HomeOld age in China and France through literary and cinematographical discourse and language

HomeOld age in China and France through literary and cinematographical discourse and language

Old age in China and France through literary and cinematographical discourse and language

La vieillesse en Chine et en France vue à travers les discours et le langage littéraire et cinématographique

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Published on Tuesday, June 01, 2021


Il s'agit d'analyser les représentations discursives, médiatiques, littéraires et cinématographiques de la vieillesse aujourd'hui ou dans un passé proche ou lointain en France, en Chine et à Taiwan, en vue de la publication d'un ouvrage collectif aux éditions Peter Lang. Les études pourront se concentrer sur le monde sinophone, la France, ou adopter une approche comparative, selon des angles de vue disciplinaires variés.



In 1970, when Simone de Beauvoir published her monumental essay La vieillesse, 12% of the French population was over 65, the highest proportion in the world at the time, and the category “old” was blurred and denied by society. On the other side of the Eurasian continent, China was implementing birth restriction measures and life expectancy was just reaching 60. Half a century later, the aging of the French population continues. People aged 65 and over represent 19.6% of the population, and a new generation of centenarians is emerging. China is undergoing the same demographic transition, but at an accelerated pace. In both countries, old age and aging are scrutinized by specialists under all aspects: biological, psychological, economic, political, sociological... Our project aims at approaching the subject with a more distanced and in-depth look: the expression and representation of old age in languages, literature and visual arts, as well as their evolution.

The representation of old age varies according to time and culture. In the West, until the 17th century, images of old age were marked by pessimism: the physiological faculties of the old man were reduced and weakened. He is dependent on his relatives. In Molière’s plays, the old are above all stingy and ridiculous. The tone begins to change with the Enlightenment. Benevolence and tenderness towards old age are expressed in literature. Old age is more often associated with wisdom: “it is a most precious spiritual achievement, the harmonious end and accomplished finality of a plenitude” (Montandon, 2004, p. 6) Nowadays, the place of the elderly has evolved even further: autonomy is becoming an important issue in society, and an active and consuming old age is advocated, while the phenomenon of ageism, that particular form of discrimination against the elderly, has considerably decreased (Bizzini, 2017). Nevertheless, this picture of a golden age cannot entirely hide a form of rejection, or a fear, of this last phase of life. Medicine is trying to postpone the old age and cosmetic surgery is trying at all costs to hide all the signs of it.

In China, on the other hand, the elderly are traditionally revered, in accordance with Confucian thought, which considers filial piety to be a cardinal virtue. Respect for elders is a guarantee of good conduct. Longevity is sought according to Taoist principles through meditation, breath control, lifestyle, music, painting and chess. However, in the face of the economic and societal impact of a rapidly ageing population, these values, so deeply rooted in the mentality, seem to be changing. Three or four generation households under the same roof are becoming seldom. Some elderly people living in the countryside feel abandoned, forgotten, despite their sacrifices for family and society, as evidenced by a recent book, The Empty Nest: I’m Alone in the World (空巢:我在这世上太孤独) by Yi Zhou 弋舟 (2020).

We absorb the impressions, ideas, images and sounds that express the dominant values of a society and in turn condition our thoughts. Words and expressions, as reflections of our social, cultural and psychological representations, are the best witnesses of this evolution: in 1985, in France, the word “old” was replaced by “elderly” in the texts of law, which, in turn, should give way to the terms “elder” or “senior”, according to the recommendations of gerontological care professionals (Les mots du bien vieillir of the Korian Foundation). In Chinese, alongside “尊老”, “敬老” (respecting the elderly), expressions such as “啃老” (literally “rodent of the old”, refers to adults who are financially dependent on their parents) have appeared, which reflect a quite new economic and societal reality.

Elderly are also present in literary and film form. Their portraits, whether in the foreground or in the background, often ambivalent, reflect society’s view on this age of life and the concerns, changes of perspective and awareness of temporality and finitude that it brings (for China, see http://www.chinese-shortstories.com and http://www.chinesemovies.com).

The aim of this call for papers is to analyze discursive, media, literary and cinematographic representations of old age today or in the near or distant past with a view to the publication of a collective work by Peter Lang. The studies could focus on the Chinese-speaking world, France or adopt a comparative approach. They may focus on the notions of filiation, intergenerationality, memory and care, for example.

