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A scene from the 1935 movie "Song of China," one of three films that Zhiwei Xiao will use to explore Chinese attitudes toward gender equality and the nation's traditional culture. Xiao is delivering the final talk in Mount St. Mary's "Women in China" lecture series.

Free lecture on Feb. 21 shares what Chinese films reveal about modern Chinese history

What can Chinese films “The Family,” “Song of China” and “Shower” tell us about the evolution of Chinese attitudes toward gender equality and the nation’s traditional culture?

Quite a bit, says Zhiwei Xiao, professor of history at California State University, San Marcos.

Xiao is the final speaker in Mount Saint Mary’s University’s “Women in China” lecture series, a six-part series of free talks that has explored the progression of gender roles in China. Xiao’s Feb. 21 lecture will begin at 6 p.m. on the College’s Doheny Campus, and will focus on “What Can Chinese Film Tell Us about Modern Chinese History?”

“The Family,” Xiao says, is based on a novel that was immensely popular when it was published in the 1930s. The book and film lashed out at traditional culture and viewed China’s past as a burden to a more modern transformation. Five years later, “Song of China” took the opposite view in response, glorifying the country’s traditional culture.

“If these two films show how torn and polarized the Chinese are in terms of modernizing their country on the one hand, and preserving their cultural heritage on the other,” Xiao says, “then ‘Shower,’ made in 1999, represents a synthesis of the two views.

“This tension between emotive attachment to tradition and the desire to join the modern world has been one of the most important undercurrents in modern Chinese history, and these three films illustrate those sentiments beautifully.”

Xiao earned a bachelor’s of arts in Chinese language and literature from Liaoning Teacher’s University, a pair of master’s degrees from Sichuan University and the College of St. Rose, and a PhD in modern Chinese history from the University of California at San Diego.

A question-and-answer period will follow the Feb. 21 lecture, which takes place from 6-7 p.m. at Mount St. Mary’s Donohue Center on the College’s downtown campus. The talk is free and open to the public. For more information, and to RSVP to reserve a seat, visit

Xiao’s lecture caps the “Women in China” lecture series that the College has hosted this school year as part of a two-year $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Each lecture featured top scholars in Chinese history, poetry, art and literature.

Please note: Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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