SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia

Modern Chinese Film and Theatre (MA)

Module Code:
Taught in:
Term 2

Chinese film is big business, both in terms of the box office and the academic industry of books, journals, and university programmes that it has inspired. Chinese studies departments now routinely run courses on cinematic China, with the familiar “greats” of Fifth Generation filmmaking taking pride of place in the curriculum, followed closely by the impressive achievements of the Sixth and Post-Sixth generations. This course takes a more innovative, interdisciplinary approach, and situates Chinese film in its wider cultural context. Although cinema provides the unifying thread of the course, experimental theatre, avant-garde art, and popular texts are all drawn in to create a more revealing picture of how different cultural discourses interact on the Chinese scene.

The course is structured around different moments in China’s recent cultural history – from the root-seeking movement to avant-gardism, and from new realism to the seemingly unstoppable march of the popular – and it analyses how these impulses have articulated themselves across a range of interlinked cultural forms. This focus on different artistic movements allows for a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of Chinese film than that provided by approaches based on themes or the oeuvre of individual directors. The syllabus is regularly updated so as to ensure that it keeps pace with China’s changing film industry; and alongside several established classics, it gives students an opportunity to explore a variety of rarer and more recent materials.


The course is deliberately wide in scope and is suitable for students from a range of academic backgrounds. For students from Chinese-speaking countries or graduates of Chinese studies programmes, the course offers training in film theory and methodology, and provides a point of entry into one of the most exciting and fast-moving disciplines in the China field. The course also welcomes students – with or without a film studies background – who wish to study film from mainland China alongside some of the many screen studies options available at SOAS. No knowledge of Chinese is required (all films screened are subtitled in English), and extensive contextualization is provided throughout.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the course, students can expect to be well-versed in approaches, methodologies, and theories of cinema, and to have acquired skills in applying these models to the interpretation of film from mainland China. Students will also have acquired the background knowledge necessary to “read” these films in the political, social, and cultural context of their production.  

Graduates of the course can expect to use their skills in a range of arenas. Academic research, TV and media, journalism, professional involvement in the film industry, and advertising rank among the possibilities, but the course also provides general research skills that can be put to work in a variety of other environments.


4 hours per week, of which 2 hours are for film-screening and 2 hours for seminar-based lecture and discussion.

Method of assessment

One 2,000 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 7 of the term in which the course is taught (i.e. after reading week) (30%) and one 4,500 - 5,000 word essay to be submitted on day 5, week 1 of the following term (i.e. Term 2 if the course is taught in Term 1, or Term 3 if the course is taught in Term 2) (70%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive reading list will be available to students at the beginning of the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules