SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

Cinema and Performance in China: Critical and Historical Approaches

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

This module examines the history of mainland Chinese cinema from the so-called Golden Age of the 1930s, through the Maoist period, to the postsocialist era, including classic masterpieces of the new Chinese cinema of the 1980s, independent and urban cinema of the 1990s, as well as documentary filmmaking and commercial blockbusters. The module takes an innovative, interdisciplinary approach and situates Chinese film in its wider cultural context, also in relation to developments in other Sinophone regions, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, and global cinematic and performance trends. Although cinema provides the main focus and unifying thread of the module, avant-garde art and performance and intermedial experiments involving film, video and modern and traditional theatre are also drawn in to produce a more revealing picture of how different artistic discourses interact in the Chinese cultural scene.

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Cinema and Performance in China

The syllabus is regularly updated to ensure that it keeps pace with China’s changing film industry, and provides students with an opportunity to explore a variety of rare and more recent materials alongside established classics.

There is no language requirement for this module, as all films will be made available subtitled in English. This module is available as an open option.  Students taking the module Chinese Cultures on Screen and Stage are restricted from taking this module due to content overlap.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. gain a comprehensive knowledge of the history, main trends and key critical debates relating to Chinese cinema and performance since the early twentieth century
  2. have a general knowledge of different theoretical and critical methods for approaching film and performance and will be able to situate and assess cinematic and performance works within their cultural, social, and political context of production and reception
  3. strengthen their skills in research and essay writing and learnt how to extract and process information from primary and secondary sources (e.g., cinematic/visual materials and related criticism) and to combine the two


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

  • Week 1: Introduction
  • Week 2: The Golden Age of Shanghai Cinema
  • Week 3: Chinese Cinema Under Mao
  • Week 4: The New Waves I: The “Fifth Generation”
  • Week 5: The New Waves II: The “Sixth Generation” and Urban Cinema
  • Week 6: Reading Week
  • Week 7: Women's Cinema
  • Week 8: Commercialism and Mass Entertainment: The New Year Film (Hesuipian)
  • Week 9: The New Documentary Movement and Avant-garde Performance
  • Week 10: Chinese Experimental Theatre from Avant-garde to “Pop Avant-garde”
  • Week 11: “Transnational Chinese Theatre(s)” - Cross-Border and Cross-Media Exchanges in Greater China

Method of assessment

A reaction paper, short film analysis or video presentation of 800 words/800 words/6 minutes to be submitted on day 5, week 7 in the term of teaching (15%); a 20 minute quiz during week 11 in the term of teaching (15%) an essay of 2500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, of the term following that in which the module is taught (70%).

Suggested reading

  1. Cui Shuqin, “Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage: The (Im)possible Engagement between Feminism and Postmodernism”. Cinema Journal 39: 4 (Summer 2000), 60-80.
  2. Harris, Kristine, “The New Woman Incident: Image, Subject, and Dissent in 1930s Shanghai Film Culture”. In Sheldon Lu, ed., Transnational Chinese Cinema: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997, 277-302.
  3. Chi, Robert, “The Red Detachment of Women: Resenting, Regendering, Remembering”. In Chris Berry, ed., Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes. London: BFI, 2003, 152-159.
  4. Silbergeld, Jerome, “Drowning on Dry Land: Yellow Earth and the Traditionalism of the ‘Avant-garde’”. In Jerome Silbergeld, China into Film: Frames of Reference in Contemporary Chinese Cinema. London: Reaktion, 1999, 15-52.
  5. Lin Xiaoping, “New Chinese Cinema of the ‘Sixth Generation’: A Distant Cry of Forsaken Children”, Third Text 16: 3 (2002), 261-284.
  6. Dai Jinhua, “‘Human, Woman, Demon’: A Woman’s Predicament”. In Cinema and Desire: Feminist Marxism and Cultural Politics. Eds. Jing Wang and Tani Barlow. London: Verso, 2002.
  7. Kong Shuyu, “Big Shot from Beijing: Feng Xiaogang’s He Sui Pian and Contemporary Chinese Commercial Film”. Asian Cinema 14: 1 (Spring/Summer 2003), 175-187.
  8. Pickowicz Paul G. and Zhang Yingjin, eds., From Underground to Independent: Alternative Film Culture in Contemporary China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. (Chapter by Chris Berry)
  9. Ferrari, Rossella, “The Avant-garde Is Dead, Long Live The (Pop) Avant-garde! Theoretical Reconfigurations in Contemporary Chinese Theatre”. positions: asia critique, 20: 4 (Winter 2012), 1127–1157.
  10. Ferrari, Rossella, Pop Goes the Avant-Garde: Experimental Theater in Contemporary China. London: Seagull Books, 2012. (chapter 4).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules