Modern China Through Film—Chinese Families in Transition

Spring 2024 Registration is Now Open!
Classes start on April 8, 2024!
Register by March 5 to receive $30 off tuition!

Course Objectives:
This 6-week course explores the changing Chinese families through Chinese fictional cinema made during the two decades after the mid-1990s. It will focus on feature films about Mainland China by the so-called fifth- and sixth-generations filmmakers, and some younger, newly emerging balinghou (post-1980s) directors who came of age after the millennium. Participants will gain an understanding of modern and contemporary Chinese film, history and culture as well as familiarity with the Chinese movie industry and its major players.

Course Contents:
The course involves a combination of screening and lectures covering a total of five contemporary Chinese-language films. After an introduction class, students will be provided with a film link or film file at the end of each class to screen at home. They will also be given a set of questions to consider in advance of a class discussion the following week. The recommended reading is designed to help students find answers to the questions, and/or spur their interest in doing further research on their own. They are also encouraged to bring their own questions and/or observations to class. The five assigned screenings all have English subtitles.

Main lecture themes for discussion during the six weeks: (tentative)

  • Week 1. A Brief History of Chinese Cinema (from 1979)
  • Week 2. Fifth Generation: The Breakout Directors
  • Week 3. Censorship and the Sixth Generation Filmmakers
  • Week 4. China’s “Leitmotif Films”
  • Week 5. The Rise of China’s Grassroots Filmmakers (since 2000)
  • Week 6. Emerging Female Voices

The planned five films are:

  1. Zhang Yimou’s To Live, 张艺谋,活着 1994
  2. Zhang Yuan’s Seventeen Years, 张元,过年回家 1999
  3. Huo Jianqi’s Postmen in the Mountains, 霍建起, 那山那人那狗 1999
  4. Xin Yukun’s The Coffin in the Mountain, 忻钰坤, 心迷宫 2014
  5. Yang Mingming’s Girls Always Happy, 杨明明, 柔情史 2018

*This class will be taught in English. Reading materials will be provided.

Class Schedule:
Online Class via Zoom
Tuesday, 6:30 – 8:00 PM
April 16 – May 21
6 sessions (9 lecture hours)
$250 member /$290 non-member
(plus a $30 non-refundable registration fee)


6:30 - 8:00 PM
Instructor: Karen Ma


Karen Ma

Karen Ma is the author of the recently released book China’s Millennial Digital Generation: Conversations with Balinghou Indie Filmmakers, which was published in June 2022 by Long River Press. An independent film scholar and movie critic specializing in Chinese cinema, she taught Chinese culture and film courses at The Beijing Center of Chinese Studies before relocating to the US in 2017. Ma has a bachelor’s degree from Tokyo’s Sophia University and an M.A. in Chinese literature from the University of Washington, Seattle. She is also the author of Excess Baggage (China Books, 2013), a novel about a Chinese family’s struggle to make its way in Tokyo.

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