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A neoliberalizing Chinese cinema: political economy of the Chinese film industry in post-WTO China

Zhu, Xiaoxi (2019) A neoliberalizing Chinese cinema: political economy of the Chinese film industry in post-WTO China. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004044


This thesis aims to investigate the industry restructuration of the Chinese film industry in the context of China integrating into the global neoliberal capitalist system since its WTO entry in 2002. By interrogating the power dynamics between the Party-state, domestic capital and transnational media capital, this thesis explores respective roles each of the three stakeholders have played in shaping the commercialization and marketization of the Chinese film industry. Methodically, this thesis primarily relies on elite interviews with industry professionals, together with critical discourse analysis of one key policy document, and secondary data collected from news outlets, trade publications, industry reports, etc. Drawing on the empirical data, I present four main arguments. First, in light of China’s culture system reform and the evolution of film policies since 2002, the Party-state continues to utilize film as an ideological instrument for consolidating the Party’s hegemonic rule and sustaining its legitimacy. The Party-state proves ingenious in governing the Chinese film industry at the discursive level as China experiencing the integration into global neoliberalism. Second, despite the installation of the market mechanism in the film sector, the Party-state manages to retain control over the Chinese film industry, not only on the ideological front, but also in the economic sense by partaking in the competition with private capital, domestic and foreign. Third, the Chinese film industry has been profoundly transformed by the trend of conglomeration driven by other capital-intensive industry sectors in China, in particular the internet sector. Riding on their explosive success in the new century, several key tech giants seek to build Chinese media conglomerates that are competitive on the global scale. This process is further complicated by the keen participation of transnational media capital, mainly Hollywood players. Co-production film projects best epitomize the transnational collaboration which however, haven’t achieved much success. Fourth, the Chinese film workers have developed professional skills that enable them to navigate between political imperatives, commercial demands, and personal fulfilment. The mental struggle of balancing individual artistic vision with political and commercial constraints is palpable for film practitioners on a daily basis, though to varying degree. One way of coping with the challenge is exercise agency in a highly depoliticized manner, channelling creative energy into filmmaking activities that are either considered politically safe, or in accordance with the official ideologies, in some cases pandering to the Party-state. The fact that Chinese film workers actively transform themselves into depoliticized subjects in their professional work, indicating neoliberalism as a national hegemonic project at its core.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Xiaoxi Zhu
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Meng, Bingchun and Banaji, Shakuntala

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