January 2010

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Analysis of the Recent Made-in-China Campaign

By Hongmei Li

China has recently launched its first global advertising campaign about products made in China. A 30-second television commercial, sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce of China and four Chinese trade associations, has been running on CNN, the Headline News and International Asia TV channels in the United States since November 23, 2009. Costing tens of millions of Yuan, the commercial was scheduled to run for six weeks. The commercial also started to run in some parts of Asia starting in December 2009.

With a recurring theme that stresses the way products are “made in China in cooperation with the world,” the commercial starts with a white man tying the laces of his sports shoes that were produced in China, immediately followed by written words “made in China with American sports technology.” It then shows a Caucasian family in which the mother is shown preparing food and orange juice and the father is enjoying the meal with their son, all thanks to their possession of a stylish fridge that is “made in China with European style.” The camera then focuses on young people listening to an MP3 player that is “made in China with software from Silicon Valley.” A Western model at a fashion shoot is shown wearing clothes “made in China with French designers” and a Western business man is presented as taking an airplane that is “made in China, with engineers from all over the world.” The commercial ends with a male voiceover intoning: “when it says made in China, it really means made in China, made with the world.”

Obviously, the commercial intends to convey that products made in China are not purely Chinese products but collaborative efforts to which the world (meaning, the West) contributes as well, and that Chinese products should not be thought of as shoddy goods but high quality and safe products. Given the tarnished image of Chinese products, especially after several influential toy recalls in the US, tainted pet food scandals, and the Sanlu contaminated milk power incidents, to name just a few cases of bad press, it is understandable that a marketing campaign would aim to address consumers’ concern over the safety and quality of Chinese products. At the same time, China also faces increasing trade protectionism and anti-dumping charges from the United States and European countries in the current economic recession, and workers in the US, for example, have long blamed China for their loss of jobs. It is timely moment to take initiatives to address such issues.

An article entitled “‘Made in China’ ad campaign wins applause in China”, published by Xinhua News Agency on December 5, 2009, quoted netizens, officials and experts who applauded China’s effort to improve the image of Chinese products and use public relations on the world stage as a “new practice” to lessen misconceptions and misunderstandings about China. One netizen was quoted as stating, “It is necessary to let the world know China is not the only country that benefits from ‘Made in China.’ Those who set trade barriers would themselves suffer from their own measures.” This commercial, however, misses the target in both tactical and strategic terms, and it is very unlikely to achieve the communicative goals its creators had in mind.  Here’s why:

  1. While experts have been discussing the “new angle” of this commercial, there is actually nothing new about it. It is not a secret that many high-end brands are made in China but connected to international firms. When sport products, such as Nike for example, are sold in the US, with a tag stating that they are made in China, consumers know that Chinese producers are just doing contract work. Nike still controls the design and provides the needed technology. What is the point of spending money on a commercial that tells consumers this basic fact? China is already thought of as a “contract country”; why does China want to reinforce its position further as such? This reminds me of China’s futile effort at the New York toy trade fair to promote Chinese toys under Chinese brand names, which led  Sari Horwitz from the Washington Post to call 1985 the year of the toy for China.  Before 1985, China had already produced toys or parts of toys for American companies, but the Chinese delegations, led by Zhao Zhen Fa of the China National Light Industrial Products Import and Export Corporation, intended to penetrate the US toy market with toys produced, designed and branded in different Chinese regions. For example, “China’s Zhejing and Heilongjing regions produce wooden toys. The Jingsu [sic] area produces soft, flannel toys, such as hand puppets. Peking produces wooden and metallic products, including children’s cars. Hubei and Tianjin are famous for their stuffed dolls and children’s cars.” Facing the potential challenge from China, Thomson of the toy manufacturers trade group stated, “China, whose role is best as a contract country, is probably not a source of original toys that will be imported into this country” and that “[t]he U.S. dominates the design and marketing techniques of toys.”[1] Even though the Chinese effort failed, it was remarkable that China tried to change its position. Since the 1990s, China’s Ministry of Commerce has attempted at various occasions to promote Chinese brands. Chinese media have written numerous articles about how to build “Chinese brands” (zhongguo pinpai or pinpai zhongguo) on the world stage. What is especially striking is that after 24 years, China, supported by the same Ministry of Commerce, still seems to be content with the contract country status in a multi-million Yuan ad. Why doesn’t China aim a little bit higher by branding itself as a country of innovation and creativity?[2]
  2. Most models used in this commercial are Western or Western-looking, and by equating the world with the West, it obviously reinforces visions of Western dominance of and superiority over other parts of the world. No Asians or Africans appear in the commercial. I wonder how such a commercial will play when run in Asia, but so far, there has been no coverage of this issue. Such a portrayal of the “world” as equal to the “West” is ironic since China has long claimed to be the leader of the Third World. One possible explanation for this irony is that Chinese business elites are still striving to emulate the West and make China Westernized in material terms.  At the same time, the commercial is also gendered, naturalizing women’s roles in stereotypical ways. While women are associated with shopping, modeling and cooking, men are portrayed as jogging, traveling for business and using advanced form of technology.  The commercial does not break any  new ground and is boring. While Chinese media provided positive coverage of the advertisement, quoting praise for it by officials, researchers and sometimes even netizens, there has been little coverage of or response to this ad in the West. I doubt it will even be noticed by many consumers outside of China.

