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Specialist Lecture on Chinese History and Culture (9)


The Blank Exam: Crises of Student Labor and Activism
in the Late Cultural Revolution Film Juelie

This presentation examines the 1976 film Juelie 決裂 (“Breaking with Old Ideas”), a feature film depicting a fictional account of the founding of the Jiangxi Communist Labor University (江西共產主義勞動大學, or “Gongda” for short.) Like workers’ universities, Gongda gained prominence during the Cultural Revolution for its experimental approach to disrupting the divisions of labor that reproduced inequality. First established in 1958, Gongda was founded with the goal of producing new socialist workers. Its students were taught through a curriculum of “part-work, part-study,” and because it was registered as both a university and a production unit, the university supported its operations through the sale of products from its farms and factories. 

Through explicit references to the historic role students had played in the Cultural Revolution, the fictional university students of Juelie combined mental and manual labor in a transformation of the student from the elite, bespectacled urban intellectual of the May Fourth era into a diffuse, pluralistic subject position embedded within the socialist project and its productive relations. But the film also responded to the crises raised by student activism during the Cultural Revolution, and this presentation will show how the film ultimately reinscribed student subjectivity within the patriarchal and developmentalist structures of the state.

Speaker's Profile:

Dr Angie Baecker
Angie Baecker is a lecturer in the department of Art History at the University of Hong Kong. Her research focuses on the cultural and material history of Maoist China, the politics of the aesthetic, and the postsocialist legacy in contemporary China. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan, and holds an MA in modern Chinese literature from Tsinghua University. She is a 2020 recipient of the Andy Warhol Foundation’s Arts Writers Grant, and her writing on contemporary art has been published widely in venues including Artforum, ArtAsiaPacific, The New Statesman, and Vulture.