What do Foreigners See When They Watch Chinese Movies?

What do Foreigners See When They Watch Chinese Movies?
Oct 09, 2014 Translated by eChinacities.com

This article, translated from sohu.com attempts to analyse foreigners attitudes to Chinese cinema through a survey conducted online. The results show that martial arts movies remain the most popular genre of Chinese film, whilst other genres such as modern, realist movies are largely unknown.

This summer, “Godzilla,” and “District 13,” were box office hits in China. This month, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and “The Expendables 3,” have also proven extremely popular with Chinese audiences. With wave after wave of foreign films taking over domestic Chinese screens, have you ever thought about whether or not foreigners watch Chinese movies? The “2013 Chinese International Communications Annual Report on Film,” was recently released and tackles this question as well as variety of other topics. The survey was taken by 1500 foreigners and details foreigners’ feelings about and impressions of Chinese movies.

The report shows that 27 percent of respondents have seen more than 10 Chinese films and 33 percent have seen less than 5 Chinese movies. About 23 percent said that they were not interested in Chinese films. Chinese martial arts films were scored the highest among foreigners. So, how have Chinese films impacted the foreigners who have watched them?

Martial Arts’ Greatest Contribution: Attracting Foreign Tourists to China
A survey was recently done by overseas institutions including companies and foreign universities. The report involved interviewees from ninety nine different countries including the United States, France, South Korea and the United Kingdom as well as many from Asia, Africa and Latin America. An important question in the survey was whether people in these countries go to the movie theatre to see Chinese movies. The answer is no. The survey shows that only 18.4 percent of respondents said that they went to movie theatres to watch Chinese movies. Most foreigners watch Chinese movies on television or on free streaming websites.

Chinese martial arts movies are in a unique genre. Most foreigners said that they enjoyed watching these movies. In a nine point evaluation system, Chinese kung fu and martial arts action movies consistently scored more than 6.8 points on this scale. History, comedy and documentaries films from China were all rated around six points. Foreigners that were native English speakers especially enjoyed and respected kung fu and martial arts movies.

Foreigners are not as interested in other types of domestic Chinese films, including horror movies and musicals. China has a unique musical tradition and a large number of plays and shows. When these are made into movies, foreigners are not often able to appreciate the genre.

The survey brought up the question of “the impact of kung fu movies on respondents.” In an analysis of the questionnaire, we can see that there are four main reasons why foreigners come to visit China. The four main reasons are general tourism, understanding Chinese culture, learning Chinese and learning martial arts. Of course, 6.7 percent of foreign respondents said in the survey that domestic Chinese martial arts “is not real kung fu.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, the greatest “impact,” of martial arts seems to be its ability to attract foreign tourists to China. 39.1 percent of respondents said that they wanted to visit China after watching Chinese martial arts movies. The impact of kung fu movies on domestic tourists is not a small one. This shows that the development of the martial arts and kung fu movie industries has also helped develop peripheral industries including tourism, and kung fu training schools.

Impacts of Chinese Martial Arts Movies on Survey Respondents:

Respondent believes Chinese Kung Fu is not real: 6.7 percent

Respondent thinks the actors are super heroic: 9.6 percent

Makes respondent want to study Kung Fu: 33.3 percent

Helps respondent to understand Chinese culture: 38.7 percent

Makes respondent want to travel to China: 39.1 percent

Foreigners’ Impressions of Domestic Movies: Chinese People are Uncivilized 

What impact have domestic films had on China’s image and the image of its people? The survey results may have been skewed because of the selection of respondents. In the report of 1500 foreigners, nearly 70 percent of respondents had “mastered simple Chinese words and could use Chinese in simple exchanges.” Less than two percent of respondents were fully proficient in Chinese.

These foreigners have mainly had contact with Chinese culture through Internet and television. Film was ranked third, behind the other two. Through film, the respondent’s most profound impression of China is that “China is an ancient nation.” 35.5 percent of respondents checked that they learned through film that “China is an ancient nation,” out of 10 different options.

In addition, to agreeing that China is an ancient nation, about 3 percent of foreign respondents said that they believed that China’s culture is mysterious. The survey reflects the fact that domestic genres that foreigners enjoy are often quite narrow. Most of the domestic films watched by foreigners are action martial arts films. Many respondents had a negative impression of China from the films. 24.4 percent said that from the films they saw that “Chinese people are uncivilized.” This number is higher than those who said that they saw from the films that “China is a modern country,” and that, “Chinese people are friendly.” Chinese filmmakers often try to create a positive image of China emphasizing the last two points.

Further analysis shows that, among English, French and Korean respondents, those who spoke English were more likely to choose that they saw from the movies that “Chinese people are uncivilized,” but were also more likely to choose that, “China has a unique culture.” 10.7 percent of Korean speaking respondents believed that “Chinese people are friendly.” Despite that the fact that this is a relatively small percentage, it is the highest out of the three different languages (English, French and Korean). 

