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Madame Mao and Cinema: Actress, Critic, Censor and Producer

October 28 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Jie Li


Jie Li, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Film to preview: The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzijun, 红色娘子军, 1961), directed by Xie Jin; or The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzijun, 红色娘子军, 1971)

Recommended film: In the Heat of the Sun (Yang guang can lan de ri zi, 阳光灿烂的日子, 1994), directed by Jiang Wen

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

A film actress in 1930s Shanghai and an iconoclastic film critic from the 1950s to the 1970s, Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing, was China’s greatest cinephile and cinephobe.  Her ideas and tastes loomed over film censorship and production throughout the Mao era and constituted a kind of “prescriptive theory”—both as top-down cultural policy and as pharmacological prescriptions for the people’s spiritual health.  Tracing Jiang Qing’s prescriptive theories and lifelong relationship to cinema, this talk seeks to unravel her simultaneous attraction to and suspicion of the medium, attacking films intended to be revolutionary for their hidden bourgeois seductions, detecting even in documentaries “vicious motives and despicable tricks.”  Under her influence, denunciations of films as “poisonous weeds” and “spiritual opium” became the launching sites for mass campaigns.  Meanwhile, her intervention and sponsorship of film production and exhibition from 1964 to 1976 came to define the aesthetics and politics of the Cultural Revolution.

Jie Li is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.  She is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life and Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era.  She also co-edited Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution.  Her new book project, Cinematic Guerrillas: Maoist Propaganda as Spirit Mediumship (forthcoming in 2022), explores film exhibition and reception in socialist China.  She has also published on the cinema of Manchuria, contemporary Chinese documentaries, and radios and loudspeakers.  Li’s writings have appeared in journals such as Grey Room, Screen, positions: east asia cultures critique, Modern China, The Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Twentieth-Century China, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Jump Cut, and Public Culture.


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