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The Opium War in the Movies: History, Politics and Propaganda

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Historians of modern China may debate many things, but few will question the significance of the Opium War (1839-1842) in shaping thecourse of modern Chinese history. As an indication of the importance of this watershed event, three feature films have been made about the Opium War during the past half century. They are Wanshiliufang (Eternity, 1943,dir. Bu Wancang), Lin Zexu (1959, dir. Zheng Junli) and Yapian zhanzheng (The opium war, 1997, dir. Xie Jin). Each reflects a particular set of ideological concerns and socio-political conditions of the times of production. Like its two predecessors, the most recent production, The Opium War, provides a window to the dynamics and confusions of politics and culture in today's China. This paper is an attempt to situate this film in the context of contemporary discourse on nationalism, history, and modernity in China and examine the complex relationship between politics and arts.
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Keywords: Lin Zexu; Opium War; The Opium War; Xie Jin; nationalism; politics; propaganda

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2000

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  • Asian Cinema is a seminal journal, which has been published since 1995 by the Asian Cinema Studies Society under the stewardship of Professor John Lent. From 2012 Asian Cinema will be published by Intellect as part of our Film Studies journal portfolio. The journal currently publishes a variety of scholarly material - including research articles, interviews, book and film reviews and bibliographies - on all forms and aspects of Asian cinema. The journal's broad aim is to advance understanding and knowledge of the rich traditions of the various Asian cinemas, thereby making an invaluable contribution to the field of Film Studies in general.
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