SOAS University of London

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

Chinese Cultures on Screen and Stage

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3, Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 1

This module examines the development of mainland Chinese cinema from the so-called golden age of Shanghai cinema in the 1930s, through the Maoist era and the Cultural Revolution, to the postsocialist period. It surveys the cinematic new waves of the 1980s, urban and independent cinema of the 1990s, documentary filmmaking, and commercial blockbusters, among other examples.

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Chinese Cultures on Screen and Stage

The module takes an interdisciplinary approach and situates mainland Chinese cinema in its wider cultural context, in relation to parallel developments in other Sinophone regions, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as global trends and other arts and media. Although cinema provides the primary focus and unifying thread of the module, avant-garde and intercultural theatre, indigenous performing arts genres, and intermedial experiments involving performance, film, and video are also explored to provide a more revealing picture of the interactions of multiple aesthetic discourses in the Chinese cultural scene.  Students will also read and translate relevant Chinese-language texts, such as play scripts, screenplays, and critical essays.

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

This module is designed for students with knowledge of Chinese language and culture at intermediate and advanced level. It constitutes one of the main language-based disciplinary options in years 3 and 4 of the Chinese BA degree programmes for those students wishing to focus on modern and contemporary China studies.  


Chinese language and culture at intermediate and advanced level.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  1. understand the connections between Chinese film and theatre since the early twentieth century
  2. gain a comprehensive knowledge of the history, key trends, genres, and critical debates in Chinese-language cinemas and performance cultures
  3. be able to situate and assess cinematic and theatrical works within their cultural, social, and political context of production and reception
  4. have a general understanding of different theoretical approaches and critical methods in film and theatre studies and demonstrate an ability to engage them in the analysis and interpretation of a range of cinematic and performance texts
  5. read screenplays, dramatic scripts, reviews, critical essays and other relevant texts in simplified and traditional Chinese and translate them into English
  6. strengthen their skills in research and essay writing based on English and Chinese-language primary and secondary sources


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


  1. Introduction: Contextualizing Chinese Film and Theatre Studies
  2. Cinema and Modernity: New Women in 1930s Shanghai
  3. Revolutionary Screens and Stages of Maoist China
  4. New Chinese Cinemas: Visuality, Ethnography, and the “Fifth Generation”
  5. Postsocialism, Independent Cinema, and the Urban Generation
  6. Reading Week
  7. The New Documentary Movement and Avant-garde Performance
  8. Modern Chinese Drama: Intermediality, Adaptation, and Subverting the Classics
  9. Chinese Experimental Theatre from Avant-garde to “Pop Avant-garde”
  10. Transnational Chinese Theatre(s): Cross-Border and Cross-Media Intersections in Sinophone Performance Cultures
  11. (Trans-)Asia as Method, Theatre, and the Politics of History

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 (using original language sources) or critical commentary to an original-language text to be submitted on day 5, week 2, in the term following that in which the module is taught (70%).

Suggested reading

  • Lu, Sheldon Hsiao-peng. “Notes on Four Major Paradigms in Chinese-language Film Studies”, Journal of Chinese Cinemas 6: 1(2012), 15–25.
  • 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.
  • Marchetti, Gina, “Two Stage Sisters: The Blossoming of a Revolutionary Aesthetic”. Jump Cut 34 (March 1989): 95-106.
  • 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.
  • Zhu Ping, “Destruction, Moral Nihilism and the Poetics of Debris in Jia Zhangke’s Still Life”, Visual Anthropology, 24: 4 (2011): 318–328.
  • Wang Qi, “Performing Documentation: Wu Wenguang and the Performative Turn of New Chinese Documentary”, in Yingjin Zhang, ed., A Companion to Chinese Cinema, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
  • Qin Liyan, “The Intertwinement of Chinese Film and Literature: Choices and Strategies in Adaptations”, in Yingjin Zhang, ed., A Companion to Chinese Cinema, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
  • Ferrari, Rossella, Pop Goes the Avant-Garde: Experimental Theater in Contemporary China. London: Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2012.
  • Ferrari, Rossella, “Journey(s) to the East—Travels, Trajectories, and Transnational Chinese Theatre(s)”. Postcolonial Studies, 13: 4 (2010), 351-366.
  • Li, Ruru, (ed.), Staging China: New Theatres in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules