Graduate Thesis
(Department of Gender Studies, Universiteit Utrecht, supervised by Dr. Marta Zarzycka)

“(Re)capturing the ‘Absent’ Memory of the June 4th Incident: an analysis of Lou Ye’s Summer Palace (2006)”

The June 4th Incident at Tiananmen Square marked the end of the student revolution for liberty and democracy that took place in Beijing in 1989. This thesis discusses the film text Summer Palace (2006) directed by mainland Chinese director Lou Ye. By analysing the narrative structure, the use of excessive sex scenes and the film’s engagement with documentary footages, this thesis sets out to address the following questions: How does filmic representation of trauma allow memory and its associated traumatic effects to be vicariously passed onto the viewer? Based on the relationship between the embodied spectator and the screen image, how may the spectator experience June 4th affectively?

I detail on how absence/ silence is prominent in the limits of trauma narratives and demonstrate how this is reflected in the narrative of Summer Palace. The silence signals and calls for an alternative way of approaching the film through the affective realm, rather than through the narrative details. I argue that the excessive sex scenes, which are used to convey the unspeakable traumatic effects, and the film’s use of documentary footages place viewers in an uncomfortable viewing position, which affectively transmit feelings from the characters to the viewers and connect them to the real-life collective memory over the subject matter. I will also discuss how the absence/presence paradigm played out in the film’s transmission of cultural memory may be reflected in real-life politics in Hong Kong.

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