Tian Zhuangzhuang

Tian Zhuangzhuang
b. 1952, Beijing
Film director/producer
A key figure of the Fifth Generation (film directors), Tian Zhuangzhuang has contributed to the creation of China’s ‘New Wave’ cinema. As with his peers, Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, Tian’s life experience and journey to filmmaking reflect the historical and political conditions of his time. Born to a family whose members were all associated with film, he grew up with motion pictures as part of daily life. During the Cultural Revolution, like many urban youth Tian was ‘sent down’ to work in Jilin province and later joined the People’s Liberation Army. Fortunately, admission to the Beijing Film Academy in 1978 enabled him to redirect his life towards filmmaking.
On the Hunting Ground (Liechang zhasa, 1985) and Horse Thief (Dao mazei, 1987) are the two early films that attracted critical attention. Both films establish a curious Han vision from which the dislocated spaces and marginal cultures of Inner Mongolia and Tibet unfold. The films’ ethnographic observations and visual revelations bring the rituals and customs of the minorities to contrast the Han majorities (see representations of minorities). Tian’s representations of life in Tibet and Mongolia failed to attract a mass audience, however. He then returned to narrative film and made Blue Kite (Lan fengzhen, 1992). Together with Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine and Zhang Yimou’s To Live, Blue Kite forms a historical trilogy of the ‘Fifth Generation’.
The film uses a child’s perspective and the sequential deaths of his three fathers to reveal how political history disrupts and damages private family life. Because of the politically sensitive subject matter and an international screening prior to receiving the censor’s permission, the government prohibited Tian from filmmaking until 1996. During the years of probation, however, Tian continued in his profession by opening a film workshop and acting as a producer. The workshop became the cradle in which a younger generation of film directors began their careers: for instance, Lu Xuechang’s The Making of Steel (1998) and Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Close to Paradise (1998). Tian’s first feature after he resumed directing was a remake of Springtime in a Small Town (Xiaocheng zhichun, 2002), a 1940s classic by Fei Mu. The return to the film of poetics and Chinese aesthetics indicates Tian’s insistence on seeking the perfection of film art.
Gladney, Dru (1995). ‘Tian Zhuangzhuang, the Fifth Generation, and Minorities Films in China’. Public Culture 8:161–75.
Lu, Tonglin (2002). ‘Allegorical and Realistic Portrayals of the Cultural Revolution: Tian Zhuanzhuang, On the Hunting Ground, Horse Thief, Blue Kite’. In idem, Confronting Modernity in the Cinemas of Taiwan and Mainland China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 58–92.
Tam, Kwok-kan, and Dissanayake, Wimal (1998). ‘Tian Zhuangzhuang: Reconfiguring the Familiar and the Unfamiliar’. In idem, New Chinese Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wang, Ban (1999). Trauma and History in Chinese Film: Reading The Blue Kite against Melodrama’. Modern Chinese Language and Culture 11.1 (Spring): 125–56.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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