chapter  4
Poetics of failure
Performing humanism in the Chinese blockbuster
ByVictor Fan
Pages 17

In the popular imagination and state-sponsored discourse, “China’s soft power” often reiterates a more-than-a-century-long narrative that China needs to “catch up” with the Euro-American “West.” It is as though taking over the United States’ leadership in branding, marketing, and exercising European humanism would be the final hurdle for China to enter modernity. My interest is not how scholars and policy makers define “soft power.” Rather, I wish to explore one of its key concepts, “humanism.” Featuring humanism as their core value with the aim of promoting China as a modern nation, contemporary Chinese blockbusters and the discourse around them consistently raise three interrelated questions: (1) What is humanism? (2) What kind of humanism can China contribute to the global community? (3) Why has Chinese cinema failed to allow a global audience to resonate with this new mode of world thinking? Nonetheless, what fascinates me is not why China fails to rebrand itself; rather, I ask how the structure of affect associated with such failure negotiates the conflicting sociopolitical values based on humanism. The film I will examine here, Zhi women zhong jiang shiqu de qingchun [So Young, Vicki Zhao or Zhao Wei, 2013], performs the indefinability, unnameability, and porousness of humanism itself.