Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Alternative Memories in Political Movements: Chinese Women and Families in the films To Live and Coming Home

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Juniper, New Building

The 1950s-1970s was a turbulent time period in China. A series of wars negatively impacted the nation and the public in the 1940s. After the establishment of the PRC in 1949, several campaigns forced the public to submit to the nation’s changing objectives; as a result, conflicts between nationalism, individualism, and family relations arose. Under huge national pressure, public life and memories were changed by national needs through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. People were often pressured to forego family ties and yield to national demands.


    In my paper, I will use two films by Zhang Yimou, namely To Live (1994) and Coming Home (2014), to illuminate these pressures. I engage with the “Alternative Facts” theme by examining clandestine forms of national influence in private life. Focusing on more hidden aspects of alternative memory reveals how unseen national pressures influenced familial relations. For example, in To Live, individuals, especially women, were forced to prioritize and keep loyalty to the nation, while sacrificing their families and personal lives due to state influence.


    Analyzing films helps expose how the state influenced private life in several ways. First, it challenges existing narratives of post-1949 China that focus on political history, and emphasizes the lives of individuals in an extreme political environment. Second, it helps historians rethink political traumas from a humanistic perspective. Examining depictions of daily life in films is an effective way to identify and analyze “alternative memory.”

Xuening Hong

University of Buffalo, United States

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