The purpose of this thesis is to examine the Sixth Generation of Chinese cinema. Specifically what constitutes the Sixth generation, and what the generational designation implies for the Sixth Generation. Central issues are whether there is a Sixth Generation, and how it differs from the preceding generations. In order to understand the debate about the Sixth Generation it is necessary to first look at the discourse on the Generation, and to illuminate what constitutes a generation in Chinese cinema, to discuss how the term is used to designate directors and movies. This is the subject of Chapter one.
My interest in the Sixth generation was roused by comparisons with European movements such as the Italian Neo-Realism, French New-Wave and Cinema Vérité. These movements were groundbreaking when they emerged fifty years ago in Europe and helped create a counter-balance to Hollywood dominated entrainment-film, as well as change the aesthetic and thematic representation of European cinema.
While preparing for this thesis it became apparent that the Sixth generation was a rather intricate issue. At times the usage of the term is vague and uncritical. The lack of manifesto or a statement of intent, and the reluctance of the main proponents to express adherence to the group complicates the issue. Still it became obvious that there are a number of directors who share a common mode of representation, and that they also differ from their predecessors (the Fifth Generation) in their preferred mode of cinematic representation and in thematic concerns. In order to conform with the current discourse I use the term Sixth generation, but raise the critical issues that emanate from this usage. The origins and content of the Sixth Generation will be elaborated in Chapter Two.
There are several discourses on contemporary Chinese cinema; this is reflected in the different sources I utilized. I have used academic studies on Chinese cinema, cinematic magazines and newspaper-reviews. Though, not an absolute trend, they tend to represent three ideologically slightly diverging representations of the Sixth Generation.
When approaching a theme like Chinese cinema one is confronted with the ideological discourse between two diverging semantic systems. These ideologies propose clear and distinct differences in the understanding and evaluation of Chinese cinema. The difference can be confined mainly to Oriental and Occidental ideological perceptions of the reality of China. The Western perception is that of the Sixth Generation as independent cinema liberating the repressed Chinese. They are heralded for working underground and contra-mainstream, thus to the western critic they represent cultural expressions of anti-government and anti establishment tendencies. Chinese critics similarly argue that these films do not represent China, and that they cater to western perceptions regarding China. Hence the battle for the minds of the audience ensues.
The expression of the Sixth Generation has evolved since their emergence in the early 1990s. The films I chose were all highly publicized when they were made. In Chapters Three thorough five I analyze these films with main focus on how they depict issues relating to modernization in contemporary China. The films differ both in style and narrative structure, but can in my opinion be confined to the category of cinematic Realism.
The designation Contemporary Chinese Cinema includes trends that are not elaborated in this thesis. Most prominently is the emergence of Gay-cinema in China. This trend can be included into group of the Sixth Generation for several reasons. It is one of the remaining underground expressions Contemporary film production. I think this is a complex issue that requires a study of its own. A further trend that is emerging is an amateur film-movement. This movement is spurred by the recent availability of Digital Video-cameras.
It is appropriate to stress that when referring to Chinese Film, I refer only to mainland China, even if there are New waves and etc in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. This paper confines itself to mainland China since the term Sixth Generation is only applied to mainland film. Further when I do not specify otherwise the Films that are mentioned fall into the genre of the art-film. This thesis does not purport to represent all aspects of the varied landscape of Chinese cinema such as mainstream and entertainment film.