Strategically, this commercial might be associated with China’s various efforts to expand its soft power by increasing cultural exchanges, building hundreds of Confucius Institutes, waiving African debts, participating constructively in international organizations and peace-keeping efforts and so on. More specifically, China is reported to have set aside 45 billion Yuan (6 billion USD) to expand the outreaching capacity of its three major media outlets, Xinhua, China Central Television (CCTV) and the People’s Daily newspaper. If the made-in-China campaign is understood in the context of China’s soft power, I think it still misses the target. How can a “contract country” have a general perceived attractiveness if the three main sources of soft power—values, culture, and foreign policy, according to Joseph Nye—are not stressed?

Foreign producers outsource products to China simply because China has cheap labor, which is closely associated with damage to China’s natural environments, pollution and even corruption. Cheap labor is often equated with sweatshops and sometime shoddy products. The branding of China, Inc. in this regard will contribute little to China’s international attraction, except to the opportunistic capitalists eager to exploit Chinese workers with minimal pay. On the contrary, if China is to bolster its international image and prestige, it should address first within China serious issues such as product safety, the government’s human rights records, freedom of expression, free press, corruption, environmental pollution, and so on. Only when Chinese people can live a happy free life in China can China have genuine soft power that can convince its own talented people to stay and attract foreigners to go to the PRC. Given that many talented Chinese can travel and immigrate to other countries, only caring for the genuine happiness and prosperity of ordinary Chinese through Chinese laws and political participation can help cultivate China’s lasting global influence since only then Chinese inside China and in other countries, and foreigners who know China or know of China can promote China in a genuine way. Now, however, while Chinese culture has a degree of global attraction, the current political system is a global deficit for China. Only when consumers within China have confidence in made in China products will this confidence be able to spread abroad. What is weird in China now is that products exported to other countries are often of much higher quality and experience stricter regulation than products sold domestically. By treating its own citizens as second-class, China loses a lot of high-end consumers both at home and abroad because even Chinese consumers still generally consider Western producers to be of better quality and hence to have a higher status. If they can afford them, they are still more likely to consume foreign products.

All that said, if we go back to the issue of trade protectionism and the quality of Chinese products that China is facing now, I think Japan provides an interesting point of comparison. Right after World War II, Japan flooded the West with cheap products such as magic lighters and transistor radios. At that time, “made in Japan” often meant that something was shoddy, similar to the situation faced by the majority of Chinese producers now. Japanese car makers, such as Toyota and Nissan, recalled products for defective parts back then. However, only two decades later Japan led the US in the automobile and electronic industries. With more Japanese products pouring into the US market, American turned to protectionism and Japan also encountered rising anti-Japanese feelings and “dumping” charges. Similar to the reactions to Chinese products, American activists also advocated “buy America” movement. Detroit, the Mecca of the American auto industry, had the strongest anti-Japanese feelings during the recession-torn 1980s. Indeed, Vincent Jen Chin, a Chinese American who was mistaken for a Japanese, was killed on June 23, 1982 by two laid-off former Chrysler auto workers in Detroit, largely because of their hatred of the Japanese. American firms also utilized the anti-Japanese feelings to sell American products. However, Japanese producers have gradually lessened anti-Japanese feelings by promoting themselves as “American companies” rather than Japanese companies through donation to local charities and cause, participating in the local economy and hiring local people. Japanese producers countered by successfully building their brands through public relations campaigns rather than conducting sweeping “made in Japan” campaigns. I think China and Chinese producers can learn some very useful things from looking back to this part of the Japanese experience, back when that country was first surging toward becoming the world’s second largest economy.

