China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The comedy films in socialist China are closely related to the tradition of regional opera performances in dialects. Alongside the 10th-anniversary tribute films portraying an ethnically harmonious and progressive society, the comedy films produced around the mid-1950s to mid-1960s feature characters with a variety of regional dialects and accents co-existing in urban space among the Han ethnic group. At the level of production and circulation, these films traveled beyond the regions where the dialects are spoken. Within the diegesis of the films, linguistic mobility and fluidity delineate the city as a diverse yet stratified space.
Examining films such as Sanmao Learns Business (dir. Huang Zuolin, 1958), Satisfied or Not (dir. Yan Gong, 1963), and Big Li, Little Li and Old Li (dir. Xie Jin, 1962) adapted from or influenced by huaji opera, this paper probes how these national films recuperated regional operatic traditions effectively and affectively to create a heterogeneous auditory experience of the nation. First, adopting the practices of rewriting in other dialects, multiple soundtracks, selective dubbing, and subtitling, these films negotiated intelligibility and marketability against the nationalization of film production. Second, mimicking dialects, accents, and musical numbers from local huaji opera traditions in association with specific regions and classes, these films trigger laughter from the audience towards the purposes of comic relief and satire. However, the Rabelaisian humor in these films also potentially threaten the projection of a unified nation, leading to the disappearance of such films during the Cultural Revolution.