Submission guidelines

Proposals (abstracts accompanied by keywords and a bibliography and mini-biography of the author), in French or English, may be sent

until 15 July 2021

to Isabelle Guinamard, Weiwei Guo-Gripay and Marie Laureillard at the following three addresses: 




Scientific Committee

  •  Martine Boyer-Weinmann
  •  Vincent Caradec
  •  Corrado Neri
  •  Luisa Prudentino
  •  Isabelle Thireau 
  •  Wu Ming
  •  Zhang Xiaoyi
  •  Zheng Tuyou  

Indicative bibliography

Adler, Laure, La voyageuse de nuit, Paris, Grasset, 2020

Albou, Philippe, L’image des personnes âgées à travers l’histoire, 2002

Attané, Isabelle, La Chine à bout de souffle, Paris, Fayard, 2016

Attané, Isabelle, Au pays des enfants rares, Paris, Fayard, 2011

Beauvoir, Simone de, La vieillesse, Paris, Gallimard, 1970

Bizzini, Lucio, « L’âgisme  :  une forme de discrimination qui porte préjudice aux personnes âgées et prépare le terrain de la négligence et de la violence », Gérontologie et société 2007/4 (vol. 30 / n° 123), p. 263-278

Bois, Jean-Pierre, Histoire de la vieillesse, Paris, PUF, « Que sais-je ? », 1989

Bois, Jean-Pierre, Les vieux, de Montaigne aux premières retraites, Paris, Fayard, 2014

Boyer-Weinmann, Martine, Vieillir, dit-elle : Une anthropologie littéraire de l’âge, Ceysérieu, Champ Vallon, 2013

Caradec, Vincent, Sociologie de la vieillesse et du vieillissement, Paris, Armand Colin, 2015

Deschavanne, Éric et Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, Philosophie des âges de la vie. Pourquoi grandir ? Pourquoi vieillir ?, Paris, Grasset, 2007

Détambel, Régine, Le syndrome de Diogène : éloge des vieillesses, Arles, Actes Sud, 2007

Godelier, Maurice ; Jullien, François et al., Le grand âge de la vie, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2005

Harper, Sarah, Aging Societies: Myths, Challenges and Opportunities, Londres, Hodder Arnold, 2005

Keiming, Rose K., Growing Old in a New China: Transitions in Elder Care, Rutgers University Press, 2021

Laughlin, Charles A., “Images of Aging and the Aesthetic of Actuality in Chinese Film: Reportage, Documentary, and the Art of the Real”, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Vol. 31, No. 2 (FALL, 2019), p. 207-248

Montandon, Alain (dir.), Écrire le vieillir, Clermont-Ferrand, PU Blaise Pascal, 2005

Montandon, Alain (dir.), Les mots du vieillir, Clermont-Ferrand, PU Blaise Pascal, 2004

Rochot, Justine, Bandes de vieux : une sociologie des espaces de socialisation de jeunes retraités en Chine urbaine contemporaine, thèse sous la direction d’Isabelle Thireau et Tania Angeloff, EHESS, 2019

Sauveur, Yannick, Les représentations médiatiques de la vieillesse dans la société française contemporaine : ambiguïtés des discours et réalités sociales, Université de Bourgogne, 2011

Silbergeld, Jerome, “Chinese Concepts of Old Age and Their Role in Chinese Painting, Painting Theory, and Criticism”, Art Journal, Vol. 46, No. 2, Old-Age Style (Summer, 1987), p. 103-114

Skagen, Margery Vibe (ed.), Cultural Histories of Ageing: Myths, Plots and Metaphors of the Senescent Self, Routledge, 2021

Small, Helen, The Long Life, Oxford UP, 2010

Yi Zhou 弋舟, 《空巢:我在这世上太孤独》, 上海文艺出版社, 2020


  • Thursday, July 15, 2021


  • vieillesse ; langage ; littérature ; cinéma ; représentation ; France ; Chine


  • Marie Laureillard
    courriel : mlaureillard [at] free [dot] fr

Information source

  • M. Laureillard
    courriel : mlaureillard [at] free [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Old age in China and France through literary and cinematographical discourse and language », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, June 01, 2021, https://calenda.org/881900

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