Cheng Jihua

Cheng Jihua
b. 1921, Hubei
Film historian, critic
Cheng Jihua is best known for his monumental book The History of the Development of Chinese Cinema (1963). In two volumes and over a thousand pages, Cheng provides the most comprehensive work to trace the evolution of film production and perception in China from 1896 to 1949. The extensive filmography (over 2000), for instance, stretches from the first production in 1905 to 1949 and offers detailed information on production studio and cast. Composed chronologically, the book begins with the origin and development of Chinese cinema (1896–1931), focuses on Communist leadership over the film cultural movement (1931–7), and ends with an introduction to the progressive people’s cinema (1937–49).
Cheng had to write his History from the stand-point of Marxism, Leninism and Mao’s thought—criteria considered promising in socialist China yet problematic today. As a result, film history is made subordinate to China’s revolutionary history, national salvation and class struggle. Understandably, there was no alternative way to write at a time when art and literature had to serve political interests and follow the dictates of socialist discourse. Despite its appropriate political stance, however, the book failed to secure final official publication. After a trial printing of a small quantity of its first version, the project received the ‘death penalty’ because of the Cultural Revolution. Its second edition did not reach readers until 1981.
Cheng also served as chief editor for different film journals and held a professorship at the Beijing Film Academy. In 1983, the University of California at Los Angeles invited Cheng Jihua and his colleague Chen Mei to teach Chinese cinema. Their visit led to an academic exchange programme that enabled a number of American film scholars to go to China to offer a series of lectures on film theory to Chinese audiences.
Cheng, Jihua (1963). Zhongguo dianying fazhan shi [History of the Development of Chinese Cinema], 2 vols. Beijing: Zhongguo dianying.
Hu, Ke (1998). ‘Contemporary Film Theory in China’. Trans. Ted Wang, Chris Berry and Chen Mei. Screening the Past 3. Available at
Semsel, George (1999). ‘Cheng Jihua and Li Shaobai, Pioneers in Chinese Film Studies: Interview II’. Asian Cinema 10.2 (Spring/ Summer): 90–5.
Shen, Vivian (1999). ‘Cheng Jihua, Pioneer in Chinese Film Studies: Interview I’. Asian Cinema 10.2 (Spring/Summer): 87–90.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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