In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Transnational Chinese Cinemas

  • Introduction
  • Transnational Film Studies as a Model and a Critical Paradigm
  • Transnationalism and Chinese Film History
  • Transnational Film Industry and Transnational Media Studies
  • Types and Genres of Transnational Chinese Films
  • Transnational Cinema and Transnational Visuality
  • Geographies of Transnational Cinema
  • Transnational Cinema as World Cinema
  • Transnational Cinema and Gender
  • Transnational Auteur Studies and Star Studies

Chinese Studies Transnational Chinese Cinemas
Xuesong Shao, Sheldon Lu
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0183


The term “transnational Chinese cinemas” first appeared in 1997 in the anthology Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. It was coined, theorized, and introduced in the book by editor Sheldon Lu. That was also the first time the phrase “transnational cinema” was used as a book title in world film studies. The immediate occasion for the rise of this concept had to do with the cultural landscape of Greater China and of the world in general in the post-Cold War period. Film coproduction across national and regional borders became a possibility again and was done more frequently. In the case of the Greater Chinese region of the mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, filmmakers began to cooperate across the Taiwan Straits to make joint productions; they secured funding and established channels of circulation beyond their immediate territories. Simply put, transnational cinema is a cinema of border crossing, and transnational film studies transcends the unit of the nation state in film analysis. It can be understood as a model of film studies, a critical paradigm, a description of the film industry, and a type of film. The full methodological, historical, and critical implications of transnational Chinese film studies are first outlined in the introduction to the book Transnational Chinese Cinemas. Transnationalism is grasped at the following levels: First, the split of China into the mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in modern history and consequently the coexistence of three competing national and local Chinese cinemas; second, the globalization of the production, circulation, and consumption of Chinese film in the age of transnational capitalism since the 1990s; third, the representation and questioning of “China” and “Chineseness” in filmic discourse itself—namely, the cross-examination of the national, cultural, political, ethnic, and gender identity of individuals and communities in the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese diaspora; fourth, a re-viewing of and revisiting the history of Chinese ‘national cinema’ as if to read the ‘prehistory’ of transnational filmic discourse backwards in order to discover the ‘political unconscious’ of filmic discourse—the transnational roots and condition of cinema. Transnational film studies have become a major paradigm in Chinese film studies, along with the models of Chinese national cinema, Chinese-language cinema, and Sinophone cinema. It shares certain assumptions with the other three paradigms but also has its own characteristics and differences. Transnational Chinese film studies have also evolved into a broader study of “transnational visuality.” Transnational visual culture includes feature film, documentary, video, digital media, and visual arts. This situation is especially relevant in the so-called ‘postcinema’ stage when the film medium, the platform of film circulation, and the venue of viewing have changed tremendously. There are also various forms of transnational films. For instance, there exist the commercial-global blockbuster, independent art-house film, and exilic transnational cinema. Transnational cinema emerges and flourishes in the age and condition of globalization and transnational capitalism. However, this does not mean that transnational cinema necessarily serves the interests of transnational capitalism. Such a cinema can be liberating and counterhegemonic as well, depending on the particular situation.

Transnational Film Studies as a Model and a Critical Paradigm

The works in this section present various attempts to define and refine the transnational among other approaches in the academic field of Chinese film studies at the time of their publication. Lu 1997 first introduces the transnational approach to the field of Chinese film studies. Marchetti 1998 highlights the dialectics of Greater China and the Chinese diaspora in transnational film studies. Zhang 2002 studies Chinese cinema in relation to western critical discourse in the age of transnational capitalism. Berry and Farquhar 2006 engages with the transnational through an analysis of cinema and the national and moves beyond the national cinema approach. Berry and Pang 2008 explores the various implications of the “transnational” in transnational Chinese cinemas. Higbee and Lim 2010 takes up Chinese cinemas as an instance to reflect on the transnational framework. Berry 2011 establishes transnational Chinese cinema both as a film type and a field of study. Lu 2012 and Lu 2014 reexamine the transnational paradigm in relation to three other approaches. Li 2014 rejects transnational film studies and upholds nationalist historiography in a debate in Chinese film studies, while Lu, et al. 2015 discusses various models of film studies and film historiography as part of a continual debate.

  • Berry, Chris. “Transnational Chinese Cinema Studies.” In The Chinese Cinema Book. Edited by Song Hwee Lim and Julian Ward, 9–16. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    An important article that heralds transnational Chinese cinema both as a type of cinema and a field of study. By tracing the intellectual trajectory of the term, Berry argues that the transnational model is most useful when defined against alternative terms like ‘international’ and ‘global.’ He also advocates for an advancement toward a “critical transnationalism” in transnational Chinese cinema studies.

