The Myth of Voluntary Death: The Representation of Sacrifice and Martyrdom in the Maoist Films (1949-1976)
The dissertation investigates into the layered narratives of sacrifice and revolutionary martyrdom in Maoist films. Martyr’s death is abstracted and elevated from unpredictable personal event to be a collectively controllable and foreseeable public event. I refer to such ideological control over citizen’s death necropolitics. Maoist necropower interpellates revolutionary subjects, justifies the nation’s secular necropower transmitted from the transcendental ideals, surrogates martyrs bodies and minds to speak for them, and conceals martyr’s marginalized position as the sacrificial object and martyr’s dead body as disposable abject. I argue that the key mechanism of the Maoist necropolitics lies in the absent causes that originate from the transcendental revolutionary ideals. These socialist ideals can never be realized completely and are catachresis that lack sufficient referents. In other words, any socialist ideal essentially stands for a collective historical experience that cannot be fully presented but must be presupposed to regulate personal lived experience. Respectively, these three absent causes are: the future ideal of perfection, the ideal socialist female type, and “the absolute spirit of selflessness.” Chapter 2 argues for the homogeneity of the onscreen Maoist male martyrdom, which follows a constant formula both in theme and in style. Although the orthodox representation of male sacrifice looks formulaic and stiff, I argue that the flawless sublime heroic figure is exactly the embodiment of the communist ideal of the future perfection. Its impossibility of being sufficiently represented opens up the room for audience’s unlimited imagination of the future totality. During the process of fantasy construction, the future ideal of perfection is implanted into the present reality. Chapter 3 argues that the onscreen female martyrdom is far more complicated than the simple generalization of the “erasure of femininity.” The Maoist ideology requires femininity to be emphasized when women are called to die for the nation, to show that the communist revolution is inclusive and universal regardless of any gender difference. However, sexuality needs to be concealed when the libidinal force is uncontrollable and runs the risk of threatening male authority and revolutionary purity. By a close reading of the film Dr.Bethune, Chapter 4 unveils the entangled implications of foreignness and selflessness in constructing and keeping the sameness of the revolutionary individual and collective identity. By the representation of an influential foreign martyr, the revolutionary narrative and the cinematic strategies cooperate to minimize the potential threats of disintegration of the local solidarity from the benevolent foreignness, while maximizing the validity of transnational communism. I argue that the ideal revolutionary individual identity, “the spirit of absolute selflessness” as Mao called for, is a void. But it is exactly such a void that keeps the homogeneity and sameness of the individual identity which defies any change occurred in time and becomes permanent. Chapter 5 investigates the rarity of the Maoist films where unconventional martyrdom is represented through genre twists. These film genres include comedy, suspense thriller, and children’s films. The genre twists potentially expose the original paradox and the inherent problems of martyrdom. Being subjects, objects and abjects at the same time, martyrs are at once celebrated and marginalized.