Shanghai è una metropoli che ha sempre investito nella propria immagine, e spesso l’ha costruita o modificata secondo precisi intenti e direzioni. Molti nei secoli ne sono stati i cantori, e molteplici i mezzi di comunicazione.
I primi probabilmente sono stati i shuo shu, i cantastorie poveri e vagabondi della Cina tardo-imperiale. Laura McDaniel, nel suo paper Jumping the Dragon Gate, racconta le fortune di questa forma di intrattenimento, il pingtan, negli anni Trenta: “The astonishing leap in social status among Shanghai-era storytellers exemplified by Xue Xiaoqing and many others is inextricably linked with immigration to Shanghai, with the development of the city of Shanghai itself and with the emergence and conscious creation of a modern urban identity specifically associated with Shanghai.[…] Electricity enabled the owners of storytelling houses to light their establishments well past sunset, thus introducing the possibility for additional storytelling performances every day—as well as the whole concept of Shanghai as the “city that never sleeps” (bu ye cheng), with all of the powerful cultural resonances that that entailed.
[…] As pingtan storytelling became increasingly associated with the cosmopolitanism and refinement of Republican-era Shanghai, the language used in common stories was sanitized and standardized. Aspirations to refinement also led Shanghai’s guild-affiliated storytellers to sanitize the content of their stories. […] The people who listened to pingtan storytelling over the radio were markedly different from the lower-class rural migrants who had formed the backbone of the genre’s clientele until the late nineteenth century. These new listeners were overwhelmingly from Shanghai’s upper classes (only the wealthy could afford radios), and they tended to be educated. In addition, this new storytelling audience was ethnically diverse. Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s was home to migrants and sojourners from all over China, and radio broadcasts served to unify them all. […] For pingtan to appeal to Shanghai’s wealthier, more cosmopolitan, upwardly mobile population, its language had to be made accessible. This accessibility was achieved initially through published transcripts of popular stories. […] Shanghai’s successful pingtan storytellers helped further define the new community of urbanites by making increasingly sharp distinctions between “urban” and “rural.” In their stories and songs, most pingtan performers gave Shanghai an image of opulence and modernity. Of course, such images were far from accurate descriptions of everyday reality in Shanghai, but they were presented to listeners as a Chinese version of the “American dream”—part of a package to aim for or even acquire simply by association if they stayed in Shanghai long enough. The tourism industry was clearly key in promoting Shanghai as the “Pearl of the Orient,” a city of luxury and excess to be coveted by outsiders, but these images quickly found their way into popular media and entertainment. Storytellers represented the Shanghai identity to their listeners as naturally envied by all those who lived outside of Shanghai but also as within the reach of newcomers to the city.”
Oltre ai cantastorie, ferventi cantori della Shanghai degli Anni Trenta furono gli scrittori del gruppo denominato New Perceptionists. Questi descrivevano nei loro romanzi la sfavillante vita notturna della città, i bar, i ristoranti, i bordelli, l’amore libero, le sale da ballo, e soprattutto i casinò ed i club in cui cantavano e si esibivano le affascinanti starlettes protagoniste delle storie e simboli di uno stile di vita e di valori occidentali. Così scriveva Mu Shiying: “The buildings that lie in slumber are standing up, raising their heads, and shedding their grey pajamas. The river flows east again, huala, huala (l’acqua scorre,l’acqua scorre, ndr). The factory’s sirens are roaring. Singing a new life, the destiny of the people at the nightclub. Shanghai has woken up! Shanghai, this heaven built in hell.”
Dopo il 1949 Shanghai venne considerata dal nuovo governo come una città peccatrice, viziosa, baluardo dei cattivi costumi capitalisti dell’Occidente. L’azione di standardizzazione, “disinfezione” e selezione della memoria e del linguaggio, precedentemente avviata con i cantastorie, assunse toni ancora più marcati e radicali. Una particolare forma di “educazione”, yiku sitian, prese piede. Wing-chung Ho ne fa una vibrante descrizione: “Literally, yiku sitian means ‘recalling past bitterness, in order to savour the sweetness of the present’. It was essentially a peculiar appropriation of ‘the bitter past of poor people’ by the state, in order to orchestrate support from the masses for its authority. In the Maoist period, the notion of yiku sitian quickly became a narrative structure widely recognized and used both in the official discourse and in everyday conversation. Yiku sitian obviously required narrators who could present themselves as revolutionary subjects, meaning that the narrators must ‘really’ possess a bitter past, so that the emotion of gratitude could be expressed persuasively in ‘speaking bitterness’. In other words, a revolutionary ‘thought-education base’ required a ‘revolutionary people’ to make it ‘complete”.