  • Berry, Chris, and Mary Farquhar. China on Screen: Cinema and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

    The authors argue for the replacement of the national cinema approach with a more comprehensive framework of cinema and the national. The final section of the book’s introduction investigates and evaluates “transnational film studies” as an academic field. The final chapter of the book examines the interaction between the national and the transnational in a globalizing cinematic environment.

  • Berry, Chris, and Laikwan Pang, eds. Special Issue: Transnational Chinese Cinemas. Journal of Chinese Cinemas 2.1 (2008).

    In an issue devoted to the topic of transnational Chinese cinemas, the five essays present different approaches to the “transnational” in transnational Chinese cinemas: the transnational as a method, the history of the transnational, its relationship to the national, its multimedia encounter, and transnational as a cultural geography.

  • Higbee, Will, and Song Hwee Lim. “Concepts of Transnational Cinema: Towards a Critical Transnationalism in Film Studies.” Transnational Cinema 1.1 (2010): 7–21.

    An article in the inaugural issue of Transnational Cinema that maps out the various concepts of transnational cinema and argues for a critical form of transnationalism in film studies. The authors note the important role of scholarship on Chinese cinemas in theorizing the transnational.

  • Li Daoxin李道新. “Chongjian zhuti xing yu chongxie dianying shi: yi Lu Xiaopeng de kuaguo dianying yanjiu yu huayu dianying lunshu wei zhongxin de fansi yu pipan” (重建主体性与重写电影史:以鲁晓鹏的跨国电影研究与华语电影论述为中心的反思与批判). Dangdai dianying (当代电影) no. 8 (2014): 53–58.

    Beijing-based film scholar Li Daoxin rejects the notions of “transnational film studies” and “Chinese-language cinema” that were first developed outside the People’s Republic of China. He favors nationalist historiography and emphasizes the importance of building up Chinese subjectivity over and against perceived hegemonic academic discourses from the West. This essay is a response to an interview with Sheldon Lu and has remained a key document in the global debate about Chinese film studies.

  • Lu, Sheldon, ed. Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

    This pioneering book examines the changing historical conditions in the formations of national and transnational cinemas throughout 20th-century China. Its introduction highlights the importance of transforming the study of national cinemas into transnational film studies in the post-Cold War era and presents the Chinese example as paradigmatic of the situation of world cinema at the turn of 21st century.

  • Lu, Sheldon. “Notes on Four Major Paradigms in Chinese-Language Film Studies.” Journal of Chinese Cinemas 6.1 (2012): 15–25.

    This article reexamines three initial major critical paradigms in contemporary Chinese-language cinema studies—national cinema, transnational cinema, and Chinese-language cinema—and adds Sinophone cinema as a fourth theoretical paradigm.

  • Lu, Sheldon. “Genealogies of Four Critical Paradigms in Chinese-Language Film Studies.” In Sinophone Cinemas. Edited by Audrey Yue and Olivia Khoo, 13–25. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

    An important survey of the four major critical paradigms to have emerged in contemporary Chinese-language cinema studies to date. Lu extends the scope of Sinophone cinemas to include rather than exclude mainland China by pointing to the different linguistic and geographical applications of other ‘-phonic’ cultures.

  • Lu Xiaopeng (Sheldon Lu)鲁晓鹏, Wang Yichuan 王一川, Chen Xuguang 陈旭光, and Li Daoxin李道新. “Kuaguo huayu dianying yanjiu: shuyu, xianzhuang, wenti yu weilai” (跨国华语电影研究:术语、现状、问题与未来). Dangdai dianying (当代电影) no. 2 (2015): 68–78.

    This forum is a continuation of a pan-Chinese and global debate on the paradigm of transnational Chinese-language film studies in the 2010s. A group of scholars discuss the methodology, terminology, characteristics, strengths, and possible weaknesses of various approaches to Chinese film studies such as nationalist historiography, Chinese-language film studies, and transnationalism.

  • Marchetti, Gina. “Introduction: Plural and Transnational.” Jump Cut 42 (1998): 68–72.

    Published in 1998, Marchetti’s introduction to Jump Cut’s special section on “China and Chinese Diaspora Films” is among the earliest works that call attention to the complexities and contradictions surrounding the established definitions of Chinese cinema. The author gives special attention to the tension between the centripetal and centrifugal forces unleashed by the transnational turn.

  • Zhang, Yingjin. Screening China: Critical Interventions, Cinematic Reconfigurations, and the Transnational Imaginary in Contemporary Chinese Cinema Studies. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 2002.

    The book considers Chinese cinema in relation to transnational discourse. Its examination is twofold: the negotiations between the local and the global on the part of Chinese filmmakers, and the presentation and problematization of “Chineseness” in Western academia and critical discourses.

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