart feels; with both feet on the road of happiness, the more you walk, the wider your road becomes.” They are walking down the prosperous avenue of the new socialist countryside.

In terms of logic, Niu Baisui acts in a rather far-fetched manner. He is a member of the Party branch, and thus he takes on the most difficult task in the village. There is not strong logical support for this plot twist. However, on the policy level, rural areas needed such characters to give farmers hope of earning a fortune when, in reality, some were having difficulties in making a living under the new, large-scale contracting policy. Niu Baisui is a figure that was called for by the film’s times. Although it might not be firmly rooted in art, the film has a strong social appeal for its imaginings of reality. Because of this, both experts and the public expressed differing opinions about the film’s voices.

In the selection of the Golden Rooster Awards. Our Niu Baisui produced heated reactions. The judges’ debate about the film was intense. According to Xia Hong and Chen Jianyu:

Some of the judges believed that the him reflected the rural environment of the 1980s, but the ideas expressed were old-fashioned and stuck in the 1950s. The current transformation from the people’s commune to the responsibility system in rural areas is a major reform and a change in the economic system, not just a question of creating solidarity with straggling farmers. Niu Baisui’s behavior is certainly worth advocating, but his state of mind is still at the level of general good deeds. He does not have the mindset or the desire to reform the countryside. He does not belong to the advanced farmers of the 1980s (the new people who are educated, can grasp information quickly, and follow the trends in reform set after the Third Plenary Session). Thus, he cannot lead the farmers forward on the road of reform.... The film does not provide the historical basis for either its characters or the characteristics of the times... (it) fails to uncover and represent the new times and the new characters, failing to convey the new messages of rural areas experiencing change.52

Another famous critic, Yan Gang, also addressed the film:

This film does not belong to the modern era. One might even say that it belongs to the 1950s, specifically, to the mutual aid and cooperation movements at the beginning of the 1950s. All the characters develop dramatic conflicts over joining the working group. However, there is not much difference between the characters of the current working group and the mutual aid groups of thirty years ago. The dramatic conflicts in the film are not specific to the 1980s. Another excellent film directed by Zhao Huanzhang, InLaws (Xiyinmen, 1981), has similar shortcomings. If The Story Shouldn’t Have Happened could only take place in the 1980s, then the story of Our Niu Baisui is not limited to what could happen in the 1980s.53

By careful study of the film’s textual features, it is found out that the filmmakers might have been aware of these problems themselves. The him has several sequences showing Niu Baisui’s involvement in youth work in the countryside. He organizes the Communist Youth League members to study, teaching them with sincerity. He says. “You have to go to night school. Our country will run towards the Four Modernizations in the future, and you can’t survive without knowledge.” The film adds the elements of the 1980s, such as an emphasis on study and learning about culture, to enhance the modernity of Niu Baisui. However, these elements do not integrate effectively with the main plotline of the “lazy group” and fail to enhance the work as a whole. This eventually gave rise to questions from the critics.

Although this film failed to win the Golden Rooster Award, it was well received by the government and was awarded first prize in the Government Awards from the Ministry of Culture of the PRC in 1983. It also won first prize in the Seventh Hundred Flowers Awards in 1984. Wang Fuli was also awarded best supporting actress for her portrayal of Ju Hua. After winning the Government Award and the Hundred Flowers Award, as well as gaining accolades at the Golden Rooster Awards, the fifth issue of Film Stories published a set of related reviews in 1984. The Mass Review of 1983 Films (Part) published a collection of letters about the film from the masses in Guangxi, Henan, Hunan, Shanghai, and so on. One grassroots commentator wrote of Our Niu Baisui,

it was screened in our commune. The audience burst out in laughter, expressing their love and praise for Niu Baisui. First of all, the film is praised for the realistic and honest characterizations. The actors do not act pretentiously. Audiences love Niu Baisui.

The grassroots commentator continued:

His courage in taking up the responsibility to help others reflects the noble character of a Communist Party member who “cares for others more than himself.” These five people are disliked by others, yet he cares about their lives, warms their cold hearts, and rekindles their hope. Our Niu Baisui is about an ordinary Communist Party member who does something extraordinary. Niu Baisui is the communist that the masses need.

The film was both officially recognized and appreciated by the masses because it provided imaginative solutions to some of the confusions and problems that existed during the early years of the contract responsibility system. The film appreciates the new policies for advancing the development of productive forces, but it also recognizes the potential negative issues and provides imaginative solutions to those issues. In the process, it works to preserve the superiority of socialism. As a melodrama, it provides artistic support for the legitimacy of government policies as well as offering hope and comfort to peasant audiences who were anxious in the face of the new situation. As a result, harshly critiquing the film on an artistic level seems unnecessary.

Niu Baisui was a fitting character for the early days of rural reform. As the contract responsibility system gradually liberated rural productivity, the straggle to secure sufficient food and clothing, which had plagued Chinese farmers for years, began to ease. Now the question of getting rich could emerge. The increase in productivity created a large amount of surplus labor in rural areas. More and more people started to move for work. Since the founding of the PRC, it had been a rare phenomenon for migrant workers to move from the countryside to cities. In the new context of reform, many questions remained to be answered: who will plant the fields after many people leave the country side? How can farmers get rich in their hometowns? These issues also attracted the attention of artists who were attuned to changing realities. They used their films to express to audiences their deep concern for the realities of China, to reflect prominent social problems in the countryside, and to provide imaginative ideas for solutions.

