the late 1980s, the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television), the China Film DistributionCorporation, the state-controlled Chinese Filmworkers Association, state-funded film publications, and even the government organs charged with running film awards programs.
Yingchi Chu identifies additional bodies that issued documents concerningfilm policy: The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, the State Council, theMinistry of Propaganda, the General State Administration, specially constituted “leadinggroups,” and party leaders.
These organizations and individuals could make or break afilm project at any stage of production, from vetting script ideas to regulating distributionin domestic movie theaters.Pickowicz proposes that Chinese filmmakers in fact worked in a “velvet prison” of state control in the post-Mao era. The velvet prison theory was originally described byHungarian author Miklos Haraszti in the early 1980s to explain post-Stalinist control of artists in Communist countries. Haraszti said it was more effective to give artists special perks and a little power, as long as they were actively or passively loyal to the state andwere not outright anti-Marxist.
However, Haraszti described an additional aspect of thissystem: the option for the state to briefly revert to Stalinist methods of control should theneed arise.And this, suggests Pickowicz, is one model for evaluating official treatment of Chinese film following the Tiananmen square demonstrations in 1989. In the 1980s,“entertainment” films featuring romance and violence were typical fare, because the FilmDistribution Corporation believed these genres were popular among urban viewers. The
Pickowicz, p. 207
Yingchi Chu, “The Consumption of Cinema in Contemporary China,” in Stephanie Hemelryk Donald et al,ed.,
Media in China: Consumption, Content, and Crisis
(London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002), p. 43
Pickowicz, p. 195, citing Miklos Haraszti,
The Velvet Prison: Artists Under State Socialism
(New York:Noonday Press, 1989)