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China’s cultureless revolution

Popular culture is lagging behind real life in the new China, as political control over mass communication remains strict. James Harding explains how the film industry, in particular, experiences the tension at the heart of modern China: a liberalising economy within a one-party state

By James Harding   January 1998

The old cathay cinema in downtown Shanghai is in a sorry state. The art deco fa?ade has been tarted up with green neon lighting; the styrofoam is popping out of the grubby seats inside. The sound system crackles, the projector is faulty, the auditorium is dank and all but empty. The films are equally drab: heavy on political and patriotic content, most films still reek of a government propaganda department which treats the cinema as a means of educating the masses, rather than entertaining them. “There are no good movies being made in China,” says Zhang Yimou, director of films…

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