Hongmei Li is an assistant professor of communication at Georgia State University. She is now in residence at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvaina, where she has been granted with a two-year George Gerbner Postdoc fellowship from 2008-2010.

[1] See Sari Horwitz, “The ‘Year of the Toy’, Exhibitors Invade New York Trade Show.” The Washington Post, February 7, 1985, Business, E1

[2] An online post at Shanghaiist recently expressed a similar view.

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Now that we’ve all had a few days to think deeply about the Google + China story, lots of commentaries and opinion pieces are coming across the wire. Here’s a sampling of those that caught our attention over the weekend:

1. James Kynge at the Financial Times, “China and the west: Full circle”:

Google’s defiance of China’s censorship regime is indicative of much more than a single company’s decision to reassert its open-society principles over the pragmatism by which it originally entered the Chinese market, agreeing then to self-censor in return for business licences. Google’s move may suggest that the accommodations made by western companies in China can extend only so far before contorted values snap back into place.

More broadly, though, Google’s actions present at least a symbolic challenge to a broad swath of assumptions that has underpinned the west’s engagement with China over the past 30 years. In particular, they raise the question as to whether missionary capitalism – the prevalent but fuzzy belief that the west’s commercial engagement may somehow bring about a Chinese political liberalisation – has ever been more than a naive hope.

2. Rebecca MacKinnon at RConversation, “Google, China, and the future of freedom on the global Internet”:

Google is betting its global business success on an open Internet. If you look at Google’s latest China move through the lens of global Internet policy trends and not just through the lens of Chinese politics, or China’s relationship with the West, it makes a lot more sense.  It makes sense from a business standpoint for Google not only to oppose censorship but to work actively against it, and do everything in their power to influence global policies, laws, and community practices that favor openness. In the past year they’ve gotten increasingly vocal about censorship – and not just in authoritarian countries like China.

3. This “Room for Debate” conversation at The New York Times features eight short essays dealing with the question “Can Google beat China?”

4. Ian Johnson and Jason Dean at The Wall Street Journal, “Google’s China threat upends norms”:

While the U.S. Internet giant’s move isn’t likely to be emulated by other big foreign companies, its unexpected defiance is certain to fuel debate over business relations with China. For years, Western companies have accepted that business is done a certain way in China—agreeing to government interference that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere, from stifling free speech to setting up Communist Party cells. And over the past generation, outside political leaders have drawn a similar conclusion, choosing to play down human rights in the hopes of effecting change.

This has been driven by China’s rapidly increasing importance. Already the largest market for everything from cellphones to a range of commodities, China surpassed the U.S. last year as the biggest market for cars. It supplanted Germany as the world’s top exporter, and is on pace to pass Japan this year as the second-biggest economy after the U.S.

But as Google’s move shows, China’s rise is being accompanied by growing tension with the outside world over policies and practices that defy international norms and that many in the West are finding more unpalatable.

5. This video from PBS NewsHour gives an overview of the Google + China story, followed by interviews with Xiao Qiang of China Digital Times and Andrew Lih, director of new media at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

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By Pallavi Aiyar

The plane burps to a halt and almost immediately everyone is on their feet, jostling to open the over-head lockers, reaching high for their strolleys. My head feels stuffed with lead and I marvel at the nimble alacrity of my fellow travellers, at 3:00 in the morning. Slowly we shuffle off the Air China flight and make it into the inadequately-air conditioned environs of Indira Gandhi International Airport.

As we walk towards immigration, I glimpse the sleepy desperation on the faces of those waiting in the departure hall. Large parts of the airport are cordoned off with cheap cardboard contraptions decorated with blithe apologies for “inconvenience” while a “world class” airport is being constructed.

Just above the escalator leading down to passport control a lone, worn out sign creaks back and forth, seemingly propelled by an invisible ill wind. “Welcome to India,” it says before ominously continuing, “You will never forget it.”

I cast my mind back to where I had begun this journey—Beijing airport’s impossibly modern, impossibly large, impossibly shiny new terminal 3. For the millionth time I wonder at the infrastructural chasm between Beijing, the city that is my temporal domicile and Delhi, the womb to which I always return.

A sneaking shame at the visibility of Indian poverty and the puniness of its constructions follows me all the way home, wafting in the warm breeze alongside the car. Home is in Nizamuddin East at the border of central and south Delhi. The bulbous outline of Humayun’s tomb cuts a graceful figure in the inky sky. At its foot lie the bundled, huddled, anonymous bodies of the dregs of the world’s humanity: refugees, drug-addicts, madmen.

