introduction
The disembodied voices of bygone songstresses course through the soundscapes
of many recent Chinese films that evoke the cultural past. In a mode of retro-
spection, these films pay tribute to a figure who, although rarely encountered
today, once loomed large in the visual and acoustic spaces of pop u lar music
and cinema. The audience is invited to remember the familiar voices and tunes
that circulated in these erstwhile spaces. For instance, in a film by the Hong
Kong director Wong Kar- wai set in the 1960s, In the Mood for Love, a traveling
businessman dedicates a song on the radio to his wife on her birthday.1 Along
with the wife we listen to “Hua yang de nianhua” (“The Blooming Years”),
crooned by Zhou Xuan, one of China’s most beloved singers of pop music. The
song was originally featured in a Hong Kong production of 1947, All- Consuming
Love, which cast Zhou in the role of a self- sacrificing songstress.2 Set in Shang-
hai during the years of the Japa nese occupation, the story of All- Consuming
Love centers on the plight of Zhou’s character, who is forced to obtain a job as a
nightclub singer to support herself and her enfeebled mother- in- law after her
husband leaves home to join the re sis tance. “The Blooming Years” refers to
these recent po liti cal events in a tone of wistful regret, expressing the home-
sickness of the exile who yearns for the best years of her life: “Suddenly this
orphan island is overshadowed by miseries and sorrows, miseries and sorrows;
ah, my lovely country, when can I run into your arms again?”3 Wong Kar- wai
picks up on these sentiments of homesickness in his use of the song as a pop
cultural artifact of the Shanghainese émigré community whose members
sought refuge in Hong Kong during and after the tumultuous war years, a com-
munity from which he himself hails.4 The inclusion of “The Blooming Years”
in In the Mood for Love concatenates the longings of this displaced community
for a lost homeland, the desires of the film’s characters for lost or unrealized
loves, and perhaps too the director’s nostalgia for the disappeared milieu of
his childhood. Thus Wong evokes the past through an identification with a
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