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Curating Counter-revolution: Pidouhui, Image and the Politics of Exposure in Maoist China

Belinda Qian He, University of Washington
Flyer for UW China & Inter-area workshop
Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 4:30pm
2M Seminar Room, East Asia Library, Gowen Hall

UW China & Inter-area Workshop

Co-organized by the Asian Law Center of UW Law and East Asia LIbrary of UW

Sponsored by Confucius Institute of the State of Washington

ABSTRACT: Against whom do people struggle? What compels Chinese people to keep exposing (more than to show, to visualize, or to disclose) the “evil” others, to make them viewable and visually knowable as purported enemies governed by a besieging view from the collective body? Revolving around the mass production of hostile views (displays of counterrevolutionaries, spectacle of shame, images of deviance, cinema of scapegoating) in Maoist China, this essay explores a historically recurring, generic scene called pidouhui (struggle sessions) and the cultural work it performed. By choreographing class struggle as a sight to be seen, pidouhui referred to the gatherings in which those labelled as “class enemies” were condemned in public. Rather than simply seeing pidouhui as a given mode of mobilization or the iconic form of violence during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the essay approaches pidouhui as the mass performance of justice, an unfolding dynamic rooted in China’s long and ongoing history of shaming, punishment, and mob violence. This essay aims to show how the symbiosis between violence and vision worked within pidouhui and its many incarnations, and in conjunction with religious ritual, political assembly, criminal penalty, theatrical performance, and visual practices including lantern slideshow, photography, cinema, exhibition and other forms. All those mentioned above constitute what I call “the exposure complex,” which shared the spectacular, punitive nature and horrific violence of pidouhui and gave it social acceptability, legitimacy, and popularity. This essay offers a critical engagement with not merely the shadowed Chinese visual experience of class struggle but also the increasing global concerns about atrocity, image, and witnessing.

PRESENTER: Belinda Qian He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests include Chinese and East Asian cinema, photography, art, and display culture, associated with cruelty, class struggle, collective violence, and witnessing. Her dissertation is tentatively titled Spectacular Hostilities: Class Struggle, Hate Image, and Cinema as Show Trial in China, 1945-1985. Her essays, translation, and book reviews are published in Journal of
Chinese Cinemas, The China Review, Film Art, Beijing Film Academy Journal, China Book Review, Siyi Journal, and so forth. The most recent publication is “Animating Herstory? Stillness/motion, Popular Cinephilia and the Economy of the Instants in the Post-cinema Age.”
Her two forthcoming book chapters are, respectively, about the child as an eyewitness to political violence in world cinema and the Cold War cultural experience across the Taiwan Strait. She is also conducting a multidisciplinary project on image and justice, funded by the Asia Art Archive (AAA) and the Robert HN Ho Family Foundation based in Hong Kong.


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