Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The post-Mao era witnesses a growing interest in China’s frontiers in literature and film. Since the 1980s, frontiers have been more freely depicted as an alternative space in sharp contrast to China’s urban society. My dissertation aims to study how China’s frontiers are represented in literary works and films in the post-Mao era. Most texts under my examination describe characters’ travels from their urban hometowns to rural frontiers, where they interact with local people and learn their distinctive cultures. Representations of frontiers in these works reflect writers’ and filmmakers’ thoughts and critiques of the socio-political conditions of urban China.

My dissertation further focuses on an intriguing contestation between these works: while some tend to portray frontiers as an ideal world, others refuse to acknowledge the romanticized image of frontiers. The question at the center of the contestation is whether frontiers should be imagined as utopian. As I argue in this dissertation, the fundamental difference in the representation of frontiers is closely associated with writers’ and filmmakers’ different, and often self-contradictory, views about the post-Mao social reality, especially views about the newly developed capitalist order, including the market economy and its related value system.

I pay particular attention to the myth of Shangri-La. Shangri-La is a utopia originally depicted in the British writer James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, first published in 1933. In 2001, Zhongdian, a county in Yunnan Province, in order to develop local tourism, officially changed its name to Shangri-La. The culture industry then actively produced literary works and films to portray frontier regions as Shangri-La, where Han Chinese travelers, tired of life in urban China, seek for spiritual enlightenment and salvation. I argue that the myth, by distracting and mitigating people’s dissatisfaction with reality, serves as a utopian fantasy to protect the social order. Correspondingly, critical anti-Shangri-La works, by debunking the myth, remain subversive to the mainstream ideology and critical of the social reality in urban China.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Lingchei L. Chen

Committee Members

J. Dillon Brown, Beata Grant, Robert E. Hegel, Zhao Ma


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