The twenty-first century has been hailed as the Chinese century by economic observers. Western academia has invested much resource to the study of China’s political and economic systems. This project seeks to redress this imbalance by turning to the role of art and culture (in particular, film) as a form of “soft power” (Nye, 2004) capable of shaping both the region’s self-image and others’ perception of Chinese culture, which has varying impacts on local, national, regional and global levels.

The phenomenal success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) is a clear example of how a quintessential Chinese film genre of wuxia (knight-errant swordplay) can transcend national boundaries to become a global imaginary. This project will pay particular attention to aspects of production, consumption and imagination that have facilitated the transnational travel of Chinese films in the twenty-first century.

Chinese cinema has always been transnational as well as multiple, given the broad geography it encompasses, from the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to countries and regions across the world with varying sizes of Chinese population, from the substantial (Singapore, Malaysia) to the marginal (United States, Australia, Europe). All of these locales produce and consume Chinese films, and this project is especially interested in tracing the transnational flows of Chinese cinema in multiple directions.

In the last decade Chinese cinemas have become among the most vibrant cinemas in the world. This project will focus on institutions, agents and mechanisms facilitating the production and consumption of these films, and their underlying dynamic and politics of imagination.

By examining films from the mainstream (such as the careers of directors John Woo and Ang Lee and star Jackie Chan working in Hollywood) to the art-house and independent sector (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, Wong Kar-wai, Jia Zhangke), to emerging directors from Singapore and Malaysia (Royston Tan, Tan Chui Mui), it seeks to also explore questions of migration and economic inequality as well as issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and language that have gained new urgency in a globalising world. It will also pay attention to the role of digital technology and new media, as these have allowed filmmakers to better circumvent state censorship and audiences to access these films more easily.

This is an International Networks project funded by The Leverhulme Trust.