Once home, my seventeen-year-old dog, a marvel of canine geriatrics, is roused enough by my arrival to attempt a welcoming leap at my neck, but her gently arthritic hind-legs are not quite up to it. There is laughter and chatter and exchanging of presents until sleep can no longer be held at bay and the house retires for the few hours it can.

I am woken up the next morning by the braying of the neighbourhood sabziwallah. “Aloohaibainganhaigobhihaishalgamhai,” he shrieks at the top of his hoarse lungs. The sounds of various cars revving up to take our various neighbours to work leak through the walls. Bougainvilleas send swirls of colour across the garden. The geriatric dog is being scolded for having made a mess in the drawing room again.  She wags her tail lazily in response.

I get ready for the day; down a cup of cold coffee whipped up in an old Nestle shaker, a product that had once been an object of great desire and novelty. I step outside and bump into various “aunties” and “uncles” who predictably cluck at how grown up I look.  One particularly rotund aunty from the house opposite asks how I like China. “Do they all eat dog?” she queries her eyes wide-open with fascinated horror.

The lane has changed since I first lived there in the mid-eighties. The Nizamuddin railway station next door has steadily grown in size; some of the bungalows have been knocked down and converted into 4-storey high builder’s flats; a gate and security guard have made an appearance at the entrance; the number and price-tags of the cars belonging to the families have spiked.

But when compared to the vertiginous pace of change in Beijing, a city that in the six years I have lived there has literally been razed to the ground and built anew, there is a sense of stasis and continuity amongst the froth of transformation in Nizamuddin. I find this soothing.

Beijing’s remorseless embrace of modernity has erased memory. Just before my trip back to Delhi I visited Sanlitun, a neighbourhood that was a favourite haunt back in 2002 when I first moved to the Chinese capital. At the time it was a block of 1960s-era socialist style housing, interspersed with little communal green areas where locals gathered to play mah-jong or practice tai chi. A British expat had started a bookshop and lending library in one of the dwellings. The red brick of the houses was faded and some of the windows cracked but on a summer’s day the weeping of willows in the interspersing courtyards cooled even the most heated of nerves.

Six years later the entire neighbourhood had been supplanted by a glass and chrome creature called The Village. This new mall had just appeared, as if from nowhere; a context-less, place-less, platonic ideal of a mall. It boasted the largest Adidas store in the world, bang opposite yet another Starbucks coffee house. This tree-less, mahjong-less, temple to consumerism was part of the New Beijing that the Olympics had been used as a rallying cry to create. What was frightening was the ability to walk through this space and not find a single link to the thriving community of people and places that had occupied the same geography for decades, only a year or so ago. A slate had been wiped clean.

In contrast, the changes I note around Nizamuddin as I take a quick walk around are Lilliputian. Humayun’s tomb had undergone a facelift a couple of years ago and gleamed in freshly scrubbed splendour. Khan-i-Khanan’s tomb is likewise spruced up and a moustachioed guard at the entrance demands a Rs 10 fee for me to enter. I try arguing with him and explain that I have walked my dog in the overgrown lawns of the tomb for some two decades without ever having paid a paisa for it—but to no avail.

I give up and walk away shaking my head and then suddenly I am overwhelmed with the wondrousness of having grown up in this hybrid neighbourhood and the sense of multiple identities it has engendered in me.

Something that would have been impossible in China.

Chinese culture is one that values homogeneity and proselytises uniformity, a tendency that finds expression in its architecture. In imperial times the hutong alleyways of Beijing were all lined in the same grey brick, and topped off with the same pagoda-style sloping roofs. In more recent years the concrete block-shaped housing apartments of the socialist-era continued the trend of featureless sameness and even the hyper modernity of Olympics—China tends to a glass and chrome monotony.

How different this is from Delhi’s infinite heterogeneity. Only in Delhi could my personal geography embrace at once, the ghosts of Ghalib and Lutyons; of Lodhis and Sufis; of BBC foreign correspondents and imperious Mughals. Nizamuddin, I realise is more than a place to me; it’s a concept and a refuge. It reinforces a belief in making “the other,” your own.

It is here that I feel most myself: a Delhite, an English speaker, half a Tamilian, a Hindu culturally, an atheist by choice, a Muslim by heritage. And it is here that the identity that threads these multiplicities together—at once the most powerful and most amorphous—that of being an Indian, feels most alive and in need of expression.