Impressions from Chinese Movies

Chinese people are prosperous: 3.7 percent

Chinese people are friendly: 11.2 percent

China is a modern country: 21.5 percent

Chinese people are uncivilized: 24.4 percent

China is an ancient nation: 35.3 percent


30 Percent of Foreigners Have Never Seen Modern Realistic Chinese Films

In the recent years, Chinese films that are more modern and more realistic have grown increasingly rich in terms of content and subject matter. The occasional masterpiece film has also emerged as well. “In The Heat of the Sun,” “To Live,” and “Not One Less,” are all considered to be modern masterpieces. However, out of 1500 foreigners surveyed, 31 percent had not seen a modern realistic film. 27.8 percent have “barely seen any.” It seems that very few of the respondents have seen many films that reflect the realities of life in China or are not interested in these kinds of films.

However, those who had seen realistic Chinese films had a more positive impression of Chinese society. 14 percent of respondents believed that these kinds of movies, “reflect the real life of Chinese people.” 9.4 percent of respondents do not have an opinion on the subject and 6.6 percent believe that these kinds of movies are “boring.”

Foreigners’ Impressions of Modern Realist Chinese Films
Boring: 6.6 percent

Does not reflect Chinese people’s lives: 9.4 percent

Reflects the lives of Chinese people: 14.0 percent

Different than the media’s impressions of Chinese people: 14.1 percent

Never seen this kind of movie: 31.0 percent

The biggest deciding factor for foreigners in understanding Chinese films seems to be language. The survey shows that those who are proficient in Chinese are more likely to buy a ticket to see a Chinese movie in the movie theatre. In addition to attending movies, those who are proficient in Chinese are most likely and willing to travel to China and participate in language groups. Therefore, if China wishes to promote more domestic films in foreign countries, the Chinese language must be promoted as well.


Source: http://cul.sohu.com/s2014/7475/s404615646/

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Keywords: foreign views on Chinese movies Chinese movies western audience


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Chinese films must surely be awful. This is based on the success last year of 'Lost in Thailand', THE most ridiculous movie ever seen by this writer. And yet China's box office breaker of breakers. Surely it was targeted at an audience of prepubescents, and even then the prepubescents where I come from would've found something else to do beside watching more than 5 minutes of that drivel. Hong Kong and Ang Lee films aren't Chinese.

Oct 21, 2014 17:42 Report Abuse



I was 6 years old when I first saw a Bruce Lee film. I thought it was very cool that a man could break another man with just his body parts and some sticks on chains. The buildings and writing looked very interesting. But it was the women...... the women in the films that tipped me to wanting to come to China. Chinese girls, in their natural state, really look amazing and attractive. This isn't to put down others, I am just stating my own feeling and the impact the films had on me and why. No category about how the people themselves made a difference in foreigners views, shocking.

Oct 10, 2014 15:03 Report Abuse



"When these are made into movies, foreigners are not often able to appreciate the genre." Not able to appreciate is usually code for something that is either far out there or sucks. "I made this painting of the mona lisa pooing on a dog, if you don't like it, you don't appreciate good and modern art".

Oct 10, 2014 14:25 Report Abuse



Chinese kung-fu movies ? really ? you mean that flying in the air for 5 minits while still fighting with swords, fire balls and ice breethe, is not considerate as not real in the west ? really ? Please, teach me how to fly. I am in China 8 years and never saw anyone who is able to do that. They are not seen as superheroic ? they lost battle with japs, they are crying how japs killed nearly milions of chinese, yet every single chinese movie is showing that 1-5 chinese heroes defend an invaders in a scale far outnumbering the whole population of Japan. Something wrong here ? Historical operas ? Yeah, those most loved ones. Some king and his mistresses living under one roof with family, doing business in another provinces and so on. Nice image for the new little emperor syndrome hit kids. And Jackie Chan. He made those movies in HK under influence and money from US, that's why are funny and watchable. Did I miss something ?

Oct 09, 2014 11:50 Report Abuse



Do you really think that wave after wave of foreign films are taking over Chinese cinemas. There are only about thirty-four foreign films allowed to be shown each year, hardly wave after wave. While there have been good Chinese films most of them are dire and this is why foreign (American) films are so popular.

Oct 09, 2014 09:57 Report Abuse



I dont really like Chinese movies,they seem all the same.

Oct 09, 2014 08:43 Report Abuse



they really are the same. just actors sometimes switch between roles :D

Oct 09, 2014 11:44 Report Abuse



I think the unfortunate conclusion of the article is that promoting the Chinese language will make people abroad want to see their movies. The conclusion should be to make more entertaining movies that everyone will want to see, regardless of language. Look at the spread of Korean pop culture as a model- the model isn't to go spread the Korean language, it's make awesome content that people want to see!

Oct 11, 2014 17:05 Report Abuse



Yeah... movies are to blame for "foreigners" seeing Chinese behavior as uncivilized. It has absolutely nothing to do with tourists and athletes coming for the 2014 Youth Olympics, and observing people spitting on the streets, smoking wherever they want, letting kids use the country as a toilet, and dumping trash everywhere.

Oct 09, 2014 05:58 Report Abuse