In 1985, Zhao Huanzhang, the director of Shanghai Film Studio, went to Shanxi after filming Our Niu Baisui and made Our Veteran (Zanmen de tuiwubin, 1985) in collaboration with writers Ma Feng and Sun Qian. Our Niu Baisui primarily addresses problems of production and the survival of straggling farmers after the implementation of the contract system. Our Veteran goes one step further by exploring how farmers could get rich after securing enough to feed and clothe themselves. Do they get rich by cheating or by making a fortune of their own? When villagers are confused and at a loss, who will lead them to get rich together? That would be Our Veteran himself. The veteran, Erhu, returns to the village and finds that it has changed. After becoming a professional, his elder brother has built five large tiled houses and owns a large car. Erhu was a soldier in a motorized division in the army. Now that he is back in his hometown, he joins with his brother to make a fortune. The mayor of the township also hopes that Erhu will continue to model the good habits of the army and become an example of how best to seek prosperity. Erhu soon discovers that many professional households in the countryside are gradually getting rich, but there are still many straggling households with no way to earn money. The lives of people like the bachelor Tie Dan, the straggling household of Aunt Xiu, and the disabled Bao Fu are all quite difficult. The situation in the countryside has improved. How can they be abandoned on the road to wealth? At the same time, Erhu also finds that the contract responsibility system has created surplus laborers in the countryside. During periods of agricultural downtime, the youth in the village play the children’s game of eagle catching chickens to pass the time. This reveals the peasants' thirst for spiritual life in addition to their lack of material goods. People are eager to get rich, but they cannot find opportunities. Not much land is planted, and no one wants to go to the coal mine. The presence of more idle people causes more trouble and will inevitably bring about social hazards. After analyzing the realities of the village, the veteran Erhu soon has his own idea: as a party member and a soldier, he should lead the masses on the road to common prosperity.

This might be a good idea, but to achieve it requires great effort. When Erhu learns that his comrade Yu Chenglong has opened a coal mine in Yujiagou, he has the idea to buy coal and make coke. This idea soon causes a stir in Qingshitan village. Erhu takes the lead and entices Tie Dan, Aunt Xiu, Sister Mute, and others to enthusiastically build a pool for coking. Erhu’s plans face difficulties from all sides. The village clerk worries that Erhu’s behavior runs counter to policies, while his elder brother drinks he is meddling. Under the current policies, party members could take the lead to become rich. For her part, Shuixian thinks that Erhu is either crazy or stupid. Erhu explains to Shuixian, "people can’t live only for themselves. There are thousands of ways to get rich, but the road to common prosperity is the best, both for public and private benefits." Erhu tells his brother, "It is the Parly’s tradition to suffer first and celebrate later.” Naturally, Erhu fails to convince either Shuixian or his brother. In the end, Shuixian marries a boss in the city, and his brother parts with Erhu. However, Erhu uses coking to light the path to prosperity for the villagers. He is supported by the masses and finds love for himself.

A noteworthy phenomenon is that neither Niu Baisui in Our Niu Baisui nor Erhu in Our Veteran are village branch secretaries or directors. Niu Baisui is a member of the Party branch but does not have much power. These two characters are portrayed as ordinary grassroots party members whose positions and power reflect the reality of rural areas. The power of the grassroots party administration, which dominated the countryside during the Mao era, had been rapidly declining since the 1980s. In the face of these changes, the country side seemed in danger of falling into a leaderless vacuum. Indeed, some places had already descended into this situation. It was at this time that moral role models such as Niu Baisui and Erhu were portrayed on the screen as a way to both convey care for the peasants and plead for changes to reality.

In actuality, this situation remained unchanged through the late 1980s. and not many party members like Niu Baisui and Erhu actually existed. However, artists still hoped that more of such diameters might appear. Ma Feng and Sun Qian, the writers of Our Veteran. wrote another script, in 1988, for The Women of Huangtupo Village (Huangtupo de povimen, dir. Dong Kena). This film again addresses concerns over the current situation in the countryside, portraying a person whom the artists conceptualized as a leading figure of rural change. The new figure they chose was neither male nor a member of the party. Instead, she is an ordinary woman in the countryside named Chang Lüye. With this choice, the artists threw off both patriarchal constraints and static thinking about the pioneering role of party members. They were depicting the leaders of rural change as coming from a broader social base than in earlier works.

The film was shot at a time when Huangtupo was a popular subject in Chinese songs. Since the film was about Huangtupo, the film also incorporated a song sung by Tian Zhen as its theme,

Huangtupo, yellow land, we have been reproducing here for generations. Although the spring breeze has just blown over the slope, the mountains are already colorful with flowers and trees! The road to prosperity has been opened only after many years of hardships and storms. In this vast hot land, let us build our hometown and a more beautiful tomorrow.

The song is very touching. But, at the time, the road to prosperity in rural China was encountering obstacles. As the song goes, “when farmers abandon farming, the earth loses its balance.” In the late 1980s, the surplus labor force was flowing out of rural areas, and villages were losing large numbers of their residents. Who would till the land that was left behind, and what should be done? The film is set in Huangtupo Village, where only “work-unit 743860” remained. According to the villagers’ explanation of this work unit’s name, 74 represents the disabled, 38 is for women, and 60 is for the elderly. In other words, the village was left with only the elderly, women, and children.

The film begins on New Year’s Eve when the rich households in the village are beating drums and striking gongs to celebrate. The scene in the country side has changed. Pi Wanjun’s family has become a ten-thousand-yuan household, and the township chief presents a plaque to Pi because he has become so gloriously rich. The village chief mobilizes the villagers:

we live in a poor place. After the implementation of the responsibility system, it is still difficult to make a fortune even if problems of sufficient food and clothing have been solved. We have no coal, no iron, no other resources, just this piece of land. What can this piece of land bring us?

The clever Pi Wanjun had opened a restaurant in the provincial city as his way of becoming a ten-thousand-yuan household. This sets a good example in Huangtupo Village. Fu Laiwang, who makes tofu in the city, and Le Datong, who is a driver, both serve as other models for how to become wealthy. Like the Eight Immortals soaring over the ocean, each should show their true worth. The village chief hopes that the villagers could follow their examples and become rich.

In the ideology of profit seeking, capable men go out to do business, and strong men go out to work. However, after the Spring Festival in the countryside, there is spring plowing. Without enough men, the village is not like a village, and home is not like home. The whole village is left with only the elderly and children. As the spring plowing approaches. Chang Lüye is very anxious. The men who know how to work with livestock are all gone; how can the fields be planted? The village chief needs to consider these problems. At this critical moment, the masses still want the village government to solve the problem. However, by this point, the Huangtupo Village government serves practically no function. According to the masses, the grassroots government in Huangtupo Village should be described as three signs and one door, with only two people inside, neither of whom are doing their jobs; instead, they just watch the door. The village committee’s sign hangs in front of the kiosk ran by the village chief, Shi Anping, who is busy with his own small business. He does not have any administrative resources at his disposal, and so he cannot do anything to respond to the demands of the masses. He says, “the collective properly is divided up, and I do not raise livestock.”

