Contemporary Chinese Masks in the Flux of Modernity
Sylvie Beaud complicates relationships between periodization and the fragmentation of time and place in her chapter, a study of Zhang Yimou’s films and China’s masked opera tradition. Beaud counters a typical understanding of modernism’s periodicity by pointing to a modernism that is expressed in the context of China’s renewal of “modernity” in the last half of the twentieth century. Masked rituals have recently come to be supported by Chinese officials as non-religious expressions of essential localized traditions, and so the notions of modernism and state power come into direct contact in the institutionalization of Nuo mask performance, reinforcing its status as a “living fossil.” As the Nuo masks also represent both cultural centrality and the peripheries of society, the political approval of the performances indicate a move toward a hybrid Chinese identity. This identity represents both popular cultural traditions and the state support that directs modernist expression in China. As Beaud insists, the appropriation of the Nuo masks in recent Chinese cinema gives the mask new life.
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