Xie Jin

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Nationality: Chinese. Born: Shaoxing (province of Zhejiang), China, 1923. Education: Studied at School of Dramatic Art, Jiang'an, 1946–48; graduated from Political Institute of the People's Revolutionary University, 1953. Career: Assistant to directors Wu Renzhi, 1948, and Zheng Xiaoqui, 1949, Datong Film Studio, Shanghai; directed first film, A Crisis, 1954; criticized during Cultural Revolution and forced to do manual labor in the countryside, 1966, rehabilitated, c. 1978; vice-chairman of Disabled Persons' Federation, from 1988; member of standing committee, Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, from 1988; executive vicechairman of Federation of Literary and Art Circles, from 1988. Awards: Veteran Artist Award, First Chinese Film Festival, 1989; five-time winner of Best Film Award, Hundred Flowers Awards Competition. Address: c/o Shanghai Film Studio, 595 Caoxi Beilu, Shanghai, People's Republic of China.

Films as Director:


A Crisis; A Wave of Unrest; Rendezvous at Orchard Bridge


Spring in the Land of Waters


Woman Basketball Player Number Five


episodes of Small Leaders of the "Big Leap" and SmallStories of a Big Storm; Huang Baomei


The Women's Red Army Detachment


Big Li, Young Li, and Old Li


Wutai Jiemei (Two Stage Sisters)


The Door




The Bay of Rocks




Ah, Cradle


The Legend of Tianyun Mountain


The Herdsman


Qiu Jin (+ sc)


Garlands at the Foot of the Mountain


Fu-Zung Cen


Hibiscus Town


The Last Aristocrats


Lao ren he gou (An Old Man and His Dog)


Behind the Wall of Shame


Yapian zhanzheng (The Opium War)

Other Films:


The Silent Wife (Wu Renzhi) (asst d)


The Martyr of the Garden of the Pear Trees (Zheng Xiaoqiu) (asst d)


The Feather Letter (Shi Hui) (asst d)


On XIE JIN: books—

Leyda, Jay, Dianying: An Account of Films and the Film Audience inChina, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972.

Lösel, Jörg, Die Politische Funktion des Spielfilms in der VolksrepublicChina Zwischen 1949 and 1965, Munich, 1980.

Rayns, Tony, and Scott Meek, Electric Shadows: 45 Years of ChineseCinema, London, 1980.

Bergeron, Regis, Le Cinéma chinois 1949–1983, 3 vols., Paris, 1983–84.

Jenkins, Alan, and Cathy Grant, A Teaching Guide to the Films of thePeople's Republic of China, Oxford, 1984.

Berry, Chris, editor, Perspectives on Chinese Cinema, New York, 1985; revised edition, 1991.

Quiquemelle, Marie-Claire, and Jean-Loup Passek, editors, Le Cinémachinois, Paris, 1985.

Armes, Roy, Third-World Filmmaking and the West, Berkeley, 1987.

Clark, Paul, Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics since 1949, Cambridge, 1987.

Semsel, George Stephen, editor, Chinese Film: The State of the Art inthe People's Republic, New York, 1987.

On XIE JIN: articles—

Jin Xie Section of Positif (Paris), March 1985.

Manceau, J. L., "Portrait de Xie Jin dans le panorama chinois," in Cinéma (Paris), 5 March 1986.

Rayns, Tony, "Let a Hundred Flowers. . . ," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1988.

Kaplan, E. A., "Melodrama/Subjectivity/Ideology: Western Melodrama Theories and Their Relevance to Recent Chinese Cinema," in East-West Film Journal (Honolulu, Hawaii), vol. 5, no. 1, 1991.

Luo, J., "One with People: Xie Jin," in China Screen (Beijing), no. 1, 1992.

"Xie Jin's Films: A Retrospective," in China Screen (Beijing), no. 1, 1992.

"The Opium War (Yapian Zhanzheng)," in Variety (New York), 2 June 1997.

Kipnis, Andrew, "Anti-Maoist Gender: Hibiscus Town's Naturalization of a Dengist Sex/Gender/Kinship System," in Asian Cinema, Winter 1996–1997.