In a time of desperation, there is room for Chang Lüye to solve the problems of the countryside. Without livestock, Chang Lüye takes the money she has saved to build a house and buys a tractor. She thinks like a typical peasant: the house can wait 2 years to be built, but the land cannot wait a year. The tractor is at the core of Chang Lüye’s plans. At the same time that it solves the village’s problem of plowing the land, it also causes family conflicts. Chang Lüye and several families join together and are ready to contract 70-80 acres of land. They hold discussions as a consortium and allocate the revenue according to input and labor. The women in the village joke about their collective: released prisoners, the disabled, the old, and the sick, all working together. They first plant the barren land in the village. After the harvest, they set up a processing plant to process the grain into feed as a way to increase their income. They want to set up a feed factory, but run into financial problems. The township chief withholds the money, wanting to use it to run township enterprises. Chang Lüye leads the masses to the county government to sue. County Party Secretary Meng affirms their causes:

without industry there is no wealth and without business the economy is not alive. But without agriculture everything is unstable. Your town has no other resources, only the yellow earth. You should expend your efforts on the earth. When the planting improves, it can drive the farming industry. When commerce and side industries make money; they can be used to support agriculture. This all forms a virtuous circle.

Secretary Meng describes the spontaneous explorations of farmers like Chang Lüye as part of the beautiful scenery of rural development.

After tire disintegration of rural grassroots organizations. Chang Lüye takes on the responsibility of leading the masses to prosperity and stabilizing the rural situation with her personal charms and abilities. She also arranges three separate marriages: Aunt Qi and Kang Fengnian. Gaigai and Wu Chenglong. and Qi Xin and Kang Xiaoqing. She uses her individual strength and personal awareness to solve social problems. As such, she comes to represent a type of ideal character that is rare in reality. Onscreen, film writers and directors of the 1980s relied on characters such as Niu Baisui, Erhu, and Chang Lüye to make appeals to society. They were presented as the types of people that society urgently needed. As a result of these attitudes. The Women of Huangtupo Village is full of love and care towards Chang Lüye. On a stonny night, she leads a crowd in a bitter struggle to protect the recently cultivated fields overnight. At dawn, the wind finally stops, and the tired Chang and the others fall asleep in the bosom of the earth. A song plays that is dedicated to them:

the morning breeze, you blow gently, do not wake up our sisters. In the daytime, they work hard in the wind, and at night they guard the seedlings in the frost. Sun, rise slowly, do not wake our sisters. Their deep footprints are left in the fields, and the yellow earth is soaked with their salty sweat.

The films Our Niu Baisui, Our Veteran, and The Women of Huangtupo Village portray the survival of farmers and the enrichment of the countryside. Although Our Veteran touches on the lack of spiritual and cultural life in rural areas, its main plot does not go beyond the topic of refining coke. In addition to the scattering of grassroots organizations in the countryside, the end of the Cultural Revolution also caused the cultural trends that had emerged in the countryside to fall into a decline. During the Cultural Revolution, model operas had monopolized the stage, and culture had seemed very accessible by peasants. At that time, there were literary propaganda teams in every commune and even every production team. This filled all of the peasants' spare time. With the full implementation of the policies that contracted output quotas, cultural construction in rural areas came to a halt, and even declined. Although we might argue that the extreme leftist culture of the Cultural Revolution was distasteful, the lack of new culture in rural areas was surely also worrying.

Related to these issues is the film Family Trivia (Jiating suoshilu, dir. Song Chunli, 1984), created by Wang Yimin, the screenwriter of Call of the Home Valley and Hometown Accent. Unlike the affirmation of traditional values in the latter two films, with Family Trivia Wang Yimin tried to depict changes in the relatively static space of rural China. Where Tian Qiuyue in Call of the Home Valley and Tao Chun in Hometown Accent are bearers of traditional values and virtues, Li Yuemei in Family Trivia is a character who serves as an object of criticism. As a model of traditional rural Chinese women, Li Yuemei is undoubtedly capable and familyoriented, and the production responsibility system gives her new hope. She feels that she must work hard to get rich, build a house, and find wives for her sons, whom she prefers to her daughters. To save money and increase manpower, she orders her daughter, Xuehua, to return home to raise pigs, even though she has a promising future in school. Li Yuemei hopes that, with Xuehua home, the family can raise enough money for her eldest son to find a wife and her second son to take the college entrance exam. As a youth raised in a new era, Xuehua is very reluctant to return to the countryside to work as a farmer. However, according to Li Yuemei, "as long as girls get to the second year of junior high school and can write and calculate, that’s fine. Besides, no matter how much a girl studies, she still has to get married.” Li Yuemei forces a good student like Xuehua to return home to feed pigs while she supports her second son’s education, even though he has already failed the university entrance exam 2 years in a row. She tells her second son, "don’t think about anything but studying." Additionally, Li also arranges the marriage of her eldest daughter, Juhua, who might be illiterate, but is still very unwilling to have an arranged marriage. In another attack on Xuehua, Li Yuemei also confiscates the notebook in which she writes her ambitions and dreams, saying it has been burned. It is only when her eldest son gets married and her second son goes off to college, ostensibly fulfilling her wishes, that Li Yuemei realizes how much she has mistreated her daughters.

Against this background, the eldest daughter-in-law. Chunxing, who married into the family, emerges as a new cultural leader. First, on a rainy day, she leads the girls to set up a ping-pong table in the mill so they can have some fun. Li Yuemei is unhappy, because she holds the belief that “women should do needlework on rainy days.” But Chunxing also has her own point of view: “life is not just for eating!” In order to enable the rural youth to be more culturally active during their spare time. Chunxing asks her husband, Jiaxing, to take the lead in organizing a group to create cultural events in the countryside. They hold sports activities, set up a library, and make Xuehua, who loves to read, the librarian. Juhua also begins studying under the guidance of her sister-in-law. With the support of Chunxing, Xuehua goes to the county seat to attend a literary workshop both to improve her literacy level and to broaden her horizons. Xuehua gradually awakens through studying, realizing that the most precious moment of the day is the morning, and the most precious thing for a person is their youth. She realizes that the youth belong to the 1980s and should be able to arrange their own lives. The restless hearts of such rural youth who are confined to the land all throb. Through her acts, Chunxing gains the right to speak as an enlightened person, and Li Yuemei ultimately announces that she will give her daughter-in-law, Chunxing, the power to manage the family.