Questo proseguì fino al periodo delle riforme volute da Deng Xiaoping. Citando ancora Wing-chung Ho: “The status of the capitalist has been reinstated as the impetus of national progress. Indeed, to be an entrepreneur is to be described as admirably adventurous. Among the populace, such a sentiment is often implied in the local discourse of ‘xiahai’ (literally, ‘plunging into the sea’). Rather than the socialist ethos, which emphasizes egalitarianism, class struggle, adherence to particular political doctrines, and distinctions between ‘friends’ and ‘enemies,’ the official media now eulogize the virtues of economic progress as inscribed in the new official terminology such as ‘gaige’ (reform), ‘fazhan’ (development), and ‘gaibian’ (change). No longer holding on to iron-clad doctrines that assure people of a preset destiny, the state has effectively de-linked individual fate from the Maoist, or from any monolithic, discourse of the past. The residents are faced with the competition and the attendant ups and downs of the free market economy. This means that, after a break with the state and monolithic appropriation of the past, the residents whose past had been homogenized in the Maoist period have accumulated heterogeneous experiences in their subsequent individual, differential encounters in the reformist past. One consequence is that these differential experiences of the residents in the reformist past have exerted complex, and sometimes awkward, effects on the ways in which they think of the past. These ways in which they think of the past have led them to the present; that is, they have affected the ways in which they have appropriated the past.”
Dal 1978, la nuova politica di apertura ha portato anche grandi cambiamenti nel linguaggio e nelle tematiche trattate nei film. Una nuova generazione di registi, dopo aver vissuto sulla propria pelle la Rivoluzione Culturale alla fine degli anni Sessanta, ha rivoluzionato il cinema cinese. Tra questi uno dei più noti è Zhang Yimou: nel suo film Shanghai Triad sono acutamente analizzati il complesso rapporto tra la Shanghai contemporanea e quella cosmopolita degli anni Trenta e le modalità di appropriazione e percezione di quest’ultima da parte degli odierni abitanti della città.
Così lo interpreta Christine Boyer, nel saggio Approaching the memory of Shanghai: “Consequently, renegotiating memory may not involve recollecting modern Shanghai in its most accurate form, but in its most powerful forms that illuminate the future, that retell stories with a twist. To return to the glorious city of Shanghai, to its most cosmopolitan decade of the 1930s, may be a gesture that aims to undo the fare of remembering as an after effect of the Chinese Revolution, but it may also be a way of assuaging anxiety over China’s renewed openness to both Western capitalism and Western culture. […] But Zhang Yimou retells these dance hall stories with a difference. Instead of presenting the city as a multi-layered space, criss-crossed by various economic and cultural forces, and juxtaposing pieces of urban texts from mixed genres and media in a cinematic collage, as the New Perceptionists prescribed, Shanghai Triad projects new ways of perceiving the cinematic city that are flat, confined and simplified. It is the ideological power of a mythical modern Shanghai that Zhang Yimou projects as a twice constructed illusion; once by the New Perceptionists and again in a retrospective mode by those who are nostalgic for cosmopolitan Shanghai. By placing this goddess on display, both the city and the actress, and exhibiting her as an illusion, Zhang Yimou underlines the cruelty that emanates from this double vision. […] From the outset he offers the spectator painted backdrops and reflected images. No shot of Shanghai is intended to directly lure and entrap the gaze.[…] This yearning for pre-revolutionary modernity attaches itself to a retrospective gaze. By presenting modern Shanghai as an image or object to be looked at, it captures the spectator in a trap. Zhang Yimou wants to invert this gaze, to deflect this trap. In the opening scenes the viewer is being told that this film will be about reflected images.[…] All direct views of Shanghai are blocked from sight. These reflected images tell the spectator that something has to be renegotiated: whether it is the relationship of the present to the past, or of the East and the West.[…] Whatever it is about the past that fascinates the gaze, it cannot be approached directly.[…] Approaching the images of old Shanghai only can be done through mirrored reflections. Of course, this portrayal is all about the gaze, that knowing the past can only be understood as a kind of mirroring.[…] Thus, the trap of the gaze supports the fantasy that one can understand or regain the lost cosmopolitanism of Shanghai might have expressed in the 1930s, or re-ignite the allure that once held the New Perceptionists captive, but this desire that sets up modern Shanghai as an exotic other cannot be fulfilled directly; it cannot appear as a point of reference to anticipate what Shanghai is in the process of becoming. What was is no longer. Thus, the mirrored reflections, and the constant shift of the camera’s point of view, become metaphors for resisting the gaze that believes in projected images.”
