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Film and fashion in Shanghai: What (not) to wear during the cultural revolution

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Chris Berry, Zhang Shujuan

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chinese Cinemas
Early online date8 Apr 2019
DOIs
Accepted/In press6 Dec 2017
E-pub ahead of print8 Apr 2019
Published2019

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Abstract

Recent scholarship has challenged the assumption that China was an ocean of drab sartorial uniformity during the Cultural Revolution decade. This essay extends this tendency by asking what role cinema played in people's choices about what to wear. Based on data gathered in group interviews in Shanghai, it finds several tendencies: revolutionary history films inspired contemporary military-style clothing, but not only for political reasons; foreign films screened during the Cultural Revolution built up a mental archive of contemporary international fashion that was drawn upon as the strictures of the era were relaxed in the 1970s; and memories of films screened before 1966 provided another mental archive of retro-fashion possibilities, also drawn on as strictures were relaxed. Overall, our research demonstrates that even though socio-political frameworks always condition individual agency, even in the most difficult of times, individual agency continues to be exercised in the interstices of everyday life.

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