Historical Social Research

Amanda Shuman: No Longer ‘Sick’: Visualizing ‘Victorious’ Athletes in 1950s Chinese Films. [Abstract]

This essay focuses on the narratives and visuals of athletes in several popular sports films produced in 1950s Maoist China, arguing that the Chinese leadership intended such visuals to convey the strength of the new socialist state. Since the early twentieth century in China, modern sports and physical culture (tiyu) has been associated with an official narrative of overcoming national humiliation, in which the nation suffered from "victimization" at the hands of foreigners – often succinctly described using the phrase the "Sick Man of East Asia" (dongya bingfu). Yet more than a decade prior to the release of the popular martial arts film "Fist of Fury" (Hong Kong, 1972) in which Bruce Lee famously destroys a placard reading "Sick Man of East Asia," mainland China's sports film industry was showcasing youthful Chinese athletes who no longer suffered from this past humiliation. On the contrary, the images of jubilant, victorious athletes in Maoist-era films like Girl Basketball Player No. 5, Ice Sisters, and Two Generations of Swimmers served as visual embodiments of a nation that, under Chinese Communist Party leadership, had overcome a century of humiliation and was now no longer "sick."

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