The Museum of the Moving Image has posted a two-part documentary about Chinese cinema’s “Seventeen Years” between the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. From the introduction:
On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded. The ruling Communist Party, led by Chairman Mao Zedong, set forth on a mission to create a new nation, liberated from Western and Japanese imperialism as well as ancient feudal culture. The People’s Republic would assert China’s independence, not just politically and economically but culturally. The founding of a national cinema, one that was boldly and uniquely Chinese, was critical to this mission.
From the beginning, Party leaders understood the power of movies to captivate the masses and sway them to adopt their ambitious social programs. The challenge was to devise a cinema that would convey these messages effectively across the nation. By 1949, only a tiny fraction of Chinese had even seen a movie, as theaters were mostly in the big cities. Cinema had existed in China since the start of the century, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai, but the new regime rejected almost all pre-existing films as bourgeois. The new cinema of the People’s Republic had to be simple in concept and straightforward in execution to appeal to as many people as possible.