Liquid Islandness: Gender, Borderland and War in Hainan Films 1949-1989

Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Academic researchpeer-review


As the second largest island in the Greater China region next to Taiwan, the image of Hainan Island oscillates between a virgin land full of danger and exoticism and laboratories with hope and future. While previous historical and cultural research on China has largely been continent-centric, this paper belongs to a larger project on Hainan that attempts to reevaluate the long-enduring binaries of centre-periphery, mainland-island, boundary-territory, land-ocean in the discussion of modern Chinese studies.
Cinematic representations offer an ideal framework of deciphering Hainan’s islandness, which distinguishes the specific geographical feature from the continent and allows new social, cultural and political space to emerge. The current paper examines 12 films made between 1949 and 1989 on or about Hainan to explore its islandness in the discourse-making of gender, borderland and war in revolutionary China. Contrary to previous definition of islandness that emphasizes on the isolatedness which “is reinforced by boundaries of often frightening and occasionally impassable bodies of water that amplify a sense of a place that is closer to the natural world” (Conkling 2007: 191), I argue the islandness of Hainan (and its neighbouring archipelagos) implies the possibility of a breeding 1) a new pattern in gender relations where the female takes initiative in political/personal struggles as well as in romantic relations, 2) a fluid relation with Mainland China and with Southeast Asia where water and straits symbolizes a dialectics between disconnectedness and interconnectedness, and 3) a crystallization of various war (-like) contested states between class, nation, party, ethnicity and ideology. These films illustrate an intriguing liquidness of Hainan’s islandness in constituting and dissolving a continent-centered image of the PRC before 1989.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusNot published / presented only - 27 Mar 2022
EventAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference - Honululu, United States
Duration: 24 Mar 202227 Mar 2022


ConferenceAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States

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