CFP: The Cold War and Asian Cinema

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Call for Papers
January 5, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Chinese History / Studies, Film and Film History, Japanese History / Studies, Korean History / Studies, Southeast Asian History / Studies



Poshek Fu (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne) and Man-Fung Yip (University of Oklahoma), editors



The Cold War was a momentous era in global history. In some ways, it functioned as an episteme (in the Foucauldian sense) that grounded political discourses and organized international relationships for much of the latter half of the twentieth century. While manifesting most clearly in the heightened state of hostility and rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Cold War constituted a global phenomenon and was fought as much between the two superpowers as between their allies and proxies across the world. And Asia, a region that saw the rise of communist China, the partition of Korea and the ensuing Korean War, the Vietnam War, and widespread decolonizing movements, was a key battleground where the Cold War conflict was played out.

At the same time, much of the Cold War struggle involved not political or military confrontation but ideological warfare—a battle fought with words and images—in the cultural realm. It is therefore imperative not to lose sight of what has been called the “cultural Cold War,” specifically the multifaceted ways in which art, literature, media, and other cultural sectors partook in, responded to, and were shaped by the Cold War dynamics. The cinema in particular offered special insights into these processes, given that the medium, with its mass popularity and cultural salience in the period, was seen by both the left and the right as a potent vehicle for creating and mobilizing support for their causes.

While a sizable literature exists that investigates American and other Western (especially British, German, and Soviet Union) cinema within the context of the Cold War, attempts to study Asian cinema through a similar lens have emerged only relatively recently.[1] There is no doubt a need for more research on the subject and greater attention to the complex issues involved. Driven by this observation, this volume sets out to offer an interdisciplinary and historically grounded inquiry into the nature and extent of the Cold War’s connections to Asian cinema. It builds on the premise that Asian cinema during the Cold War—its films, its film industries, its film cultures—was constituted at the intersection of a confluence of forces: the global ideological rivalry of the era was one of them, but no less essential were a set of regional historical imperatives (decolonization, modernity, search for national identity) and local film-industrial demands (market access; the aspirations of building a national cinema). This suggests that Asian cinema’s responses to the Cold War were more fluid than is generally thought; Cold War ideologies were often mingled with ideas and identities associated with local political and social processes, while for many film companies and filmmakers, allegiance to the left or to the right was not a mere ideological issue but also a tactical means for industrial and individual goals. The use of the Cold War as an analytical framework, then, does not mean seeing it as a deterministic influence, but rather as one among many forces driving Asian cinema from the late 1940s to the 1970s and beyond.  

On the other hand, the fact that Asian films of the period were closely intertwined with Cold War ideologies and political pressures does not entail that they were mere propaganda or kitsch lacking in artistic values. The binary opposition between propaganda and art is too simplistic and fails to acknowledge the creative and cultural energy that can be observed even in some of the era’s most ideologically invested films. From Chinese model opera films and Thai’s anti-communist actioners to South Korean and Vietnamese war movies, Cold War-inflected Asian cinema developed novel techniques of communication and engagement as filmmakers drew on their own national cultures and various cinematic traditions (Hollywood, socialist realism, Soviet montage, etc.) and creatively deployed narratives, styles, and genres to assert their ideological commitments.  

The current volume also strives for a more inclusive treatment of Asian cinema during the Cold War; its geographical focus is set on East Asia (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea), Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam), as well as South Asia (India, Pakistan). In adopting such an inclusive approach, we hope to bring a more holistic and comparative perspective to the project, drawing attention in the process to the different manifestations and meanings of the “cinematic Cold War” across Asian borders. More broadly, we welcome essays that have a transnational and/or trans-regional focus, one that would attend to Cold War-influenced networks (such as the Asian Film Festival) or collaborations/co-productions, or shed light on the efforts of American agencies (such as the United States Information Service and the Asia Foundation) to establish a “free cinema” in Asia.

Overall, this volume represents an ambitious attempt to bring a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the complex Asian cinema responses to the Cold War conflict. As part of an ongoing effort to extend discussions of the Cold War to the cultural sphere, we expect this volume to make a key contribution to constructing a cultural history of the global Cold War.

Please send a 300-word abstract for a proposed 7000-8000 word essay and a 100-word biography to Poshek Fu ( and Man-Fung Yip ( by December 31, 2017. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by January 31, 2018. Completed essays will be due June 30, 2018.

[1] Some examples of this recent scholarship include: Theodore Hughes, Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom's Frontier (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Lengzhan yu xianggang dianying (Cold War and Hong Kong Cinema), edited by Wong Ain-ling and Lee Pui-Tak (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2009); and Cultures at War: The Cold War and Cultural Expression in Southeast Asia, edited by Tony Day and Maya H. T. Liem (Ithaca, New York: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 2010).


Categories: CFP