Younghusband Redux: Chinese Dramatisations of the British Invasion of Tibet

in Inner Asia
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Abstract

A film, a television series, four plays and an opera have been produced in China since 1997 dramatising the invasion of Tibet by the British in 1903 04. These works were part of an official effort to enhance patriotic spirit among Chinese and Tibetan people through historical example, as well as an attempt to represent Tibetans as participants in a broader Chinese resistance to Western aggression and humiliation. They coincided with an official call for film-makers to make propaganda more appealing and a decisive turn in Chinese cinema towards commercialised films and Hollywood-style narrative. The paper contextualises these dramatisations and their ideological features within the history of Tibetan representations in Chinese film and television dramas, and discusses foreign critiques of the most influential of the dramatisations of the Younghusband expedition, Feng Xiaonings 1997 film Honghegu (Red River Valley). It notes difficulties with criticisms about the lack of accuracy in these Chinese films, discusses several ways in which they match the historical record, and compares them with the little-known television series Jiangzi 1904.

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