Sentimentalism in Under the Hawthorn Tree

Author: Jing Meng, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Published: January 2016

Citation: Meng, J. (2016). Sentimentalism in Under the Hawthorn Tree. IAFOR Journal of Asian Studies, 2(1).


In Chinese films, the nostalgic mode has long ago permeated the representations of the Cultural Revolution, a period often associated with trauma and violence. Nostalgia for the socialist past indicates a resistance to and a critique of the materialism and deteriorated morality brought about by the capitalist modernity and globalization, and moreover, this longing for the past also resonates with the re-evaluation of the Cultural Revolution in the intellectual discourse regarding China’s modernization drive. However, while nostalgia harbours the potential for being a critique of the modernity, it also bears the inclination to be criticized. On the one hand, nostalgia derives from the fragments and materiality of the past, and functions as a resistance to the singular modernity and contemporary consumer culture. On the other hand, this sentimentalism of nostalgia might also be fetishized and commodified, falling in the same trap from which it tries to escape. This paper will analyse in detail a recent Chinese film, Under the Hawthorn Tree, directed by Zhang Yimou and set in the Cultural Revolution, and use it as an example to further illustrate and explore the conundrum of nostalgia as has been delineated above. In the film’s representation and its promotion, nostalgia and the sentimental are constructed and positioned as the redemption of contemporary materialism and an alternative to the visual spectacles of the blockbuster films. However, at the same time, the film fetishizes nostalgia, or purity, in the female body and commodifies it as a rare good.


nostalgia, cultural revolution, sentimentalism, fetishism, purity, female body