Chinese Studies Seminar Series

The Animal and the Animalistic in China’s Late 1950s Socialist Cinematic Satires

Hosted by the Confucius Institute and Associate Professor Jon Eugene von Kowallis, Convenor of the Chinese Studies Program at the UNSW School of Humanities and Languages, Associate Professor Wang Yiman from the University of California, Santa Cruz, will be delivering the latest Chinese Studies Seminar titled


The Animal and the Animalistic in China’s Late 1950s Socialist Cinematic Satires



The wave of satiric film comedies produced during the two-year span 1956-1957 in China was catalysed by Mao Zedong’s “Hundred Flowers” campaign, launched on the heels of the Soviet Khrushchev-era “thaw”. They played an important role in negotiating the role of satiric laughter under the new socialist order. Embroiled in the “new” vs. “old” struggle manifested in de-colonializing the comedy genre, rectifying the film makers’ political stance and cleansing the comedians’ performance styles, these comedies gingerly navigated the highly scrutinized zone of laughter, governed by a “high socialist laughter” doctrine. By studying two meta-cinematic satiric comedies, An Unfinished Comedy (dir. Lü Ban 1957) and A Nightmare in the Zoo (dir. Shi Lan 1956), the lecture will argue that this short-lived wave of satiric comedies reveals the constantly shifting terrains of the “new” and the “old,” humanity and animality, hospitality (a la Derrida), abjection, and ultimately the collapsing of these binaries.

Specific focus will be placed on how the films work through the body of the human and the animal actors (and of the audience), while traversing layers of imperial, colonial, nationalist and socialist histories. The seminar will demonstrate how this satiric outburst (transient as it was) has remained a spectre that unsettles and haunts the socialist ideological purism with an intractable “animalist” Other.


Register here for this event.