Krista Van Fleit Hang, PhD’06, on Mao & Gandhi in the Fight Against Corruption

5:30–7:30 pm
UChicago Center in Delhi


Xi Jinping’s massive anticorruption crackdown and the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory in the recent Delhi elections highlight a shared frustration with corruption as India and China enter the Asian Century.  This talk examined the mobilization of state ideology in two popular anticorruption films from China and India, arguing that they look to assuage the social pains incurred by the increased pace of modernization and globalization by presenting citizens with nostalgic solutions based in the founding principles of each nation.  The 2006 Bollywood hit Lage Raho Munna Bhai, in which a gangster uses Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence in order to solve problems, most of which arise from systemic corruption, started a wave of “Gandigiri” in India, ostensibly reminding Indian citizens what it means to follow the philosophies set out by the modern nation’s founding father.  In 2000, amongst a wave of Chinese anticorruption novels and television shows, the film Fatal Decision, detailing the corruption in a State Owned Enterprise, was for a short time the highest grossing domestic film.  Fatal Decision’s hero, the upright official Li Gaocheng, fights corruption even at the risk of losing his family and position in government, and ends the film with a speech that hails the spirit of socialism and urges his fellow officials to remember their roots.  Both films, popular with audiences and the state, avoid a systemic solution to the problem of corruption, choosing rather to focus on individual behavior and conservative nostalgia in the face of an uncertain future.

Krista Van Fleit Hang is Associate Professor of Chinese at the University of South Carolina where she teaches courses in modern/contemporary Chinese literature and film.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2006.  Her first book, Literature the People Love: Reading Chinese Texts from the Early Maoist Period (1949-1966), was published in 2013.  Currently she is engaged in a comparative study of Hindi and Chinese cinema, focusing especially on national exchanges in the 1950s, as both countries were experimenting with a combination of socialist realist messages and melodramatic plots in picturing newly formed nations onscreen.  She is currently in Delhi with the support of a Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence award, and will spend the next academic year conducting research in China.

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