From Patricide and Child God to Revolutionary Martyr and Filial Son: Changing Ideological Representations of Nezha in Two Chinese Animated Films

  • Author / Creator
    Dong, Xiaoxiao
  • Through a comparative close reading of four Chinese animated films adapted from the story of Nezha, a Chinese patricide and child god best known from the Ming dynasty novel Creations of the Gods, this study examines how animated films about Nezha reflect changing ideologies about rebelliousness under the rule of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping, two patriarchal leaders considered to be the most authoritarian in China after 1949. Employing two major approaches, this thesis firstly analyzes the films, Havoc in Heaven (1986), Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979), Nezha: Birth of the Demon Child (2019) and New Gods: Nezha Reborn (2021), in relation to their cultural-political background and the dominant ideologies of Mao’s and Xi’s periods of rule respectively, and secondly it observes the films through the lens of Michel Foucault’s theory of disciplinary society. I argue that Nezha’s rebelliousness serves as a form of disguised discipline of youth by the governments of both eras.
    The mainstream value of Mao’s era (1949-1976) called for youth to leave their biological families and join the proletarian revolution. This is reflected in such films as Nezha Conquers the Dragon King as Nezha’s break with his biological father, his union with his master, and his anarchist violence against class enemies. Nezha Conquers the Dragon King offers Nezha a certain degree of subjectivity and autonomy to withdraw from society through violent suicide scenes. The film’s symbolic simplistic binary serves as a political metaphor that challenges the propaganda of the official ideology and offers a potential avenue for resistance reading beyond the film text.
    The official ideology of Xi’s era (2012-present), which promotes a revival of Confucian filiality and calls on singletons to be good children who love their parents and to be socialized into society, is reflected in films of the era as the fundamental conflicts between father and son being weakened into a lovely misunderstanding, as well as Nezha’s quarantine in continuous disciplinary enclosures such as family and school. In contrast with the films of the Maoist era, Nezha: Birth of The Demon Child weakens its dictatorial, patriarchal figures and all the fundamental conflicts, disguising Nezha’s correction and socialization as a rebellion against his evil nature and transforming Nezha’s struggles from a social issue about discrimination to a personal problem of a male only child in a modern middle-class Chinese urban family. The Xi- era film therefore eliminating the possibility of resistant reading.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2023
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.