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Screening Sino-Soviet Friendship: Cinematic Collaboration and the Ghosts of Empire in the Socialist World (with Edward Tyerman)
April 14, 2023 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
The Sino-Soviet “honeymoon” of the 1950s was brief, and the three decades of Sino-Soviet Split that followed have tended to obscure the scale and stakes of this earlier period of Sino-Soviet alliance. Yet for almost a decade, the Sino-Soviet alliance was the lynchpin of a post-war socialist world whose unprecedented expansion had fundamentally redrawn the political map of Eurasia. At a moment of renewed yet unpredictable Sino-Russian alliance, this talk looks back at the aspirations and limits of Sino-Soviet friendship in the 1950s through the lens of cinema. Cultural transfer took place across the arts, but cinema was the artform where a collaborative mode of cultural production was both most feasible and most ideologically charged. Cinematic collaboration combined practical goals—technology transfer for the Chinese, market access for the Soviets—with the ideological aspiration of creating a common socialist culture equally legible to Soviet and Chinese audiences.
This talk reconstructs the Sino-Soviet experiment in cinematic collaboration by focusing on three coproductions: Przhevalsky (1952, dir. Sergei Yutkevich), Under Ancient Desert Skies (Chinese title Almaty—Lanzhou, 1958, dir. Vladimir Shneiderov and Qin Zhen), and Side by Side (Chinese title Wind from the East, 1959, dir. Efim Dzigan and Gan Xuewei). Drawing extensively on archival materials, this talk reconstructs the dynamics of collaboration that shaped these productions, alongside the ideological affirmations of collaboration that emerged from the content and form of the films themselves. Besides illuminating an important moment in the history of Sino-Soviet relations, this material offers a case study in the complexities of creating “internationalist” culture in the socialist world of the early Cold War. Strikingly, these Sino-Soviet coproductions are all set in Manchuria or Xinjiang, historically contested spaces between the Russian and Chinese states. The tensions at the heart of these films emerge through their attempts to negotiate divergent understandings of two intertwined imperial pasts.
This event will take place in person and on Zoom. Both our in person and Zoom format will be fully open to the public. Access the Zoom meeting here. Non-NYU affiliates must RSVP. The Jordan Center is located at 19 University Place, on the second floor.
Edward Tyerman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include early Soviet culture, Soviet internationalism, and cultural connections and exchanges between Russia and China. His first book, Internationalist Aesthetics: China and Early Soviet Culture (Columbia University Press, 2021), rediscovers the intensive engagement with China in 1920s Soviet culture as a key experiment in the imagining of socialist internationalism. His current research explores Sino-Soviet cultural collaboration in the 1950s and the role of the Russia-China relationship in the social imaginary of the postsocialist period.