John A. Lent and Faye Zhengxing
The interest in and importance of studying Chinese cinema may lie in Paul Clark's observation: "What has happened to the newest art in the oldest culture illuminates much about both the nation and the medium." Various studies of the Chinese cinema seem to have reached the consensus that Chinese cinema has never been an independent form of art. Instead, during wars and within campaigns, "film has been simply a political tool in the hands of the national leadership."1
The development of Chinese cinema, examined from the perspective of the relationship between the medium and its cultural context, can be divided into periods of Chinese cinema in the early days, during the Anti-Japanese and Civil Wars, after the Communist Party takeover in 1949, in the Cultural Revolution, and during the modernization drive.
The literal translation of the Chinese characters for film "Dianying" is "electric shadows." This is appropriate, as historical records indicate that about two thousand years ago, the Chinese were fascinated by mobile shadows or images. In the Han dynasty (around 206 B.C.), a necromancer named Li Shaoxi revived the image of one of Emperor Wudi's concubines by inscribing her figure on a transparent stone that was then placed between a silk screen and a burning candle. Chinese shadow plays might have emanated from this early fascination, but, for sure, the "electric shadows" came in from the West.
In 1896, one of the several Lumière cameramen-showmen introduced the medium to Chinese audiences when some French films were presented as a kind of teahouse variety show in Shanghai.2 Later, more films found their way