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Chinese Cinemas in the 21st Century: Production, Consumption, Imagination

The twenty-first century has been hailed as the Chinese century by economic observers. Western academia has invested much resource to the study of China's political and economic systems. This project seeks to redress this imbalance by turning to the role of art and culture (in particular, film) as a form of "soft power" (Nye, 2004) capable of shaping both the region’s self-image and others' perception of Chinese culture, which has varying impacts on local, national, regional and global levels.

The phenomenal success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) is a clear example of how a quintessential Chinese film genre of wuxia (knight-errant swordplay) can transcend national boundaries to become a global imaginary. This project will pay particular attention to aspects of production, consumption and imagination that have facilitated the transnational travel of Chinese films in the twenty-first century.

Chinese cinema has always been transnational as well as multiple, given the broad geography it encompasses, from the People's Republic of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to countries and regions across the world with varying sizes of Chinese population, from the substantial (Singapore, Malaysia) to the marginal (United States, Australia, Europe). All of these locales produce and consume Chinese films, and this project is especially interested in tracing the transnational flows of Chinese cinema in multiple directions.

In the last decade Chinese cinemas have become among the most vibrant cinemas in the world. This project will focus on institutions, agents and mechanisms facilitating the production and consumption of these films, and their underlying dynamic and politics of imagination.

By examining films from the mainstream (such as the careers of directors John Woo and Ang Lee and star Jackie Chan working in Hollywood) to the art-house and independent sector (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, Wong Kar-wai, Jia Zhangke), to emerging directors from Singapore and Malaysia (Royston Tan, Tan Chui Mui), it seeks to also explore questions of migration and economic inequality as well as issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and language that have gained new urgency in a globalising world. It will also pay attention to the role of digital technology and new media, as these have allowed filmmakers to better circumvent state censorship and audiences to access these films more easily.

This is an International Networks project funded by The Leverhulme Trust.

The network aims to:

  • facilitate an international exchange of expertise that crosses disciplinary boundaries and disseminates research findings across geographical regions;
  • explore methodologies and conceptual frameworks that will challenge established models and break new ground;
  • make available opportunities to meet filmmakers, producers and festival organisers as well as to gain access to local archives and films;
  • promote collaborative research projects through sustained interaction between scholars at these meetings.


How does the imagination of self and other drive the production and consumption of Chinese films? How do films, along with their styles, stars and genres, travel from one region to another? In Southeast Asia, for example, a younger generation of directors has displayed stylistic affinities with Chinese filmmakers who have achieved auteur status in world cinema. Why do they choose to draw inspiration from them and not from others?


What are the challenges facing Chinese filmmakers in the production of their films? What are the roles of the state and business, film festivals and distribution companies in producing film? In Europe, for instance, art institutions such as the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay have commissioned Taiwan-based auteurs to make films in France. Why do these European institutions decide to produce films by Chinese directors?


Who consumes Chinese films and why? How has the mode of consumption of films changed with the advent of digital technology and the Internet? To take an example, in the US, the director Quentin Tarantino has become a key figure in introducing East Asian popular cinema to a wider audience. How has this affected the consumption of these films in the west and what impact does it have in the future production of East Asian (in particular, Chinese) films?

This project will bring together, for the first time, scholars based in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, and from a range of disciplines, including film studies, media and communications, comparative literature and cultural studies.

Network partners include:


23 - 24 January 2013, University of Amsterdam & International Film Festival Rotterdam

  • Day 1 workshop with talks by leading academics and a roundtable discussion with film festival researchers.
  • Keynote address by Professor Julian Stringer (University of Nottingham), “The Consumption of Chinese Cinema at International Film Festivals: Three Propositions”
  • Closing address by Professor Patricia Pisters,”Madness, Miracles, Machines – Living in a delirious world without walls.”
  • Day 2 roundtable discussion with film festival programmers.
  • Attendance at International Film Festival Rotterdam for viewings of festival films and discussions between academics, directors, and programmers.


9 - 11 July 2012, University of Exeter

  • A launch event featuring a keynote address by Professor Rey Chow (Duke University), "China as Documentary in the Age of Hypermediality: Some Basic Questions."
  • A one-day conference on the 10th July focussing on the role of imagination in the production and consumption of Chinese cinemas in the 21st century.
  • A one-day workshop on the 11th July for postgraduates working on Chinese cinemas.


Amsterdam, January 2013


Singapore, July 2013


Taiwan, December 2013