Family Trivia raises questions of the spiritual life of rural youth. How can the cultural desires of rural youth be satisfied? This was a time when grassroots organizations in the countryside were gradually becoming paralyzed, and cultural life was declining. The writer and director of Family Trivia were far-sighted in aspiring to realize the prospect of a double harvest of both material and spiritual civilization in the countryside. According to Zhong Chengxiang,

the peasants of the 1980s are building a material civilization while also creating a new spiritual civilization. In terms of aesthetic pursuits, this has become the grand theme of rural films in recent years. In previous years, a significant number of rural films focused on the historical process of the transformation from poverty to wealth. However, in recent years, rural films have focused more on the spiritual world of farmers during the process of social change. They have aimed to write about the journeys of the heart in the course of rural change.54

Chunxing's efforts focus on transforming the spiritual and cultural atmosphere of a single family. In comparison. Charming Band (Beijing Film Studio, 1985) focuses on cultural construction in a whole town. Indeed, the film's grand vision of cultural construction in the new Chinese countryside of the 1980s is striking for being a vision ahead of its time. Even in the 21st century, this quality still rings true.

There are countless bands in the world, but the peasant symphony orchestra, spontaneously organized by farmers in northern China, with peasants as all the players, is particularly unique. Why did the peasants organize this symphony orchestra? For thousands of years, farmers have lived their lives going to work at sunrise and resting at sunset. But now they want a change, saying, “the birds in the trees are still singing, not to mention us!” They continue. “I can’t inherit old men’s ways of doing things, and they don’t approve of my practices either. But I think life should be colorful. We farmers can also try at music and literature!”

China’s traditional literati had thoroughly discussed the spiritual life of man, believing that, after the granary is sufficiently full, then one should study all kinds of cultural practices. The existence of the “charming band” is premised on the fact that Longgang village has already developed a strong economic base. In the film, Xin Tianxi, the village chief, reports to the township chief that the villagers can collectively earn 770,000 yuan this year. With an original stockpile worth 1.5 million yuan, that makes 1,973 yuan per capita. Longgang has become the richest village in the greater township. Now that the peasants have secured sufficient food and clothing, they turn to their spiritual needs, and the first peasant orchestra is finally set up in Longgang Village. At the inaugural meeting, Xin Tianxi excitedly says to the villagers, "we are now economically rich, but we can continue to make life better. The Soviet literary scholar Maxim Gorky once said, ‘those who can’t live sleep, those who love life sing.' We should sing and run forward.”

However, wider society remains suspicious and skeptical of farmers forming bands. Experts from the city orchestra say, “money might be able to buy musical instruments, but it cannot buy music.” For his part, the township chief, Li Chunfang, outright opposes the band, saying, “this might delay production, and even cause problems in work style.” Xin Tianxi retorts, “no one says that only people from cities can play in bands. This is also a spiritual civilization.” Qu Lixin, a trumpet player representing the band, vows on behalf of the other villagers, “we would rather lose a few pounds of weight, but still assemble them [musical instruments] well to win glory for our farmers.” With these attitudes, native farmers pick up horns, trumpets, tubas, saxophones, pipes, oboes, and flutes with the same hands that had just put down hoes and sickles. After much studying and practicing, they play “In the Fields of Hope,” and the peasants’ heartfelt voices float over the picturesque fields in the morning and at dusk.

Some of the significance of this film is its successful portrayal of Xin Tianxi. He is a new type of rural leader, a grassroots cadre who can lead farmers to wealth through his forward-looking vision. He knows how to take action to further the construction of peasants’ spiritual world while being an authority in Longgang village. He pursues spiritual life with all his heart, hoping that the peasants will share his passion. His character fits the typical image of the type of newly awakened peasant who represents the characteristics of the 1980s. Inspired by the image of Xin Tianxi, Zhong Chengxiang praised the film as a reviewer:

Charming Band is particularly striking among recent rural films. With its keen aesthetic discovery and unique perspective, it prominently features the new type of farmers. Represented by Xin Tianxi, they persistently pursue spiritual civilization with all their hearts. It should be noted that the film also depicts differences between the external and the internal, and the superficial and the deep, in its representation of the artistic expressions of the farmers’ pursuit of spiritual civilization in the 1980s. Xin Tianxi’s pursuit of spiritual civilization is not external or superficial but is instead heartfelt and indefatigable. The onscreen image that He Wei creates for audiences is not only full of unique features of northeastern rural life, but also shines with the glory of the times. He does not start the peasant band to follow orders from his superiors, and it is not a formal activity. Instead, it is a conscious effort of Xin Tianxi to adjust and renew his own spiritual patterns in response to the stirring tides of change. These types of conscious pursuits obviously contribute to fundamentally improving the spiritual quality and cultural mentality of the whole nation. These activities also prepare the conditions necessary for the realization of the Four Modernizations. The outstanding merit of this film is to present Xin Tianxi’s conscious pursuit of poetic feelings in the form of a light comedy, making it a guiding light for the way forward. If everyone could regard spiritual civilization as an important inner pursuit like Xin Tianxi, then our national character would be greatly improved. Additionally, our entire nation’s spiritual qualities, and our degree of civilization, would rapidly rise to a higher level. What a charming image that would be!55

According to the imaginings of the films mentioned above, rural China should be a testing ground for both spiritual and material civilization. However, today, in the 21st century, it seems that artists underestimate the continued importance of rural work. Up until the present, the top priorities of the country still include the three rural issues: the state of agriculture, disparities between rural and urban areas, and the material and cultural state of the peasantry. Creating fundamental changes to the face of the countryside and improving the living conditions of the peasants remain arduous tasks, even in today’s economy.

Rising Sun: Teenagers in Films

On November 17, 1957, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and other Communist Party of China leaders visited Moscow University. There. Mao Zedong gave an important speech to Chinese students studying in the Soviet Union:

The world is yours and ours now, and in the end, it will all be yours. You young people are flourishing, like the sun at eight or nine o’clock in the morning. You are carrying the hope of the future. Hope rests with you.

