The world has changed faster in the past fifty years than ever before and the emblematic landmark of this process is the modern metropolis. While the pace and intensity of change has varied significantly, no continent or culture has been left untouched. Big cities as embodiment of a new reality have already attracted the interest and concern of great writers at the turn of the century as reflected in Rainer Maria Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), John Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer (1925), Alfred Dšblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922), to name only a few. Fritz Lang's classic silent film fantasy Metropolis (1926) with its haunting images of a futuristic city and its mechanised society is another early artistic expression of apprehension and angst associated with the rapid development of urban life and civilisation early this century. China might not have been in the forefront of these developments in the past, but Deng Xiaoping's vision of a brave new world of Western capitalism and consumerism has already had considerable impact on Chinese urban life, particularly in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing and coastal regions. Significantly, Shenzen and Shanghai are the only locations in China with exemplary postmodern architecture. Alluding to Robert Musil, Professor Kohlhaas from Harvard has referred to Shenzhen as "generic city" or "city without qualities". It is, therefore, not surprising that the urban milieu forms the background and thematic core of the poetry and fiction of poets from these areas (Third Generation Poets). Existential anguish and disillusionment as experienced in big cities in China (particularly Shanghai and Beijing) is also thematically foregrounded in the films of Zhang Yuan (1963), He Jianjun (1960) and Wang Xiaoshuai (1966), sometimes referred to as "Sixth Generation" ; filmmakers. While major literary works, which artistically explore the role of big cities in the cultural consciousness of China, are used as conceptual reference points, this paper will focus primarily on paradigmatic literary texts and films of the post-Mao period.
XIII EACS Conference. The Spirit of the Metropolis: Papers from the XIII EACS Conference (Torino, Italy 30 August - 2 September, 2000)