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Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu: Chinese Cinema in Transition

November 11 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Michael Berry


Michael Berry, Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Film
Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of California-Los Angeles

Film to preview: Xiao Wu (Pickpocket, 小武, 1997), directed by Jia Zhangke. Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.

Part of the Fall 2021 Global Film Series, sponsored by the UB Confucius Institute and Center for Global Film, UB Department of English

View a PDF poster for the film series



With his first feature film, Xiao Wu (1997), Jia Zhangke began to establish himself as the most important representative of the “Sixth Generation” of Chinese filmmakers and one of the greatest talents in world cinema. This lecture puts Xiao Wu in the context of Jia’s body of work and addresses some of its central aspects: the tension between the country and the city, the moral price of modernization, and the unique cinematic strategies employed by the film. Also explored are the film’s connections to other classic works of literature and film from Robert Bresson’s The Pickpocket to Lu Xun’s The True Story of Ah Q. Finally, this presentation will step back and examine the place of Jia Zhangke within the recent development of contemporary Chinese cinema.

Michael Berry is a translator and author who is Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies and Director of the Center for Chinese Studies at UCLA. He has written and edited eight books on Chinese literature and cinema, including Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers (2006), A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film (2008), and most recently Jia Zhangke on Jia Zhangke (2022). He has served as a film consultant and a juror for numerous film festivals, including the Golden Horse (Taiwan) and the Fresh Wave (Hong Kong). A two-time National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellow, Berry’s book-length translations include The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai (2008) by Wang Anyi, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, To Live (2004) by Yu Hua, a selection in the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read library, and Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City (2020) by Fang Fang.


Chinese-language Cinemas: Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan
(Virtual Zoom talks and film screenings)

This weekly series of six virtual lectures and accompanying films is curated by Tanya Shilina-Conte, assistant professor of Global Film Studies in the UB Department of English and curator of the annual riverrun Global Film Series. This virtual series is cosponsored by the UB Confucius Institute and UB Center for Global Film.

To register and obtain links for the lectures and films, please email

Additional publicity materials are forthcoming.