An Investigation of Chinese National Cinema through the Representation of Nationalism in Chinese Martial Arts Films

Qi Zhang1[1] and Zhouxiang Lu2,t

'Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland ^National University of Ireland Maynooth, Kildare, Ireland


The extent of the film industry’s transformation into a transnational and global business has blurred national cinema boundaries and has consequently made it difficult to define the concept of ‘national cinema’. Indeed, Chinese National Cinema cannot be simplistically understood as a monolithic or immutable entity (Ascarate 2008; Zhang 2004, pp. 1-7; Berry 1998; Lu 1997). It actually encompasses three territories - mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - and there are undeniably significant differences between them. One could argue that, to some extent, people from these territories may share similar Chinese cultural values which are thousands of years old. However, regional variations and the territories’ vastly different histories over the course of the past sixty years have resulted in significant cultural differences among these three territories. Hong Kong was a part of the Province of Guangdong. It became a British colony in 1841 after the Qing government had lost both Opium Wars, and remained under the control of the British government until 1997. Taiwan fell under the governance of the Nationalist Party (Kuomingtang, henceforth KMT) in 1949 when the KMT retreated to this offshore island after losing the civil war to the Communist Party (Chang 2007, p. 404). Despite the Beijing government’s policy of ‘one China’, Taiwan’s status in the international arena has been maintained as one of de facto independence.

Because of these social and historical changes in the first half of the 20th century, it would be contentious to use the term ‘Chinese National Cinema’ to cover all the films produced in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in the past century. As Zhang (2004, pp. 1-7) admitted, a range of social, political and historical factors lead to a certain messiness in the definition of Chinese National Cinema. For the purposes of consistency and clarification, in this study we adopt the definition of ‘Chinese National Cinema’ proposed by Zhang (ibid, p. 5) in order to “cover all films produced in mainland China (including those prior to 1949), Hong Kong and Taiwan.” Adopting Zhang’s (2004) approach also allows this chapter to avoid engaging in the debate on the reconfiguration of the definition of Chinese National Cinema; it will instead focus on how martial arts films, in particular through their portrayals of nationalism, have contributed to the construction of Chinese National Cinema.

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