“Cinema” as a Means of Propaganda in China

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been ruled by the Communist Party of China for a long time. The Communist Party has prevalence not only in politics but also in every aspect of the country. Although China is economically an outward-oriented country, the Communist Party continues to strive for socially keeping the public under control. One of these control mechanisms is cinema. The Communist Party struggles to monopolise film industry and limits release of foreign movies. Although these limitations have gradually been mitigated, they still continue. It is obvious that the Beijing government regards cinema as a means of propaganda, which can affect the public.

Cinema Policy of China

PRC was founded by Mao Zedong in 1949. The Communist Party of China inspired by the Russian Revolution was established in 1921 based on Marxism-Leninism principles. A civil war broke between the Communist Party and Nationalist Party of China (Kuomintang) and it was won by the Communist Party in 1949. Ideologies of the party are generally communism, China’s values and ideas of Mao Zedong.[1]

The Communist Party of China is the biggest party of the world with its over 80 million members. Members of the party are in a privileged state. These members have better employment and education opportunities. As a result of this situation, number of party members has continuously been increasing. Being a member of the party has specific procedures. For example, in order to be a member of the party, two members must swear by this individual and the person must strictly be inspected. People going through this phase are subject to inspection during the first year of membership. During this period, evaluations about this individual are being carried out.[2]

The Communist Party has a strict organisational structure and an authoritarian management system. In fact, the party is efficient in all aspects of social life extending from which lessons will be taught in Chinese schools to how many children a family should have. Therefore, the party not only shapes the politics but also the Chinese society.[3]

In 2018, the Communist Party, which already has a say in television, and other media types, declared that supreme board to which radio, television and other media institutions are affiliated would be abolished and these sectors would directly be connected to an authority in Beijing. Therefore, it is expected that in this new system, further Communist Party propaganda will be displayed on both television and press.[4]

Another means of propaganda used by the party to manipulate society is cinema. According to this, the party allows only a limited number of foreign movies to be released every year in order to “protect the country from external factors”. The Communist Party has introduced China’s film sector to foreign movies by becoming a member of World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001. In this given period, only 20 foreign movies could be released in China. By 2012, the Beijing government increased this number to 34. Most of these movies are Hollywood movies.[5]

In order for these foreign movies to be released in China, they must be checked by Chinese authorities, more clearly by the Communist Party itself. In other words, if film production companies intend to release a movie in China, first of all they need to send this movie’s scenario to relevant institutions in this country. These institutions are generally renowned for censoring these movies. There are specific inspection criteria. Initially, a foreign movie must not oppose China’s values. Besides, movies containing spiritual beings, homosexuality, nudity, religious implications and politic discourse cannot be displayed in China.[6] In addition to this, the Beijing government bans use of certain words in movies. For example, film production company which wished to release “Doctor Strange” movie in China, sent its scenario to China and relevant institutions of the county replaced a Tibetan character with a Celt character. This was due to the fact that the Beijing government do not recognise Tibet. Apart from the word Tibet, China censors the words Tiananmen and Taiwan. In 1989, a group of students peacefully protesting for human rights at Tiananmen Square was forcefully suppressed and thousands lost their lives. On the other hand, Taiwan is a democratic island technically connected to China and yet it is not ruled by a communist party. Therefore, a scenario including these words is exposed to censor by the Beijing government.[7]

Chinese Film Sector and Hollywood

Since China has a population of nearly 1.4 billion and Chinese people are the most theatre-going society following the Americans, foreign film production companies, particularly Hollywood, compete with each other in order to fill in the quota of foreign movies.[8] This is the underlying reason why Hollywood has integrated Chinese characters into its movies in recent years. Hollywood aims at being sympathetic to China through Chinese characters in these movies and releasing these movies by completing strict control checks of the country. Taking into account the fact that only in 2017 movie tickets worth $ 7,9 million were sold in China and the US foreign movie ticket sales increased 7%, underlying reason of Hollywood’s policy can be better understood.[9]

Potential of Chinese film industry has so much affected Hollywood that it no longer characterises antagonists as Chinese. In 2012, a film production company refraining from reactions regarding invasion of an American city by the Chinese Army on the trailer of a movie called “Red Dawn”, spent further $ 1 million for additional visual effects to transform the Chinese Army into the North Korean Army. Again, in “Pixels” movie released in 2015, the Great Wall of China, which was normally supposed to be blown up was replaced with Taj Mahal since the movie would be released in China.[10] In the light of these examples, it can be stated that the Communist Party affects not only the Chinese film industry but also Hollywood.

Even the Communist Party has begun to capture Hollywood film industry. The Beijing government has started to finance famous American film series recently known as “Blockbuster” and purchased USA based film production companies. In addition, China-based pro-government film companies began to make movies in collaboration with Hollywood. The Beijing administration supervises these movies by sending their authorities to the sets of the film. Besides, in recent years the Communist Party has increased the budget it allocates for film industry. Therefore, Chinese movies will soon reach to a level of competing with Hollywood movies. In economic aspect, while Chinese film sector was worth $8,6 billion in 2018, American film sector’s worth was $11 billion. However, it is expected that thanks to cinema policy of the Beijing government, the film industry of China will economically surpass American film sector.[11]

China has been pursuing a smart policy about cinema, which it regards as a means of major propaganda. When Beijing, which primarily limited foreign movies in order to save the country from external impacts, finally understood that this could not be a solution, it has begun to firstly change Hollywood sector and then to capture it. On the other hand, Hollywood cannot resist against China’s population and powerful economy. By capturing the American film sector, the Communist Party has both reduced the foreign impact on movies that will be released in its country and found a powerful means to make propaganda.

[1]  Eleanor Albert-Beina Xu, “The Chinese Communist Party”, Council On Foreign Relations,, (Date of Accession: 19.12.2018).

[2] “Milyarlık Çin’i Yönetmek: Komünist Parti”, BBC,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2018).

[3] Ibid                                                                                                                   

[4] Patrick Frater, “China to Put Media Under Cabinet-Level Control, Abolish SAPPRFT”, Variety,, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[5] “Hollywood, Çin’deki İthal Film Kotasını Aştı”, NTV,,1wdqnK5jtEa-YVNPaGq8IA?_ref=infinite, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2018).

[6] Ilaria Maria Sala, “No Ghosts. No Gay Love Stories. No Nudity: Tales Of Film-Making in China”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 19.12.2018).

[7] Tim Doescher, “Heritage Explains: How China Is Taking Control of Hollywood”, The Heritage Foundation,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2018).

[8] Ibid

[9] “Hollywood Says China Will Soon Be World’s Top Film Market, As Ticket Sales Overtake US-Canada in 2018”, South China Morning Post,, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[10] Hannah Beech, “How China Is Remaking the Global Film Industry”, Time,, (Date of Accession: 19.12.2018).

[11] Doescher.

Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ was born in 1994 in Adana. He completed his primary and high school education in Osmaniye. Kıldiş, who graduated from Gazi University International Relations Department in 2016, has been continuing his graduate education at Gazi University in the Department of Middle East and African Studies since 2017 and writes on "Syrian Refugees and the Rising Far Right in Europe". During his undergraduate studies, Kıldiş did his internship at the Economic Development Foundation in Istanbul, he did Erasmus internship at TÜSİAD in Brussels and an internship at ANKASAM strategic analysis center in Ankara. The author studies immigration, Islamophobia, the far right and the European Union.