2012 Joseph Levenson Book Prize, post-1900 Category
China and Inner Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies

Yomi Braester
Painting the City Red: Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract
Duke University Press, 2010

Painting the City Red is a fantastically original study of the interaction between cultural producers, urban planners, and city residents in the creation of urban space. Challenging the conventional view of urban culture as a response to the physical reality of the city, Braester shows how Chinese filmmakers and stage performers were often directly involved in the building of that reality. Focusing on the period from the 1950s to the present, Braester sees dramatists and filmmakers acting as cultural brokers, helping to forge an "urban contract" between planning authorities, real estate developers, propaganda officers, and city dwellers. Collectively, the parties to this contract promoted the developement of Mao-era Beijing and Shanghai, the gentrification of contemporary Taipei, as well as the revamping of Beijing in the lead-up to the 2008 Olumpic Games.

Braester examines over a hundred Chinese films and plays, blending in rich archival material related to the circumstaces of their production and interviews with individuals involved. His exemplary scholarship demonstrates the complex nature of "art worlds," while making an elegant and important argument about the significance of cultural production to shaping the world in which we live. Theoretically astute yet virtually jargon-free in its formulation, the book combines excellent sinological research with a genuine contribution to drama and film studies, urban studies, and political history. Braester's work encourages us to take a fresh look at cities we thought we knew, and to reconsider the way we look at cities and their culture in general.


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