Weijie Song
Pages 195-205


This paper examines Chinese imagery of smokestacks both as a concrete object and an abstract concept emerging from early futurist eulogy to modernist allergy, and from Maoist propaganda to post-Fifth Generation environmental reflections. In the Republican era, writers from the Creation Society eulogize the smokes of steamboat smokestacks as beautified symbols of modern civilization. Yet members from the Beijing School convey their concerns about the Janus face of industrialization and environmental impairments (towering smokestacks as the target). After 1949, smokestacks are eulogized as an icon of socialist industrialization and pervade cinematic productions, literary imaginations, and artistic exhibitions. Since the 1980s, smokestacks have been gradually understood as vestiges of problematic socialist practice. The growing ecological deterioration in the 21st century propels public intellectuals and film directors to expose industrial pollution and to invoke environmental protection. Yet another type of representation arises in the post-Fifth Generation films, where smokestacks are visualized as a token of the “insulted and injured” working class, individual discovery, and collective sentiment worn out by the post Mao-Deng global developmentalism and social injustice. The metamorphoses of smokestacks in literary, cinematic, and artistic imaginations envision and exhibit the structural transformation of modern Chinese environmental and ecological consciousness.