This article reads a Chinese blockbuster film, City of Life and Death ([南京! 南京! Nanjing! Nanjing!] dir. Lu Chuan, 2009), as an allegory of China and the human for contemporary China. This movie illustrates the historical entanglement and tension of China and the human in twentieth-century Chinese cultural criticism and raises provocative questions about the geopolitics of historical trauma (the Nanjing Massacre in this case), the politics of memory, and the recuperation of Chinese humanity through memory work. I situate this film's representation of the Nanjing Massacre in relation to two other texts, The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe and The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, and examine the intricate power relations revolving around these contemporary discourses of the human in representations of this historical incident. I argue that these two texts have prepared the ground for City of Life and Death, positioning it strategically vis-à-vis Chinese history and the global condition of neoliberal globalization. I suggest that the movie articulates the Chinese desire for the universal human among the emerging new Chinese middle class, which has proved itself to be a formidable force in cultural and ideological production in contemporary China.
Dai Jinhua; I Want to Be Human: A Story of China and the Human. Social Text 1 December 2011; 29 (4 (109)): 129–150. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-1416118
Download citation file: