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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Trans/national Chinese Bodies Performing Sex, Health, and Beauty in Cinema and Media

  • Author(s): Zuo, Mila
  • Advisor(s): McHugh, Kathleen A
  • et al.

This dissertation explores the connections between Chinese body cultures and transnational screen cultures by tracing the Chinese body through representation in contemporary cinema and media in the post-Mao era. Images of Chinese bodies participate in the audio-visual manufacture of desire and pleasure, and ideas of “Chinese-ness” endure through repetitive, mediated performance. This dissertation examines how representations of sex, health, and beauty are mediated by social, cultural, and political belief systems, and how cine/televisual depictions of the body also, in turn, mediate gender, cultural, racial and ethnic identifications within and across national boundaries.

The bodily practices and behaviors in the quotidian arenas of sex, health, and beauty reflect the internalization of culture and the politics of identity construction. This dissertation is interested in how the pleasures of cinema relate to the politics of the body and how the pleasures of the body relate to the politics of cinema. "Trans/national Chinese Bodies Performing Sex, Health, and Beauty in Cinema and Media" focuses in particular on images of the Chinese female body that participate in worldly constructions of “Chinese-ness.” Each chapter is a situational exploration of a facet of Chinese embodiment in contemporary cinema and media: the erotics and affects of cinematic war bodies, the hygienic body in compassionate melodrama, the touching politics of China’s first HIV/AIDS film, the politics of beauty in regards to post-Mao Chinese female film stars, and the exotic/erotic-ization of Chinese American actresses. By framing the performer as the central author in film and television, this project suggests an alternate hermeneutics to understanding the accented Chinese body as cine/televisual phenomenon. Anchored by discussions of affective, sensorial, and phenomenological spectatorship, this project explores the Chinese body as a fictive text that powerfully elicits feelings of cultural belonging. This study mobilizes the concept of carnal spectatorship in an attempt to answer the question: How do Chinese audiences make sense and senses of their own histories and identities through their imaginative, bodily contact with onscreen Chinese bodies? As this dissertation illustrates, China and Chinese-ness are themselves performances inextricable from bodily systems of desire, pleasure, and well-being. As a construction of film and media, the Chinese body enables access to a diversity of erotics and pleasures that elucidate Chinese-ness as an affective condition of being-in-the-world.

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