Montage as Chinese: Modernism, the Avant-garde,
and the Strange Appropriation of China

By Sean Macdonald


Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 151-99


Although commonly related to the editing process in film production, montage was perhaps the most prevalent technique for cultural production during the modern period. Forms of montage can be found in the collage, photomontage, theater, poetry, prose, and even advertisements. Less well known is the link made between this modernist and avant-garde technique to the language and culture of China.The essay first attempts to find an historical parallel to montage in the psychoanalytic description of subjectivity in Freud. Next, through readings of the aesthetic theories and writings of Sergei Eisenstein, Ezra Pound, Bertolt Brecht, and Lu Xun, montage is linked to Chinese language and culture. Was this linkage merely a type of twentieth century orientalism? How could China be simultaneously viewed as a site for the ancient origin of language, and an example of avant-garde and modernist technique? Montage was often used by its practitioners as a way of imparting a message to the audience. Eisenstein, Pound and Brecht were all concerned with the possible didactic uses of montage. This paper makes a similar claim for Lu Xun through a close-reading of “Mr. Fujino.” Yet Lu Xun’s message may lead to more questions than answers.