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Cinema of China
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Cinema of China

The history of Chinese cinema has three separate threads of development:

Table of contents
1 Mainland China
2 Hong Kong
3 Taiwan
4 Some famous actors and filmmakers
5 External links

Mainland China

Motion pictures were introduced to China in 1896, but the film industry was not started until 1917. During the 1920s film technicians from the United States trained Chinese technicians in Shanghai, an early filmmaking center, and American influence continued to be felt there for the next two decades. In the 1930s and 1940s, several socially and politically important films were produced.

The film industry continued to develop after 1949. In the 17 years between the founding of the People's Republic of China and the Cultural Revolution, 603 feature films and 8,342 reels of documentaries and newsreels were produced, sponsored as Communist propaganda by the government. The first wide-screen film was produced in 1960. Animated films using a variety of folk arts, such as papercuts, shadow plays, puppetry, and traditional paintings, also were very popular for entertaining and educating children.

During the Cultural Revolution, the film industry was severely restricted. Most previous films were banned, and only a few new ones were produced. In the years immediately following the Cultural Revolution, the film industry again flourished as a medium of popular entertainment. Domestically produced films played to large audiences, and tickets for foreign film festivals sold quickly.

In the 1980s the film industry fell on hard times, faced with the dual problems of competition from other forms of entertainment and concern on the part of the authorities that many of the popular thriller and martial arts films were socially unacceptable. In January 1986 the film industry was transferred from the Ministry of Culture to the newly formed Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television to bring it under "stricter control and management" and to "strengthen supervision over production."

Beginning in the mid-late 1980s, the rise of the so-called fifth generation of Chinese filmmakers brought increased popularity of Chinese cinema abroad. Directors such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige produced works such as Farewell My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern which were not only acclaimed by Chinese cinema-goers but by the Western arthouse audience.

In 1999, the multi-national production Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon achieved massive success at the Western box office despite being disregarded by Chinese cinema-goers as pandering to Western tastes. Nevertheless, it provided an introduction to Chinese cinema for many and increased the popularity of many Chinese films among Westerners which may have otherwise been relatively unknown.

The recent era has seen the "return of the amateur filmmaker"(Jia Zhangke, director of Xiao Wu and Unknown Pleasures) as state censorship policies has produced an edgy underground film movement loosely referred to as the sixth generation (from the number of generations since the '49 revolution). These films are shot quickly and cheaply which produces a documentary feel: long takes, hand held camera, ambient sound (see cinema verite). Many films are joint ventures and projects with international investment.

Hong Kong

The first Hong Kong film was Zhuangzi Tests His Wife in 1913. The director was Lai Man-Wai, Father of Hong Kong Cinema, who also played the wife himself. But the Hong Kong film industry did not take off until after World War II.

During the 1990s, the Hong Kong film industry underwent a significant decline, exacerbated by the Asian economic crisis which dried up traditional sources of film finance. Revenues generated by the Hong Kong motion picture industry halved during this period. Also Hollywood in the United States attracted popular movie figures such as John Woo, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat to make movies directly for the U.S. domestic market.

In an effort to halt the decline of the local industry, the Hong Kong Government in April 2003 introduced a Film Guarantee Fund as an incentive to local banks to become involved in the motion picture industry. The guarantee operates to secure a percentage of monies loaned by banks to film production companies. The Fund has received a mixed reception from industry participants, and less than enthusiastic reception from financial institutions who perceive investment in local films as high risk ventures with little collateral. Film guarantee legal documents commissioned by the Hong Kong Government in late April 2003 are based on Canadian documents, which have limited relevance to the local industry.

In the 2000s, there have been some bright spots, including hits such as Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer which broke new ground in the use of special effects.

See also: Hong Kong in films, Heroic bloodshed, Emperor Entertainment Group


In the 1970s, the Taiwanese film industry was heavily influenced by the Mandarin movies produced in Hong Kong.

Another thread in Taiwanese movies was that of historical realistic tragedy which was typified by the film City of Sadness, directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. This genre of movie began to be popular in the late 1980s with the relaxation of martial law which allowed film makers to deal with previously politically taboo subjects such as the Japanese occupation and the relationship between local Taiwanese and the mainlander-dominated KMT government.

Some famous actors and filmmakers

See also : History of cinema

External links