Abstract: Excavating a media history of loudspeakers and open-air cinema in Maoist China, this talk proposes a new conceptual framework of “socialist hot noise” to describe a participatory sociothermic affect and a synergy between body and electricity that soldered scattered populations into the “revolutionary masses.” Drawing on archives, gazetteers, memoirs, and oral histories, the first half examines the state-sponsored development of loudspeaker networks as well as grassroots listening experiences and practices, from broadcast rallies to rooftop broadcasting, from labor competitions to quasi-karaoke, from enhancing the Mao cult to engendering violence and terror. The second half discusses open-air cinema as a “hot noise of attractions” that generated revolutionary energy through “cinematic liturgies” led by mobile projectionists before, during, and after screenings. I argue that Maoist cinema was a “physical and spirit medium,” whose improvised and impoverished infrastructure contributed to the Mao “cult,” converted skeptics of communist “miracles,” and “exorcized” class enemies. The conclusion addresses the revival of loudspeakers and open-air cinema in a postsocialist media ecology.
About the Speaker: Jie Li is a John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities in Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. She is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life and Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era. Her current book project, entitled Cinematic Guerrillas, concerns film exhibition and reception in socialist China.
About the Discussant: Laurence Coderre is Assistant Professor of Modern China in the Department of East Asian Studies at NYU. Coderre’s work, which focuses on Chinese socialist and post-socialist cultural production, has appeared in Comparative Studies of Society and History, Journal of Material Culture, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, and Journal of Chinese Cinemas, among other publications. Her new book Newborn Socialist Things: Materiality in Maoist China is forthcoming from Duke Univeristy Press in 2021. Coderre is now beginning a new project about the material manifestations of Third Worldism in the late Mao era.