I return home, hot and sweaty and elated, to find the house plunged in darkness and lots of animated talk about load shedding and invertors. My elation subsides a bit and through an open window a gust of China-envy blows in once again.  But then I take a long sip of a proffered nimbu-pani and simply allow the gust to blow over and away.

Pallavi Aiyar is an award-winning Indian journalist and author of Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China. After a six-year-long stint in Beijing she now lives in Brussels where she reports on Europe for the Business Standard. She is currently working on her first novel.

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We’re continuing to track the Google and China story, and wanted to call your attention to these particularly good pieces of writing — each of which brought a “c” adjective to mind:

Comprehensive: David Bandurski at China Media Project, “Weighing in on Google’s predicament in China.”Bandurski nicely surveys some of the media reports that have been written about Google and China this week, and provides a full English translation of an editorial by Feng Lei that appeared in the Southern Metropolis Daily (hat tip Inside-Out China).

Chronological: See a timeline of internet censorship in China over the past year at The Guardian (UK) (h/t Danwei).

Cynical: Andrew Leonard’s “How the World Works” blog at Salon.com asks “in the long run, does it even matter why Google did it?”

Cheeky: Shanghaiist has been posting some lighthearted takes on the Google story, such as the “Quote of the Day” from China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson and this look at an image supposed to represent what China censors online. A short video also shows “What Baidu will look like once Google is gone from China.”

Clarifying: Sky Canaves at the Wall Street Journal’s “China Real Time Report” has this post on “Clearing up Confusion on Google and China.” Canaves discusses six of the most common misperceptions that have arisen this week around the Google story, such as the idea that Google has already shut down its business in China.

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By Peter Zarrow

Seen from above, people are ants. As ants are specks in nature, so people—at least Hong Kongers—are specks in the massive infrastructure of forty- and fifty-storey highrises, the limitless concrete of train and highway networks, and the forbiddingly busy shops. Seen up close, however, face-to-face, they become souls. The camera in the masterpiece directed by Ann Hui, “The Way We Are,” switches between these two perspectives. “The Way We Are” (lit. “Day and Night in Tin Shui Wai” 天水圍的日與夜, 2008) simply shows the quotidian, extremely ordinary events in the lives of a few characters, gradually revealing how they came to be the persons they are. This results in a picture of intensely human life: neither tragedy nor comedy, both sad and happy, both lost and found.

The more or less independent auteur, “New Wave” Hong Kong director Ann Hui  (Hui On-wa; mandarin Xu Anhua 許鞍華) has produced wonderful films since the 1980s—such as her semi-autobiographical “Song of the Exile” (客途秋恨, 1990) and “Eighteen Springs” (半生緣, 1997), based on an Eileen Chang story (Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” was far from the first cinematic work to draw inspiration from one of that writer’s tales)—and some near-misses (“The Postmodern Life of My Aunt,” 2006), as well as some interesting TV work. The latter includes a searing look at Hong Kong’s treatment of Vietnamese refugees. Ann Hui has made films in a remarkable range of genres: from her breakthrough semi-autobiographical film about reconnecting with her Japanese mother (her father is Chinese) to semi-documentary films, through smart commentaries on contemporary China, brilliant adaptations of novels, and even martial arts tales.

“The Way We Are” is an enormously affecting non-story: nothing happens to speak of. Families cohere, but only barely; new families can be made by lonely people, but only partially; the younger generation has another chance to do it all over again, but there is no reason to think they will do a better job. People eat together (this is a Chinese movie, after all). Sometimes, sadly, they eat alone. But they are tough (this is a Hong Kong movie, after all). This is a film of both alienation and a kind of redemption. There is the son, On, on the cusp of adolescence, waiting over the summer for his test results to get into Form Six (don’t ask: arcane Anglo school traditions). He seems smart, hardworking, and nice enough: there should be no problem. And if he fails, his rich uncles—they have maids and cooks and educate their children abroad—will help. There is the mother, Kwai, widowed, living with On in one of those matchbox Tin Shui Wai apartments full of tiny cheap furniture. Kwai is hardworking and cares for her son, but refuses to see her sick mother in the hospital. Gradually the story of this family over the last few decades becomes revealed—in subtle flashbacks, the bits of knowledge of the youngsters, and in the daily lives of the family. A parallel story develops with a neighbor, Granny, over the summer. Granny, too, is lost, until Kwai befriends her—a delicate and slow process that again slowly unfolds before Ann Hui’s camera. Kwai, a widow, at least has On, a son; but Granny is alone.

