Reconciling Ethnicity, Subalternity and Chinese Eco-aesthetics: Human and Animal Subjects in Lu Chuan’s Kekexili: Mountain Patrol
Chia-ju Chang writes in Reconstruction:
An ecological discourse has not yet arisen in the mainstream of Chinese film studies. Lu Chuan’s Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (2004) is the first transnational feature film in China about the endangered Tibetan Antelope. This “eco-thriller” is based on a true event and is about a group of Tibetan volunteers trying to capture the leader of a poaching group who is responsible for mass-slaughtering and skinning the endangered Tibetan Antelope. The film engages a complicated politics of transnational capitalism, ethnicity, animal rights and aesthetics. In this paper, I first survey the history of animal poaching in the Kekexili area and the international shahtoosh trade. The film on the political subject of animal rights can be read as a potential challenge to Chinese communist authority and promotion of animal rights consciousness, and therefore deserves to be applauded. However, its transnational financing obscures an astute dimension of “First World” exploitation of “Third World” labor and animals. Secondly, I use this film as a case study to examine two strands of human-nature relationship in Chinese culture and history. One derives from the Daoist/Buddhist intellectual traditions, which advocate a harmonious human-nature relationship and biocentrism, and the other comes from the subaltern class, where daily life survival involves inevitable exploitation of nature/animal. While the later “subaltern” strand is found in the “documentary” style that addresses collated animal/human victimization, the former is evoked in the aesthetic representation of the background. I propose not to read them as mutually exclusive but co-existent in a non-Western ecological discourse.