“Long Live Youth” and the Ironies of Youth and
Gender in Chinese Films of the 1950s and 1960s

By Zhong Xueping

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 11, no. 2, pp.150-185

This essay examines “youth” as a political, aesthetic, and gender category, how it was constructed in the popular film culture of the first seventeen years of the Mao era (1949-66), and why it is important for us to explore its various implications today. Taking into account the difference and the inter-connectedness of such words as qingchun and qingnian (both of which mean “youth”), this paper argues for a need to better understand the role of the Mao era’s youth-oriented popular culture in the lives of the young Chinese growing up during that time. To understand the Maoist discourse of “youth” is to appreciate the complex psycho-dynamics of those Chinese who were most influenced by that era and who, in one way or another, continue to leave indelible imprints on China’s rapidly evolving quest for modernity and modernization. Recognizing issues raised and discussed in a study like this can help open up additional ways of understanding modern and especially recent Chinese history. By focusing on state-sanctioned popular culture, I do not mean to suggest a lack of local variations and differences coexisting during those years. However, given the specificity of the nation-building efforts of the new People’s Republic of China (PRC) state, I believe it is important to recognize the dynamics between the nation-building and youth-constructing discourses and to explore their implications in ways not previously attempted.