Painting the City Red

Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract

Painting the City Red

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 424 Illustrations: 48 illustrations Published: April 2010

Author: Yomi Braester

Asian Studies > East Asia, Media Studies > Film, Theater and Performance > Theater

Painting the City Red illuminates the dynamic relationship between the visual media, particularly film and theater, and the planning and development of cities in China and Taiwan, from the emergence of the People’s Republic in 1949 to the staging of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Yomi Braester argues that the transformation of Chinese cities in recent decades is a result not only of China’s abandonment of Maoist economic planning in favor of capitalist globalization but also of a shift in visual practices. Rather than simply reflect urban culture, movies and stage dramas have facilitated the development of new perceptions of space and time, representing the future city variously as an ideal socialist city, a metropolis integrated into the global economy, and a site for preserving cultural heritage.

Drawing on extensive archival research, interviews with leading filmmakers and urban planners, and close readings of scripts and images, Braester describes how films and stage plays have promoted and opposed official urban plans and policies as they have addressed issues such as demolition-and-relocation plans, the preservation of vernacular architecture, and the global real estate market. He shows how the cinematic rewriting of historical narratives has accompanied the spatial reorganization of specific urban sites, including Nanjing Road in Shanghai; veterans’ villages in Taipei; and Tiananmen Square, centuries-old courtyards, and postmodern architectural landmarks in Beijing. In Painting the City Red, Braester reveals the role that film and theater have played in mediating state power, cultural norms, and the struggle for civil society in Chinese cities.


“...[T]he attention to official/popular productions throughout [this book] is a much-needed addition to current scholarship.” — Joshua Neves, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“A sweeping and innovative survey of urban representation that. . .rightfully reshapes the conceptual map of modern Chinese culture. . . . The questions that Painting the City Red provokes are nearly as exciting as the conclusions it draws.” — Madeleine Wilcox, Books and Ideas

“This is an impressive study that demands slow reading and offers many opportunities to contemplate how film and drama work and how the city comes into being. It is a remarkable accomplishment.” — Wendy Larson, MLQ

“In Painting the City Red, Yomi Braester provides a fascinating and unique account of how cinema and theatre have contributed to the changing ways in which the city is imagined and conceptualised in the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.”
— Olivia Khoo, Media International Australia

“Moving much beyond the conventional approach that focuses only on textual close readings, Painting the City Red offers fresh, fascinating, comprehensive, and sophisticated analyses of films and stage plays as discursive products of power relations among a broad range of players involved in the urban transformation. This groundbreaking work is an important contribution to a particularly appropriate and productive methodological turn. Braester’s book is of tremendous research value and is highly recommended for scholars and students interested in Chinese urbanization and urban-themed films and stage plays.” — Zhuoyi Wang, China Review International

“This theoretically sophisticated and painstakingly researched monograph is a welcome addition to the fields of Chinese film studies and urban history. Students and scholars from a wide range of disciplines such as Chinese and Asian studies, film and theatre, urban planning, global studies and cultural studies will find valuable approaches not only to the study of Chinese cities and urban cinema but also to new understandings of the urban milieus and visual media representations of other global cities.”
— Jing Jing Chang, The China Quarterly

“With much cross-referencing and layering of texts with similar themes, Painting the City Red itself has the quality of an elegant and intricate palimpsest. . . . In focusing on the relationship between city spaces and visual media, Painting the City Red presents a number of forceful critiques of existing studies of urban cinema.” — Jie Li, Cross-Currents

“Yomi Braester launches his study of post-1949 Chinese urban cinema with the bold claim that ‘it is not the city that gives rise to movies; ... it is rather films... that create the material city’ (13). His thesis is remarkably consistent: visual culture produces the built environment. Instead of presenting rhetorical arguments for the production of space, the book persuades through the cumulative weight of historical evidence gathered from archival research and interviews.... The result is a corrective to entrenched approaches within film studies and urban studies that privilege the subjective aesthetic experience of the viewer/consumer/citizen.” — Carlos Rojas, Chinese Literature

"Braester’s point remains valid: as a device that mediates between state and non-state actors, visual media play a crucial and often overlooked role in the creation of new forms of urbanism. Any scholar of film, urban studies, and Asian history in general would be well served to read this book.” — Emily Baum, Journal of Asian Studies

“[T]he book offers rich insights into how Chinese cinema has responded to urban policies, participating in debates on how the city should develop, disseminating images of power, documenting alternative ways of using public space, and, in recent years, helping preserve historical memory in contexts of rapid change.” — Paola Iovene, American Historical Review

“In this well-researched work, Yomi Braester takes a fresh look at Chinese urban cinema and stage plays from 1949 to the 2008 Olympics. . . . Painting the City Red will remain an important reference book for scholars of urban cinema and urbanization for years to come.” — Jenny Huangfu, The China Journal

Painting the City Red is an exciting intervention in studies on cinema and the city. It provides a wealth of fascinating original research and insight into the way Chinese cities have appeared on film. But, equally important, it also argues for a new approach to the topic. Moving beyond analysis of the films themselves, it also includes remarkable research into the negotiations amongst city planners, politicians, developers and residents that shape the vision of the city.” — Chris Berry, Goldsmiths, University of London

“Yomi Braester’s Painting the City Red is not only a signal contribution to our understanding of urban space and visual culture in China, but one of the most thorough explorations of the city in cinema of any kind to appear in recent years. Braester is a matchless guide to the ways film and theatrical productions have been used to shape the future city, foster new spatial practices, and mediate between visions of a vanishing architectural past and the metropolis to come. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in the lightspeed urbanization of contemporary China, and how the creative destruction of its cities has played out on screen and stage.” — Thomas J. Campanella, author of The Concrete Dragon: China's Urban Revolution and What It Means for the World


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Yomi Braester is Professor of Comparative Literature and Cinema Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of Witness against History: Literature, Film, and Public Discourse in Twentieth-Century China.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Film and the Urban Contract 1

1. New China, New Beijing: Staging the Socialist City of the Future 27

2. A Big Dyeing Vat: The Rise of Proletarian Shanghai and the Fall of Nanjing Road 56

3. Mansions of Uneven Rhyme: Beijing Courtyards and the Instant City 95

4. The First Precinct Under Heaven: State Symbolism and Unplanned Urbanism at Tiananmen Square 151

5. Angel Sanctuaries: Taipei's Gentrification and the Erasure of Veterans' Villages 187

6. "This is the Story of Our Street": Urban Preservation and the Post-Maoist Politics of Memory 224

7. The Day Trip of Your Dreams: Globalizing Beijing and the Postspatial City 281

Notes 311

Filmography 341

Stage Plays 351

Bibliography 353

Index 383
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Winner, AAS China and Inner Asia Council (CIAC) Levenson Prize for Books in Chinese Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4723-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4706-4
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