Taiwanese-Language Cinema in the Martial Law Era as a Cinema of the Cold War

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During the Cold War era of the 1950s and 1960s, Taiwan was under martial law. The population on the island was divided between mainlanders, who came with Chiang Kai-shek after his defeat in the Civil War with the Chinese Communists on the mainland, and the long-term Sinitic residents of the island. The two populations spoke different languages and had different cultures. At first, the Cold War seems to be a matter between Chiang and the Chinese Communists. Indeed, at least 30 per cent of the films made in Mandarin for the mainlanders were anti-Communist films. But this talk aims to show that the over 1,000 Taiwanese-language film (taiyupian) made for the locals were also profoundly shaped by it. First, the natural market of Minnanhua Sinitic language speakers was divided by the “Bamboo Curtain” and the government’s policies created both advantages and obstacles for the industry. Second, the films were local, but they were also part of a Cold War cosmopolitanism that connected Taiwan with other capitalist countries. And finally, if, as Chen Kuan-Hsing says, the Cold War has never ended in East Asia, how should we consider the new popularity of Taiwanese-language films in Taiwan today?

About the speaker

Chris Berry is Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London. In the 1980s, he worked for China Film Import and Export Corporation in Beijing, and his academic research is grounded in work on Sinitic-language cinemas and other Sinitic-language screen-based media, as well as work from neighbouring countries. In 2017, together with colleagues, he launched the “Taiwan’s Lost Commercial Cinema: Recovered and Restored” project about Taiwanese-language cinema, and in 2020 co-edited a special issue of Journal of Chinese Cinemas on the topic, vol.14, no.2.