Evolution of Chinese Propaganda Cinema, From The Red Detachment of Women to Wolf Warrior
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Chinese cinema in the 1980s, 1990s, and the first decade of the 2000s produced countless unforgettable films.
The directors of the fifth generation such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, and later of the sixth generation such as Jia Zhangke, Wang Xiaoshuai, and Lou Ye, have won several awards at major film festivals thanks to movies able to address universal themes or documenting the tumultuous recent past of the country.
But something has changed in recent years.
The Chinese market has become incredibly lucrative and has forced many American production companies to compromise. To gain access to it, they have set aside certain themes, considered too sensitive by the Chinese authorities.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has also realized the exceptional communicative power of cinema.
Mainstream cinema has therefore become a propaganda tool to convey an image of a modern, courageous, indomitable country that is not afraid to be a protagonist on the world stage.
In the last few years, in particular, countless films have been made that glorify the Chinese military forces, or the resilience of the Chinese people, who firmly resist any adversity or threat. Chinese foreign policy itself has been dubbed Wolf Warrior Diplomacy, precisely because of the militarist-themed action film Wolf Warrior 2, China’s equivalent of Rambo 3.
Below is a list of more or less recent films that have been very successful at home, celebrating China’s bravery and ingenuity. The list could go on and on, but we’ve chosen a few of the most representative films.
By following the links, you can find more information, trailers, images, and more.
1921 (2021) by Huang Jianxin, Zheng Dasheng
An epic about the exploits of the Communist Party in its early days. The film is released to celebrate the party’s 100th anniversary.
Cliff Walkers (2021) by Zhang Yimou
Set in the puppet state of Manchukuo in the 1930s, the film follows four Communist party special agents who return to China after receiving training in the Soviet Union. Together, they embark on a secret mission code-named “Utrennya”.
The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021) by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Dante Lam
In the winter of 1950, in the icy and snowy area of Changjin Lake, a bloody battle between the United States and China was about to begin.
Days and Nights in Wuhan (2021) by Cao Jinling
Days and Nights in Wuhan is a 2021 propaganda documentary film detailing the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, Hubei, China. The film was co-produced by the Chinese Communist Party and the Hubei Propaganda Department.
My People, My Country (2019) by Hao Ning, Chen Kaige, Zhang Yibai, Xu Zheng, Xue Xiaolu, Guan Hu, Muye Wen
My People, My Country is a 2019 Chinese seven-part anthology drama film, consisting of seven segments directed by seven directors. The film was released in China on September 30, 2019, to commemorate the establishment of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Operation Red Sea (2018) by Dante Lam
The film is loosely based on the evacuation of 225 foreign nationals and almost 600 Chinese citizens from Yemen’s southern port of Aden during the 2015 Yemeni Civil War.
Amazing China (2018) by Tie Wei
A propaganda documentary film displaying China’s achievements in science, technology, industry, and poverty reduction since Xi Jinping took the power of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.
Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) by Wu Jing
The film is the sequel to the famous Wolf Warrior and follows the adventures of Leng Feng, a lethal agent of the Chinese armed forces who fights against the injustices in Africa caused by Western mercenaries.
Wolf Warrior (2015) by Wu Jing
A Chinese special force soldier with extraordinary marksmanship is confronted by a group of deadly foreign mercenaries who are hired to assassinate him by a vicious drug lord.
The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2015) by Tsui Hark
Based on the real-life story of an incident in 1946 during the Chinese Civil War, the film involves a communist reconnaissance team soldier Yang Zirong who disguised himself as a bandit to infiltrate a local gang of bandits, eventually helping the main communist force to destroy the bandits.
Beginning of the Great Revival (2011) by Han Sanping, Huang Jianxin
A chronicle of the events that led to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Founding of a Republic (2009) by Huang Jianxin, Han Sanping
The Founding of a Republic is a Chinese historical film commissioned by China’s film regulator and made by the state-owned China Film Group (CFG) to mark the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Chunmiao (1975) by Tingduo Liang, Xie Jin, Bili Yan
Chunmiao is a 1975 Chinese film directed by Xie Jin, Yan Bili, and Liang Tingduo, starring Li Xiuming as the titular village girl who became a barefoot doctor through political struggle.
Sparkling Red Star (1974) by Ang Li, Jun Li
The story of Pan Dongzi, a teenager and son of a Communist army officer. When the father is called off, he leaves Dongzi a red star as a symbol of the cause. Sparkling Red Star is one of the very few films produced in China during the Cultural Revolution. The film is a mix between a war film, a children’s film, and a musical.
Little 8th Route Army (1973) by Lei You
Little 8th Route Army is a stop motion Chinese animated puppet film. It is also referred to as “Little 8th Route Heroes” and “Small 8th Route Army”. The film was produced and distributed while the cultural revolution was still underway. The plot is based on the 8th Army Division of the National Revolutionary Army, when it was under the control of the Chinese Communist Party instead of the opponent Kuomintang.
Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy (1970) by Xie Tieli
Taking Tiger Mountain was one of the very first model films produced during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The movie was directed by Xie Tieli and was based on a contemporary Beijing opera, one of the eight model plays allowed during the Cultural Revolution. The story is based on the novel Lin hai xue yuan (林海雪原), and tells the story of an incident in 1946, during the Chinese Civil War.
The Red Detachment of Women (1970) by Pan Wenzhan, Fu Jie
Adapted from the earlier film of the same title, The Red Detachment of Women is a Chinese ballet that premiered in 1964 and was one of the Eight Model Operas which dominated the national stage during the Cultural Revolution. In the 1930s, on Hainan Island, the heroine, Wu Qinghua, escapes from Nan Batian, an evil landlord, and becomes the leader of a women’s militia, under the guidance of Hong Changqing, a Communist Party secretary.
The East is Red (1965) by Ping Wang
Pre-Cultural Revolution propaganda at its most lavish, this model opera depicts the history and evolution of the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong from its founding in July 1921 to the establishment of “New China” in 1949.
Battle on Shangganling Mountain (1956) by Meng Sha, Shan Lin
Battle on Shangganling Mountain follows a group of Chinese People’s Volunteer Army soldiers who are holding Triangle Hill for several days against US forces.
Leather with Feather (1954) by Hui Shi
The movie was targeted at children, Letter with Feather focuses on a young boy who, through his wits, delivers an important message to the 8th Route Army while evading Imperial Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
National Customs (1935) by Zhu Shi-Lin, Lo Ming-Yau
This is a rather peculiar film because this time it is a propaganda film for the Chinese Nationalist Party. Chiang Kai-shek had launched the New Life Movement (新 生活 運動) in 1934. Lianhua Film Studio decided to make the film after being accused of producing mainly left-wing films.