Our time of the Anthropocene is witnessed by the disappearance of landscapes such as rainforest and glaciers, and the extinction or diminishing of wild animals and plants. Paradoxically, they—along with exotic landscapes, otherly worlds, unnatural weather, fantastical creatures and non-human characters—have proliferated on big and small screens with the aid of computer graphic imagery (CGI) technology. Among this global wave of cinematic spectaculars, fantasy audiovisual works, or qihuan yingshi, have gained enormous popularity in the past two decades and are now a recognizable industry genre in China and Hong Kong.
Analyzing the burgeoning and digitally-enhanced representations of the nonhuman worlds and characters in contemporary Chinese film, television and animation, this proposed project offers a new reading of fantasy media as an aesthetic experience of the Anthropocene. The proposed project contributes to existing studies in three ways. First, this project expands on recent scholarship on cinema and the Anthropocene by stressing the more-than-human dimension of Chinese fantasy cinema, which constructs or calls into question the meaning of human and humanity. It also supplements the existing scholarship on Chinese ecocinema, which tends to focus on documentaries or fictions that rely on realism as a major aesthetic repertoire. Second, by focusing on contemporary Chinese qihuan/fantasy media that engages the supernatural and the non-human, the project not only offers a discussion that complements as well as contrasts with the fantastic genre in the Euro-American context; it also offers a historically informed vision on the Chinese fantastic in the context of century-long censorship of the supernatural on Chinese screens in the name of modernity and progress. Exploring the imagination of the fantastic in the Chinese context, the project enriches the understanding of the Anthropocene, currently a predominantly Western concept that deals with periodization of the planet as a result of Western-styled modernization. Third, Digitizing the non-human delves into how digital technology, especially CGI, is not just a supportive tool but an active force influencing how we imagine our condition of the Anthropocene. In particular, it examines the cultural meanings of digital visual effects and animation in the context of the Anthropocene.