And then there is the film’s capture of memory. Kwai and her mother fight against the memories. Nothing is ever said directly or forthrightly. What would be the point of demanding satisfaction for sacrifice, making guilty feelings explicit? Anyway, this is not a film about speeches but emotions, reflected in faces. There is a hint of history—those outside forces that shape our lives. We might infer the family came to Hong Kong in the late 1940s, where Kwai then worked to get her brothers a good education. As she now works for her son’s future.

In the apartment: peace, solitude, loneliness, rest: a prison safeguarded by lock after lock. Outside: friends (at least for On) and relatives, and the whole overwhelming complexity of Hong Kong reduced to a few social networks. There is considerably humor as well. I certainly hope I don’t make the film sound labored. It’s wonderfully fun, even if not exactly Hollywood-style cheerful. And even more, I hope I don’t make the film sound voyeuristic. With these characters, at least, it would be presumptuous for any in the audience to condescend to them. A director’s movie in the sense that Hui is in charge of the delicate operation of saying everything through the camera, it is also an actor’s movie, particularly dominated by Kwai (Paw Hee-ching 鮑起靜). But all the performances are good.

Tin Shui Wai is a real place—one of Hong Kong’s “new towns” of high rises thrown up in the late 1980s almost overnight in the New Territories. It soon became known for its poverty, Mainland immigrants, and family violence. But of course it is also simply a place where a lot of ordinary people live—several hundred thousand, in fact. “The Way We Are” seems to describe the heroism of the little people, the heroism of survival, but, again, somehow Ann Hui makes it clear that we ourselves are the little people and there is nothing to feel superior about. We are all damaged, yet alive.

Hui’s next movie, “Night and Fog” (lit. “Night and Fog in Tin Shui Wai” 天水圍的夜與霧) of 2009, has none of the subtlety of her first Tin Shui Wai film. It is based on a real-life homicide case of 2004 of a blue-collar Hong Kong man murdering his Mainland wife. The film is certainly competent, but we have seen this “social problem” theater done by-the-numbers before. Abusive husband ignored by oblivious police and neighbors; social agencies pathetically inept and simply inane; women’s safe houses just not enough. The story has been filmed from Buenos Aries to Boston. Here, the Mainland bride twist does not seem to explain much—and we just do not get enough of the back-story in Shenzhen bars and Sichuan farms. Hui’s anger gives the film a certain power, but the characters do not quite come to life.

Urban anomie and human strength is much more compelling in the first of these two films, even if little happens beyond survival. Still, both films represent Hui’s intense humanism: the demand not for sympathy or even empathy but for self-recognition. “Humanism” can be a contentious label. The French director Bertrand Tavenier’s films also deal with a wide variety of subjects in a wide variety of genres. Most concern with “ordinary people” from a tender or left-wing slant, and critics began calling them “humanist” in an effort to make sense out them as a corpus of work. This so upset Tavenier that he made the exceedingly grim Coup de Torchon (1981) as a riposte. [1] Yet supposedly hopelessly pessimistic, this film noir of colonial murder still manages to treat its characters with considerable sympathy. [2] The same humanistic intensity infuses the films of Ann Hui, though I have no idea whether she would embrace or disavow the label, or simply find it irrelevant. It is true there is a grimness to much of her work, as there is to Tavenier’s—but they both deal in redemption. Very partial, mundane redemption. Hui’s affinity for Eileen Chang should put to rest any fear that she indulges in sentimentality.“Night and Fog” suffers not because it lacks redemption—after all, life does not always offer redemption—but because its characters lack a certain lifefulness—which the characters of “The Way We Are” have in abundance.

[1] Steven Hay, Bertrand Tavernier: The Film-maker of Lyon (London: I. B. Taurus, 2000), pp. 25-26. Perhaps Tavernier was really objecting to being pigeon-holed, rather than declaring war on “humanism.” Or perhaps he wished to ally himself with the anti-humanism—that is, skepticism of individual autonomy and of universal claims—of postwar French intellectuals. I am, however, simply using the term as to refer to a general stance of respect for the dignity of persons, and to hell with metaphysics.

[2] The film is also very funny, full of black humor. Tavernier’s L’Appât (1995) is actually the a darker film, since its sociopathic youths can hardly evoke sympathy, yet even here Tavenier cannot result inserting a critique of the adult world that gives the film a humanist slant.

Peter Zarrow is a historian at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica. His work focuses on modern China and he is the author, most recently, of China in War and Revolution, 1895-1949.

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