With great enthusiasm, these poetic words expressed the ardent hopes old revolutionaries held for young people. In terms of popular communist culture, the children and youth of the People’s Republic of China are all familiar with the theme of the Young Pioneers, “We Are the Successors of Communism,” which also expresses respect for Mao Zedong’s authoritative statements. The lyrics go:

We are the successors of communism,Along the glorious path of the forbearers of the Revolution;[To] love the motherland and the people,“Young Pioneer Members” is our proud name.Ever be prepared, to contribute [i.e. to the cause]

The map of Chinese cinema contains numerous artistic representations of the stories of young heroes and heroines of Chinese communism such as Wang Erxiao, Liu Hulan, Liu Wenxue, and Lai Ning, Many films, including Zhang Ga the Soldier Boy (Xiaobing Zhang Ga, dir. Cui Wei and Ouyang Hongying, 1963), Red Children (Hong haizi, dir. Su Li, 1958), and Sparking Red Star (Shanshande hongxing, dir. Li Jun and Li Ang, 1963), depicted memorable characters such as Zhang Gazi and Pan Dongzi. Flowers of the Motherland (Zuguode huaduo, dir. Yan Gong, 1955) inspired a whole generation. Its theme song, "Let's Swing the Paddle,” became a cultural symbol of the times and continues to cause Chinese people of the right age to recall the happy times of their youth during the 17-year period.

During the period of Reform and Opening Up, the country’s focus shifted from class conflict to economic development. Deng Xiaoping also recognized the importance of reconstructing the spiritual world of young people after the destruction of the Cultural Revolution. On September 18, 1982, Deng Xiaoping accompanied Kim Il-Sung, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, on a visit to Sichuan Province. On his way to Sichuan, Deng Xiaoping gave a speech titled “We Shall Concentrate on Economic Development” that argued:

The goal put forward at the 12th National Congress is to double the GDP in 20 years, from 1981 until the end of the 20th century. We shall achieve this objective in two stages. In the first ten years, we shall lay a solid foundation and in the second, develop at high speed. Our strategic priorities will be first, agriculture; second, energy resources and communications; and third, education and science. I think the third priority is crucial. We cannot succeed without skilled personnel and knowledge. A grave mistake of the Cultural Revolution was that for ten years it made it impossible to train people. Now we should lose no time in developing education.56

Later, on October 1, 1983, Deng Xiaoping wrote a message for the Jingshan School that advanced his ideas of the “three orientations” for Chinese education. “Education should orient towards modernization, the world, and the future.”57 Deng paid great attention to the question of how to develop talented personnel through education in forums that ranged from his speech at the National Conference on Science to his clear proposal of the “three orientations” for education. These ideas catalyzed young people’s aspirations to pursue knowledge during the 1980s. During this time, newspapers and magazines featured the classes at the University of Science and Technology of China for youth. In this context, the worship of knowledge and diplomas became new social values.

How to educate the youth was one of the most complicated issues in the first decade of Reform and Opening Up. As the emphasis on ideological struggle weakened, fanatical idealism receded, and Western liberal ideas gradually entered China, winning the hearts and minds of youth became an increasingly complicated prospect. To address these issues, the Party launched a series of political campaigns to win back the support of the youth. These included the Five Disciplines, Four Graces, and Three Loves campaign; the Anti-Spiritual Pollution campaign; and the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization campaign. The goal of these campaigns was to take the helm, guiding the youth and their values through a whirlwind of competing ideas. These campaigns had some success, and, after reflecting on the educational work of the 1980s, the Central Committee of the CPC recommitted to strengthening patriotic education and working to build a value system for the new generation in the early 1990s.

The early 1980s was the golden age of Chinese cinema. At the time, many young audiences and comrades put forward clear demands for films regarding their treatment of the youth. An appeal in a 1982 edition of Film Art urged:

College students as well as middle and high school students urge the film industry to not forget the 62 million of them in China. Middle and high school students especially make this appeal as they alone account for more than 59 million people. They are developing physically and intellectually, and their outlooks on life and the world are beginning to take shape. They have a strong desire for knowledge, are highly capable at imitation, and are highly sensitive, mobile, and flexible. They urgently desire to gain nourishment from literature and art works. They demand films to be their friends as well as their teachers, to guide them as they set out on their roads of life. However, since the crashing of the Gang of Four, films have not reflected the lives of college and middle school students. When schools and the communist youth league organizations want to organize film screenings for students, they often cannot find suitable films. In particular, the current phenomenon of “no films without love” in movies has played a role in the spread of the idea of love as “enlightenment” among secondary school students, causing concern among teachers and parents.58

Despite such appeals, there was little delay in filmmakers addressing school life in the new era. As early as 1980, the Beijing Film Studio produced The Young Teacher (Miao miao, dir. Wang Junzheng). In this film, Han Miaomiao, a young teacher, emerges as a new type of artistic image on the screen. This character brought fresh air to audiences who had just emerged from the vicious struggles of the Cultural Revolution. In the film, Miaomiao’s brother is not optimistic about Miaomiao's future in education owing to the Cultural Revolution-era mindset that “the more knowledge, the more reactionary." He asks Miaomiao to leave the school, but the principal says the country needs talented people. Miaomiao’s brother says in response, “Principal Chen, you may think that everything will be fine from now on, but who knows what will happen in the future?” Principal Chen replies, “it is hard to say what will happen in the future. Instead of trying to predict the unknowable future, it’s better to be brave and start from the present, since there is hope once again.” The film depicts love, care, and sincerity—all themes that could not be addressed during the Cultural Revolution. The pure and kind teacher Miaomiao cares for children with physical defects such as Tao Yan; she teaches Xu Peipei to be honest and true; she teaches Yang Xiaoliang, a child of a family persecuted by the Gang of Four, how to deal with hatred; and so on. Miaomiao is like an angel emerging from the devastation of the Cultural Revolution. She inspires people to look forward to the future of China, and her character’s image is as bright as the film’s deliberately controlled color palette. The audience is unable to forget that, when Miaomiao entered the school, it was a season of blossoming when hope was being nurtured everywhere.

