Discover Chinese Culture

China is well-known for its exciting culture, especially in the arts and cinema. Mainland China’s new wave of film was most noticeable of 1970s cinema in the country. The Beijing Film Academy was shut throughout this revolution of culture. But the graduates that followed it – sometimes known as the “fifth generation” – could count among their number Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. These are the filmmakers who are currently associated with China’s cinematic revival.

Chen’s Yellow of Earth in the early eighties shows the ambivalence with which these new directors dealt with their country’s troubled past. The movie depicts the life of the poor under communism but in a surreal and subtle way. The girl in the film wishes to flee the hardship of her existence and Communism offers her hope, but Chen and his cinematographer – Zhang Yimou – use Buddhist and Taoist ideas about empty space, about the good existing in bad and vice versa, to undercut Maoist absolutes about how society should be. Yellow of Earth – and Zhang Yunzhao’s One and Eight, also of 1982 – showed human and spatial qualities instead of political and social ones. This combination fascinated Western eyes and Yellow of Earth was celebrated around the world.

Political cinema

Other films followed in this vein with 4th Generation directors such as Xie Fei charting social change in the nineties with real subtlety. A Chinese New Wave was subsequently born and Zhang Yimou became its standard bearer. Uncertainty and scroll-like composition and emptiness replaced the kinetic, idealistic movies of socialist realism. China was discussing where it was and in which direction it was going.

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