* * *

Because of the length of his career, his ability to dramatize popular political sentiments, and his commitment to the melodrama as a vehicle for the expression of his aesthetic vision, Chinese filmmaker Xie Jin has been compared to Douglas Sirk and Frank Capra. Since his career spans over four decades, with contributions to every stage of the development of filmmaking from the earliest days of the post-Revolutionary period, Xie Jin must be counted as one of the most significant filmmaking veterans still making features today in the People's Republic of China. He has not become a mere "fossil" tolerated by an industry grateful for his contributions in the 1950s and early 1960s. Rather, Xie continues to be controversial and exceptionally popular with Chinese audiences both inside and outside of China.

Trained in the theatre, Xie came to the Shanghai studios in the early 1950s and was soon promoted from assistant to full director. His name rather rapidly became associated with the political melodramas he is still known for today. His 1957 film Woman Basketball Player Number Five, for example, helped to establish his reputation as a "woman's director." Unlike the maligned "woman's film" genre in Hollywood, melodramas featuring strong female leads became the favored vehicle for the dramatic examination of the role the Revolution was playing in reshaping both men's and women's lifestyles and attitudes toward gender in the People's Republic. Blending Soviet socialist realism with the aesthetic directives of Mao and the popularity of classical Hollywood tear-jerkers, Xie was creating a peculiarly Chinese political aesthetic. This aesthetic can still be appreciated today for the ways in which it stretched beyond the modes of representation usually reserved for women at that time in both Asian and Western film cultures.

Before the onset of the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s, Xie Jin perfected his revolutionary woman's films in The Women's Red Army Detachment and Two Stage Sisters. Although The Women's Red Army Detachment won the first One Hundred Flowers Award (the PRC equivalent of the Oscar still coveted today), Two Stage Sisters was doomed by a storm of criticism unleased by the Cultural Revolution. Two Stage Sisters features the story of the relationship between two Shaoxing opera performers from their beginnings as itinerant entertainers in the feudal countryside of 1930s China through success in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, eventual separation, and reunion during the post-Revolutionary period. Changes in the style of the operas presented in the film (for example, folk opera, Western-influenced critical realist operas, Mao's favored "revolutionary romanticism" in opera form) also parallel broader social and political changes. Although probably the pinnacle of his career and the most complete flowering of his political aesthetic, Two Stage Sisters was only fully appreciated after the Cultural Revolution ended.

During the Cultural Revolution, Xie suffered much the same fate as most of his generation. At times under house arrest, he was still enlisted to help direct Jiang Qing's "model opera" films during that period. These films, in fact, are aesthetically and politically at odds with his earlier work.

After the Cultural Revolution, Xie Jin went back to making political melodramas featuring female protagonists. The Legend of Tianyun Mountain, in fact, was one of the first films made after the Cultural Revolution to condemn not only its political excesses but also the strains the Anti-Rightist Campaign of the 1950s had placed on Chinese society. He has continued in this socially critical vein with The Herdsman and Hibiscus Town (both dealing with the Cultural Revolution), while also making patriotic dramas like Qiu Jin (based on the life of the well-known Qing Dynasty female revolutionist) and Garlands at the Foot of the Mountain (on the recent Sino-Vietnamese war). Xie's The Last Aristocrats deals with the lives of four young Chinese women living abroad and was partially shot in the United States.

Ironically, even though Xie Jin has devoted virtually his entire life's work to films about politically active, modern Chinese heroines, he is most often criticized today for his supposed "feudal" depiction of women as "good" wives and mothers. He has also been condemned for his "old-fashioned" style of filmmaking. However, while some younger filmmakers tend to disregard audience tastes, hoping for an art house following in Europe and the United States, Xie Jin, despite his critics, has continued to please Chinese audiences.

In the 1990s, Xie continued to work in the Shanghai film industry, increasingly as a producer rather than director. His influence can be felt as an often unacknowledged, but clearly present indebtedness many younger filmmakers have to his seminal contributions to Chinese film culture. It is difficult, for example, to look at Chen Kaige's critically celebrated Farewell My Concubine without seeing Two Stage Sisters remade as "Two Stage Brothers," with the same epic sweep and use of Chinese opera to stand as a metaphor for the history of China in the twentieth century. Huang Shuqin's Woman Demon Human also covers similar ground, using an opera actress's life on and off the stage as an allegory for China in the post-war era. Although some critics have remarked on the number of recent Chinese films with male-centered narratives, the female-centered melodramas that Xie championed continue to be an important staple of the rapidly changing film culture of the People's Republic.

—Gina Marchetti