Oggi un sentimento di nostalgia permea frequentemente prodotti e forme di comunicazione molto diffusi, come serie televisive, canzoni, riviste e quotidiani. Wu Jing ha trattato questo argomento nel suo saggio Nostalgia as content creativity: “Three key historical periods vie for nostalgic appropriation in popular cultural forms. They are the revolutionary past, imperial China (particularly the Qing Dynasty) and the short experience of colonial modernity in Shanghai during the early 20th century. They find expression in TV drama, pop music, theme restaurants, mass circulation magazines and film. Images of past glory and aspirations confront each other as they define the ‘Chinese route’ that has led to the present, and presumably will lead into the future.[…] But their appropriation illustrates the potential for creativity, not only in the business strategies of commercial culture, but also in the social imagination and design for a new China. In addition, three social forces – the political establishment, cultural entrepreneurship and grass-roots popular memory – participate in shaping the specific formulation of nostalgic content. Nostalgia is a modern trope. Nostalgia steps in to help us cope with the turbulence of time, to manage change and make sense of it, through a symbolic denigration of change and a wishful return to the stability of the past. Nostalgia seems to be a social tool to abort or deflect threats of identity discontinuity – that is, when a society is unsure of itself, it resorts to nostalgia as a form of escape.[…] China’s quest for modernity, along with its drive to modernize, has been under way for more than a century. If one word could describe the dominant cultural sentiment during the 20th century, it was ‘radicalism’. For most of the 20th century, eagerness for change preoccupied the mind of China’s cultural workers. Nostalgia was just too much of a luxury. Sporadic calls for looking back and slowing down were ridiculed and drowned out in the spirited chorus of modernization.[…] Popular sentiment began to exhibit signs of impatience and suspicion. Significant parts of the population had grown up in a very different social environment. When the promises of reform – which had secured a general consensus at the beginning – did not actualize as expected, phantoms of the past returned, or were repackaged to wrestle with the disturbing state of contemporary life.[…] Popular curiosity towards a mystified past in a time of uncertainty, combined with the commercialization of content, converges in a ‘rediscovery’ of history. With characteristic commercial manipulation, historical narratives are injected with a heavy dose of melancholy and sentimentality, quite appropriate for nostalgic invocation.[…] This renovation has, in fact, placed implicit blame on the revolution-dominated history of modern China, which ended the supposed self-contentedness and graceful status of old Shanghai. In the renewed effort to connect China to the worldly process of modernization again, old Shanghai becomes a possible mirror image for a future China. The nostalgic caressing of a once-existing modernity drives home the following questions: Was there an internal drive to modernity in China? Did semi-colonial Shanghai offer an indigenous example of modernization? Is Shanghai a viable model of urban modernity for other parts of China? What can we learn from Shanghai’s urban experiences seen through the lens of mass culture? Can we rest assured that we are already modern, given the existence of cultural Shanghai, so that we don’t have to worry about being left behind in the global modernization race?”.
Quel che è certo, è che nelle torbide acque dello Huang-Pu è difficile trovare una risposta a queste domande, e lo sguardo vaga esitante e inquieto da una sponda all’altra…