For literally thousands of years, the Culture of China has inspired people and been a source of awe and excitement for people all over the world. The Chinese culture is rather unique and elegant with elements that are not commonly found in other cultures. Part of the cultures attraction is undoubtedly because it is one of the oldest cultures in the world and had has thousands and thousands of years to evolve into what it is today. It has drawn so much interest that it is integrating with other cultures. Although much of the ancient traditions have been somewhat overcome by various Western influences and modernization, traces of various aspects of the previous cultures still manage to stand the test of time and can still be seen today.
Many changes have occurred in the Chinese Culture over the last decade and the culture is quickly integrating with other cultures as the world becomes more globalized. As a result, cultural items such as art, music, and film generally evolve as the broader culture changes as well. This paper will examine the Chinese film industry and its developments over the last century. Although though this industry had a comparatively slow start, the modern Chinese film industry has become one of the world's leaders. Several Chinese films have found popularity and been exported to foreign markets. Furthermore, the Chinese technological capacity has also made it an ideal place for filmmakers, such as those in the U.S., to outsource some of their own movie production processes to. It was believed that the exponential growth in this industry will continue and media fans from all over the world will experience an increasing variety of Chinese produced films.
The Chinese Film Industry's Development
The development of the Chinese movie industry can be roughly divided into three phases of growth; however some researchers break these down even further by separate generations. Yet many of the generations have only subtle developments so the broader categorization seems more relevant for the scope of this research. The first phase can be thought of as the development of the industry before the 1960s. In this phase the development of Chinese film was comparatively slow when considered against the developments that were taking place in other cultures. The early industry relied on the influence of foreign partners who introduced the technology in China; mainly in Shanghai.
The second phase is from the 1960s to 1990s in which the industry began to develop rather quickly. Film during this period was aided by the rapid advancement in technologies that allowed film makers more capabilities in cinematography. There was also some expanded freedoms granted by the government in this period that allowed films to cover more content than previously allowed. Much of the attention was turned to political events in the period and propaganda was also developed with this from of media. Finally, the 21st century Chinese industry has truly become a global force. Although the Chinese industry has undoubtedly benefited from external influences, much of the materials produced still embrace aspects of the Chinese traditional culture and has had a strong reacceptance from other cultures as well.
Phase One -- Initial Developments
The first film shown to Chinese audience was not actually filmed in China; rather it had been imported to China by U.S. foreigners. During the period from roughly 1896 to the 1920s, this trend continued and the film market in China was mainly consisted of Americans who brought films from the U.S. To play in movie theaters in Shanghai. However, these events helped to spark demand for a Chinese movie industry and it didn't take long for Chinese movie entrepreneurs to identify the possibility of a domestic industry. Yet, the Chinese industry definitely owes some of the credit for its development to external cultures.
The first recorded film that was actually produced in China came about in 1905. The film was made to for the opera by Reng Qingtai, who developed a short film of a famous scene from the Peking opera Dingjunshan. Other films around the same time frame also focused on elements of the Peking opera. It is likely that filmmakers used content from the popular opera because they were still learning how to portray content on the new media. However, the medium continued to develop and by the year 1949 the Chinese film industry was responsible for the production of roughly sixty movies a year that were all filmed in China. Most of the industry at the time was restricted to the Shanghai area, because Shanghai was the economic center of the country with the technology and the citizens with the resources to afford such luxuries.
Figure 2 - Ren Qingtai - Producer of the First Chinese Motion Picture (Cultural China)
In 1949, China was subject to political and economic turmoil as the People's Republic of China began to form. These events had a significant influence on the entire movie industry. Once the new government was established, there was increased opportunities for filmmakers to produce material that was previously strictly regulated by the previous government. In the 1970s, Chinese filmmakers had produced "more than 603 feature films and 8,342 reels of documentaries and newsreels" (Moses). Most of these films, either by choice or by force, were focused the Sino-Japanese War, the Civil War and the miserable life of Chinese people in the past. Even though the state kept control over the stories that were portrayed in the films, there were increased opportunities for movie production compared to the previous period.
Figure 3 - Image still from the Chinese movie: The Underground War (Kushner)
With the imposed restriction set on the content of movies imposed by the new government, the film industry in general was burdened by regulatory agencies and as a consequence lacked the same level of innovation found in other cultures. However, in 1966 and another political uprising work to change this environment, for the worse. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, as it is referred to, annihilated anything that was perceived as related to capitalism, which included the movie industry. As a result of this the Chinese movie industry was virtually destroyed. The industry players that survived were generally too intimidated by the revolutionary forces to produce any films. The only films that were actually produced in this period served some kind of propaganda role to further the revolutionary cause. Anything else that was produced in China at the time that was produced was subject to severe punishment, most likely death.
Figure 4 - The First Chinese Movie Star: Wang Hanlun (The Chinese Mirror)
Phase Two -- Industry Revitalization
In the early 1980s there was retaliation against the revolutionary forces responsible for the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. As a result a new space began to emerge in which the film industry once again could begin to experiment without fear of punishment. The newly formed government in this period began to embrace more modern aspects of the free market. As a result there was an enhanced freedom of expression and the artists who were censored or intimidated were given more tolerance to openly practice their art. The movies developed in the early 1980's focused on the ordinary lives of citizens; a topic that was previously unimaginable.
Chinese government started to carry out the policies of reform and opening up. The policies were helping the film industry to restore from damages and a more flexible political environment was forming. During this period, more and more entertainment styles and film related industries, TV sets also occurred in China. The film industry in China faced competition from other forms of entertainment. In addition, they were also profoundly influenced by new cultural and thoughts from the Western countries.
Phase Three -- The Modern Industry
The trajectory of the modern Chinese industry is accelerating at a remarkable pace. In July 2009, the state council of China released the Cultural Industry Promotion Plan as to further the economic advancement of industries related to the Chinese Culture. Targeting specifically the movie industry, the state council issued its guidelines to promote the prosperity of the Chinese firms in the industry. Although the movie industry had already developed much on its own, the governmental support also accelerated its pace. In 2010, for example, China accounted for nearly ten percent of all global film production and became the third largest producer in the world behind the U.S. And India. Furthermore, was now allowed to form strategic partnerships in the industry and has already arranged joint collaborations with companies in England, German, America, and Canada. Since China is a technological powerhouse with comparatively cheap supplies of highly trained labor, foreign partners were quick to embrace the Chinese firms' participation in joint ventures. Over the coming years, one can expect to find more films produced in the more international style that contains elements of the Chinese culture and heritage.