China Seminar | 9 January 2020

Justice and Law in the (1980s) Movies

Alison W. Conner Alison W. Conner

During the unusually open years of 1979 to 1981 in China, films depicting the wrongs of the Cultural Revolution helped people come to terms with the tragedies they had suffered during the “eleven bad years.” Few of those movies could stand up to serious viewing today, whatever they meant to audiences then, but the best examples of this “scar cinema” are powerful films worthy of continued attention. This presentation will discuss The Legend of Tianyun Mountain 天云山传奇, directed by Xie Jin (1923-2008), the greatest of China’s Third-Generation filmmakers, and Evening Rain 巴山夜雨, made by Wu Yonggang (1907-1982), the brilliant Second-Generation director of the 1934 masterpiece Goddess 神女. Though very different in story and style, both films are deeply felt works of art as well as historical documents reflecting the concerns of their time—and both raise important issues of justice and accountability that remain surprisingly relevant to Chinese society today.

Alison W. Conner is Professor of Law and Carlsmith Ball Faculty Scholar at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai`i/Mānoa, where she teaches courses on Chinese and comparative law. She earned her PhD degree in Chinese history from Cornell and her JD degree from Harvard Law School. Before joining the University of Hawai‘i in 1995, she taught law in China, Singapore and Hong Kong for twelve years; in 2004, 2014 and 2015 she also returned to teach at Tsinghua University and Tongji University. Her recent articles focus on depictions of the legal system in Chinese movies, including Courtroom Drama, Chinese Style,” “Law and Justice in Evening Rain,” and “Images of Justice (and Injustice) in the Movies of Xie Jin.”