Still, society complained about the general absence of films that reflected the lives of college as well as middle and high school students, and the latter in particular. Speaking to these concerns, in 1982, Guangxi Film Studio finished The Sunshine of Spring {Chunhui, dir. Wu Yinxun). This film addressed the resumption of college entrance exams, which became a landmark event in the Reform and Opening Up period, and spoke to the new era as one where knowledge would be worshiped. The film addressed the lives of a high school graduating class in Nanning, Guangxi Province. Apart from praising teachers, it also focused on shaping students’ images. "I think our younger generation, the middle school students, are quite lovable,” said the director Wu Yinxun,

they still have the innocence and purity of childhood, but they are beginning to think seriously about life. They are looking forward to the future, and they are brave enough to start right now. Such young people exist in large numbers. They are the hope of our country.59

In the film, Qin Jian, a new student who transfers from the Zhuangxiang mountain area, finds out that Mr. Ling’s family is living in difficulty. To give hope to the teacher’s daughter. Ling Yan, while she is preparing for the college entrance examination, Qin Jian spares his precious time and volunteers to help Ling Yan with her homework. His classmates gossip about him, saying his visits to Ms. Ling’s house are actually extra classes that break the rules. Qin Jian endures these humiliations and carries the burden of being misunderstood by his classmates so as not to disturb Mr. Ling. When Ling Yan learns that Qin Jian’s midterm grades have dropped because of helping her study, she refuses to let him help her anymore. Yet, Qin Jian insists, saying that he thinks people who only do things for themselves are no different from animals. Qin Jian’s noble sacrifice to help others not only helps Ling Yan and gives her hope, but also moves her classmate, Zhong Xiaoxing. Zhong was previously hostile to Qin Jian, but now she changes her perspective on life and starts to agree with him about the need to help others.

Within the fiercely competitive environment of preparing for college entrance exams. Zhong Xiaoxing would be considered excellent in both her character and her grades according to traditional views. She accordingly possesses a sense of superiority. When she sees that others have the potential to challenge and even surpass her, she then develops a strong sense of jealousy. After Qin Jian starts tutoring Ling Yan without telling Mr. Ling, it is Zhong Xiaoxing who spreads the rumor that Mr. Ling is giving Qin Jian extra help. But Zhong Xiaoxing is ultimately a virtuous character. When she comes to understand the truth, she transforms and argues heatedly with her mother, bitterly exclaiming. “I used to think too much!” Zhong Xiaoxing’s ideas had previously been contaminated by selfishness. but eventually the upright, beautiful, and good-natured side of her heart emerges as her character develops.

Ling Yan is the daughter of Mr. Ling and is also a college entrance exam candidate that year. Her father is busy teaching the preparation class for the exams to students. It was when her mother became seriously ill that Ling Yan decided to quit studying for the exam and go home to take care of her mother for the sake of her father’s career and his students. And, when she learns that Qin Jian’s grades have dropped because of tutoring her, she again decides to give up on her future. Her family’s misfortunes, as well as her own experiences, make her thoughts waver, but the care of people such as Qin Jian also makes her realize, “Our family’s misfortune was not caused by society, but society helps our family to overcome it.... This is socialism!”

It is through the portrayal of these students that the film elicits a sense of care and understanding, despite the pressures of the college entrance examination. Wu Yinxin explained that the filmmakers

hope that through depicting the development of the thinking of Mr. Ling and a number of students, we can show the geography of our society and the times. The new trends in thinking are like spring sunshine that warm’s everyone’s heart, and it is the young generation that is thriving in this sunshine. This is why the him is called “the sunshine of spring.”60

After The Sunshine of Spring, more films were released that reflected the lives of college and middle school students. Many films were produced that addressed these themes, including Forever Young, Girl Students’ Dormitory (Nüdaxuesheng sushe, dir. Shi Shujun, 1983), The Substitute (Houbu duiyuan, dir. Wu Ziniu and Chen Lu, 198.3), At the Age of 14 or 15 (Shi si wu sui, dir. Zhao Yuan, 1984), Fifth Grade Class No. 2 (Wu er ban, dir. Xu Boran, 1984). The Missing Girlstudent (Shizong de nuzhongxuesheng, dir. Shi Shujun, 1986), Me and My Classmates (Wo he wo de tongxuemen, dir. Peng Xiaolian, 1986), and On Their Own (Daxuesheng yishi, dir. Du Min, 1987), The Girl in Red (Hongyi shaonü, dir. Lu Xiaoya, 1985), based on the novel The Red Shirt without Buttons by Tie Ning, was a representative film addressing these themes. The plot tells the story of An Ran, a 16-year-old high school girl who is cheerful, lively, and cute, earning her the nickname “tomboy.” She proudly wears a big red shirt with a zipper instead of buttons, at a time when most people in China still only wore gray and blue clothing. An Ran is a straightforward girl who finds hypocrisy abhorrent. She dares to correct her teacher Ms. Wei’s mispronunciation and expose the hypocrisy of the class monitor. Although An Ran’s actions are undeniably correct, she does not get along well with her classmates. To help her, An Ran’s sister, An Jing, makes a secret deal with Ms. Wei to help An Ran become rated as a “thrice excellent student,” which will help her go on to higher education. They scheme to publish Ms. Wei’s poem under An Ran’s name in the magazine that An Jing works for, so that An Ran will be rated as a “thrice excellent student.” However, when An Ran learns the truth, she gives up her award and vows to earn it again the next year through her own efforts. The film looks at society, growth, and the development of one’s personality from the perspective of a young girl. This exploration raises many questions: why is it so difficult to express sincerity and pursue truth? What kinds of talents are needed, and what kind of personality is desired, by society? The film interprets these questions in a unique fashion. Thinking back on the creation of the film, Lu Xiaoya, the director, wrote:

I was thinking about a lot of things while creating this film. I thought about the difficulties our country was currently facing in its efforts to reform. I was also thinking about what we had lost through the Cultural Revolution. We did not just lose money and material things, but also many of the most precious traditional virtues of the Chinese nation. These include our ability to understand and trust each other, as well as our cherished sincerity. I cannot help asking: what lessons will the future generation learn from us? What kind of reality will we create for the many people like An Ran? Are we going to let the harmful elements of adult society pollute them? Can we help realize the relationships we want to establish between people for the next generations? My creation began with these types of thoughts as well as the deep feelings my life has given me over the years. I see these thoughts as a rebellion against “left” trends of thinking, as well as a rebellion against certain old traditional prejudices and corrupt ideas. This thinking is also a desire for sincerity and beauty.61

The completed film was an expression of these reflections. It received high praise after its release. The review given by the judges of the 1985 Golden Rooster Awards accurately summarized the film’s theme: it portrays a moving image of contemporary youth. An Ran’s beautiful heart, sincere feelings, and truth-seeking spirit affect people’s old ideas and ingrained habits. The film is rich in connotation and is thought-provoking. Its artistic conception is novel, and its style is fresh and simple. As a result, the film won the Golden Rooster Award for Best Picture.

