Urban Horror

Neoliberal Post-Socialism and the Limits of Visibility

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 39 illustrations Published: February 2020

Author: Erin Y. Huang

Asian Studies > East Asia, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

In Urban Horror Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal post-socialist China. Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics from Engels and Merleau-Ponty to Lefebvre and Rancière, Huang traces the emergence and mediation of what she calls urban horror—a sociopolitical public affect that exceeds comprehension and provides the grounds for possible future revolutionary dissent. She shows how documentaries, blockbuster feature films, and video art from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present rehearse and communicate urban horror. In these films urban horror circulates through myriad urban spaces characterized by the creation of speculative crises, shifting temporalities, and dystopic environments inhospitable to the human body. The cinematic image and the aesthetics of urban horror in neoliberal post-socialist China lay the groundwork for the future to such an extent, Huang contends, that the seeds of dissent at the heart of urban horror make it possible to imagine new forms of resistance.


“What is ‘horror’ in the contemporary world? With reference to numerous interesting Chinese-language films, Erin Y. Huang argues that horror is a morphing assemblage of sociohistorical forces, one that creates a disjuncture between a perceived external reality and an internal frame of comprehension. An admirably timely statement on the often hypermedial—and horrific—performativity of urban public sentiments, in post-socialist China as in EuroAmerica and beyond.” — Rey Chow, author of Sentimental Fabulations, Contemporary Chinese Films: Attachment in the Age of Global Visibility

“In this visionary book Erin Y. Huang lays out a new epistemology of the political, cultural, and affective present while gesturing toward desirable futures. This book will galvanize the study of Chinese cinema and interdisciplinary studies of the urban; it will be of unique interest to all those across the humanities who are striving to decipher the logics of the global, neoliberal present. Like no other book, Urban Horror makes the affective, political, and material contours of the contemporary Asian city available to social theory. A vitally innovative work.” — Arnika Fuhrmann, author of Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema

“What makes Urban Horror particularly valuable is Huang’s attention to historical and cultural specificity in her application of Western theories. For example, in her discussion of Li Shaohong’s films, she avoids taking feminism as a transhistorical and universal category. Rather, she excavates the nuanced and complex meanings of Chinese femininity to theorize postsocialist feminism within the context of modern and socialist Chinese history…. Huang’s theoretical approach is an excellent model for contextualizing Western theories and philosophies for Asian studies.” — Li Zeng, Film Quarterly


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Erin Y. Huang is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Urban Horror: Speculative Futures of Chinese Cinemas  1
1. Cartographies of Socialism and Post-Socialism: The Factory Gate and the Threshold of the Visible World  33
2. Intimate Dystopias: Post-Socialist Femininity and the Marxist-Feminist Interior  69
3. The Post- as Media Time: Documentary Experiments and the Rhetoric of Ruin Gazing  101
4. Post-Socialism in Hong Kong: Zone Urbanism and Marxist Phenomenology  146
5. The Ethics of Representing Precarity: Film in the Era of Global Complicity  184
Epilogue  218
Notes  223
Bibliography  245
Index  259
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0809-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0679-4