Module 10: Spring in a Small Town (1948)

Spring in a Small Town 1948 production still 2
Hailed as the finest Chinese film of all time, Spring in a Small Town is an intimate work of cinematic poetry that shows five people struggling to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of a war. A married woman’s humdrum life in a small town changes when her former sweetheart returns after a decade’s absence to visit his old friend, her ailing husband. Her voiceover creates a gripping psychological drama, even as Fei Mu’s lyrical cinematography shows people hesitating at a moment of uncertainty, amidst an environment of ruins. Tian Zhuangzhuang directed a remake of this film in 2002, known by the English title Springtime in a Small Town.

This module corresponds to chapter 12 in the book Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949.

The film:

Xiaocheng zhi chun
93 minutes
Alternative English titles: When Spring Comes, Springtime in a Small City
Director: Fei Mu
Screenplay: Li Tianji
Wen Hwa (Wenhua) Film Studio
Date of release: September 25, 1948 (Shanghai)
Cast: Wei Wei, Shi Yu, Li Wei, Zhang Hongmei, Cui Chaoming
English subtitles translated by Christopher Rea

Video lecture 1: Melancholy poetics

14 minutes

Contents:

  • Why is Spring in a Small Town such a highly acclaimed film?
  • Original English title of the film
  • Production context: the Chinese civil war
  • Melancholy poetics: loss, change, and renewal
  • Symbolism in location and set design

Video lecture 2: Spring anew


14 minutes

Contents:

  • Lyricism and poetry, drawing on Du Fu and Su Shi
  • The “talented scholar and beautiful woman” (caizi jiaren) narrative formula
  • Allegories of tradition, modernity, east and west
  • The influence of Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town on later films and filmmakers
  • Tian Zhuangzhuang’s remake, Springtime in a Small Town (2002)

Learn more:

Scenes from Spring in a Small Town

First appearance of Yuwen’s voiceover:

Dai Xiu sings the folk song “Lovely Little Rose”:

Dai Xiu and Dai Liyan sing “In that Far-Off Place”:

A chicken makes a cameo during one of Yuwen and Zhichen’s walks:

Dai Liyan realizes that his wife is in love with his old friend:

Zhichen barely restrains his passion, and Yuwen cuts her hand:

Comparisons with other films

Watch Fei Mu’s film Song of China (1935), also known as Filial Piety, which contains original Chinese-English intertitles and a full soundtrack:

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