The background to The Girl in Red winning the 1985 Golden Rooster Award for Best Picture was that the 1985 Golden Rooster Awards were convened in the wake of the Fourth National Congress of the Chinese Writers Association. According to Xu Hong, at the congress, the Secretariat of the Central Committee entrusted Comrade Hu Qili to

distinctly advance the idea that there should be freedom in both creation and criticism. This greatly encouraged the film industry. The Golden Rooster Awards, which have always been selected democratically, are now facing a new challenge in this new context.62

This idea of freedom and democracy, as well as the ethos of telling the truth, infected many people. As a result, some people referred to the congress as the “Zunyi Conference” of China's literary and art circles (at the 1935 Zunyi Conference, Mao Zedong had won an ideological battle over his rivals in the CPC). At the time of the congress, in 1985, China was still recovering from the Cultural Revolution’s confusion of right and wrong, as well as its tendencies to encourage people to make excuses for themselves and to act and obey in ignorance. In contrast to this background, The Girl in Red expressed naturalness, freshness, sincerity, and a unique spirit of independent thought, which undoubtedly corresponded with the spirit of the congress and touched the judges at the awards. The jury of the Golden Rooster Awards highly appreciated the film, saying,

An Ran comes out of real life and here are many young people like An Ran existing in reality. The creator considered the social situation, and then recognized and created a representative model of contemporary young people. It can be said that An Ran is another typical youth after the model of Xie Huimin in Liu Xinwu’s novel The Head Teacher. Now, this literary archetype has appeared on the screen.63

That The Girl in Red won the Golden Rooster Award for Best Picture in the 1980s is worthy of study. In addition to the Golden Rooster Award, the film also took second place in both the 1984 Government Awards and the Ministry of Culture Excellence Film Awards, as well as third place for best picture in the Hundred Flowers Awards. The film’s success was due to its onscreen representation of new ideas for humanity. Since the 1980s, questions of both human nature and humanitarianism had been heated issues for debate in cultural and intellectual circles. The Fourth National Congress of the Chinese Writers Association helped spark the move to embrace "freedom in creation,” a notion which reminded writers to value themselves. The congress’s discussion of "subjectivity” also returned to questions of the nature of humanity. On these issues, in Review and Analysis of the Literary Trend in the New Times, is written, “subjectivity is nothing but human nature. Therefore, the core content of subjectivity is man’s awareness of his own personality, value, dignity, rights, and desires, as well as his feelings towards life and existence.”64 The Cultural Revolution’s physical destruction of human beings, as well as its trampling of mental conceptions of humanity, led people who had experienced these events to cherish the value of humans. This was especially true of intellectuals such as Wang Ruoshui. who poetically wrote. "China is haunted by a strange shadow . . . / "Who are you?” / "I’m human.”65

In Man Is the Starting Point of Marxism, Wang Ruoshui also gave an intellectual conception of “man." for, when true communism had been achieved, “it will be a time when everyone can develop fully and freely, and when man will become the master of society, nature, and himself."66 Still, it should be noted that people were divided about the connections between humanism and Marxism in the 1980s. Even today, there remains the need to advance this research. By quoting these ideas, we do not mean to agree with them, but only to capture the intellectual atmosphere of the times and to clarify that these ideas were present. It is a fact that people were highly sensitive to questions of man, humanity, and personality during the 1980s. Furthermore, both the left and the right wings of society had their own conceptions of how to cultivate a new socialist generation. This included filmmakers. For example, Lu Xiaoya wrote in the director’s notes to The Girl in Red, “An Ran’s personality represents the personality traits of our times, which correspond with the rhythms and melodies that define life while we work to build the ‘two civilizations’ proposed by the Central Committee.”67

An Rail’s sister makes a deal with her head teacher so that she can be exempted from die college entrance examination. In a subsequent class meeting. An Ran is successfully nominated as a “thrice excellent student.” The film reaches its climax when she finds she received this designation through cheating. An Ran goes onto the podium and wipes her name from the blackboard, writing a vow that reads, “An Ran will win it by herself next year.” She also takes a stand against the scheming of her sister and teacher. “I’m not winning a ‘thrice excellent’ title for your satisfaction and contentment! . . . What I truly long for is understanding and trust. But today, I didn’t receive either. I didn’t get anything.” An Ran’s sobriety, rationality, sincerity, and enterprise provided an important onscreen model for intellectuals arguing over how to cultivate a new type of Chinese youth in the wake of the Cultural Revolution.

Intellectual elites recognized many desirable qualities in An Ran. Social elites who reflected on the Cultural Revolution and examined the contemporary era expected a new type of national character to now be formed. Some people praised An Ran for her courage to wear a red shirt without buttons and to disclaim the fraudulent “thrice excellent student” designation. Her selfconsciousness, respect for her own judgment, and ability to overcome her ego and put her judgment into practice were seen as important qualities in a time that seemed to call for enlightenment and freedom. Some people also interpreted An Ran’s statement “I discovered it with my own eyes” to speak to the necessity of continuing to fight against feudalism in contemporary society. According to Xia Hong:

The long-standing ideology of the feudal patriarchal in our country emphasized that everyone, but especially women, should be obedient. Even after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, education during the 1950s and 1960s still included the “theory of docile tools.” These ideas of obedience have had a deep-rooted influence across all aspects of our society. Teachers always prefer obedient students, and leaders always want submissive subordinates. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we instill these ideas into the next generation and force them to become accustomed to our traditional ways. The will of parents dominates at home; the will of childcare workers dominates at kindergarten; the will of teachers dominates at school; and the will of managers dominates after one joins the workforce.68

This long-standing tendency towards subconscious servility served as the breeding ground for the Cultural Revolution. At a time when civil society was endangered, the majority lost their judgment. The cultural significance of a character like An Ran becomes clear when she is examined against this historical background. According to Xia Hong,

many personal, family, and social tragedies were caused because people gave up their ability to think independently. The ideological and historical significance of this him lies in the fact that it touches on this issue profoundly and is able to make people to think quite deeply. This is a very welcome and valuable addition to the films created during 1984.69

Huang Shixian also analyzed An Ran,

this is a new onscreen image of a type that we have not seen much of the likes of since 1979. Its realistic connotations and artistic characteristics include its ability to break through cultural traditions and the shadow of the Cultural Revolution. The idea of “seeing the world with my own eyes” vividly reveals the new generation’s post-Cultural Revolution outlook on values, society, and life, an outlook which celebrates the beauty of morality, nobility, and ideals.70

A 1985 issue of Film Stories published a set of reviews of The Girl in Red. The editor’s introduction reported that a screening of The Girl in Red in Shanghai drew many positive reviews from the audience, though there were some differences of opinion. One of the articles. “The Middle School Student in Life,” questioned the basis for An Ran in reality.

In The Girl in Red, An Ran is supposed to represent a typical image of a contemporary middle school student, but this character lacks a basis in reality. . . . Contemporary middle school students boast multiple ideals and possess a pioneering spirit as a generation. Their distinctive traits are reflected in their pursuit of careers, their efforts at studying, their explorations of life, and their sincerity with their classmates. However, in its attempt to create a new image of the middle school students, the film focuses on depicting supposedly extraordinary things such as wearing red shirts, inviting classmates to dinner, making friends with male classmates, and playing soccer. Yet such a character does not exist in reality or in real students, but simply in the writer’s and director’s imagination.

Despite such negative reviews, the majority of viewers felt moved by the film and found An Rail’s personality infectious. Some even cried in the theater because they saw their own desires and dreams reflected in An Ran. Another article from the same issue. “A Unique and Colorful Newcomer”, reflected:

The Girl in Red won the Golden Rooster Award, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It created a unique and colorful newcomer with the character An Ran. . . . She is defined in scenes like “wearing red shirts.” “dancing disco,” “playing soccer,” and “enjoying stamp collecting.” This young girl of sixteen is different from Yang Qiangyun in Forever Young or Liu Wenying in Evening Rain (Bashan yeyu, dir. Wu Yonggang, 1980). She is unique, new, and full of the temperament of the 1980s. . . . The film meticulously and realistically portrays how An Ran, a girl who has just taken off her red scarf and entered young adulthood, manages to maintains her innocence while also daring to use her own eyes to observe and her own brain to think.

The question of what types of people China would need to rely on to face the future is expressed in ideas ranging from Mao Zedong’s 1957 statements that “the world is yours (young people)” and “hope rests with you” to Deng Xiaoping’s 1983 proposal of the “three orientations.” The intellectuals of the 1980s reflected on both the Cultural Revolution and their own existence as they explored how to rebuild the national character of the Chinese people. Although the expectations the Chinese leadership and intellectuals placed on future generations varied, they all asked the same question: what kinds of people will our nation need for the future? The Girl in Red was born out of these varied expectations, and officials, intellectuals, and the general public all found that aspects of An Ran’s character spoke to their specific concerns. As a result, the film received high praise at the Ministry of Culture Excellence Film Awards, which were judged by the government; the Golden Rooster Awards, which were judged by members of artistic circles; and the Hundred Flowers Awards, which were judged by the public; all gave high praise for the film. Various elements of society reached a consensus that the character of An Ran served ideas about how to construct the new youth for the new era in China. People had high hopes about how splendid China would be if millions of An Rans appeared with their independence, freedom, ideals, rationality, confidence, love, and sincerity. Today, more than 30 years have passed, and the 16-year-old An Ran would already be almost 50. Can An Ran retain her independence, freedom, and ideals in today’s market economy-dominated atmosphere of pragmatism and an era where various interests determine ideas of success and failure? In the era when An Ran was created, artists did not consider the new mechanisms of the market economy, with all its opportunities and temptations. They also did not consider how the market economy distorts human nature at the same time that it represents progress. Therefore, we can only say that An Ran is a projection of the collective desires of a specific era and atmosphere. She represents an imagination of China’s future that is full of idealism but belongs only to the 1980s. This image can serve as a yardstick as we reflect on that period.

To understand the Reform and Opening Up in the 1980s, one must fully grasp the notion of “One Center, Two Basic Points.” This idea adheres to the four basic principles (upholding the socialist path, the people’s democratic dictatorship, the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and Mao Zedong Thought and Marxism-Leninism) without wavering from the ideas of Reform and Opening Up. The goal was to develop the economy, realize the Four Modernizations, quadruple China’s GDP by the end of the 20th century, and build a moderately prosperous society as quickly as possible. People embraced the idea that inspiring ideas of China’s future could only be achieved by feeling for stones in order to cross the river. But no one knew for sure where China would end up. Despite this uncertainty, the idea that “tomorrow will be better” was deeply rooted in people’s hearts. Indeed, this twin sense of the future’s unpredictability and the desire for a brighter tomorrow created a wide space for literary and artistic works and screen productions to imagine China’s future. What would our future have been like if all cadres became like Luo Xingang, Xiao Ziyun, and Liu Zhao? If cadres cared more about the people than their personal gains and losses, served the people single-mindedly. and dedicated themselves to development? What if our urban youth all became like Liao Xingming, who is an excellent mechanic in the factory and a spiritual worker shouldering national responsibilities outside of the factory doors? What if the self-employed all became like Kui Mei, knowing how to make a lot of money while still maintaining a noble personality? What if our rural cadres and party members all became like Niu Baisui and Erhu, leading the people of their hometowns on the road to common prosperity? What if we were able to focus on building the spiritual world of farmers like Chunxing and Xin Tianxi? What if our young people all became like Qin Jian and An Ran—upright, righteous, ready to help, and able to think independently and rationally? What type of ideal state would Chinese society be in today if all of these conditions had been satisfied? Unfortunately, history does not advance along designed trajectories. Contingencies and necessities always divert it towards new paths. Tins is the charm of history, but also the helplessness of fate. Once the course of history is formed, the preemptive imaginations of the future all become nothing more than sighs of relief or triggers for appreciation.


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