Hollywood Made in China

Hollywood Made in China

by Aynne Kokas

Paperback(First Edition)

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Winner of the Chinese American Librarian Association Best Book Award
Winner of the 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Award
Montaigne Medal Finalist, Eric Hoffer Awards
2018 Frank Luther Mott - Kappa Tau Alpha Journalism & Mass Communication Research Award Finalist

China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 ignited a race to capture new global media audiences. Hollywood moguls began courting Chinese investors to create entertainment on an international scale—from behemoth theme parks to blockbuster films. Hollywood Made in China examines these new collaborations, where the distinctions between Hollywood’s “dream factory” and Xi Jinping's "Chinese Dream" of global influence become increasingly blurred. With insightful policy analysis, ethnographic research, and interviews with CEOs, directors, and film workers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Los Angeles, Aynne Kokas offers an unflinching look at China’s new role in the global media industries. A window into the partnerships with Chinese corporations that now shape Hollywood, this book will captivate anyone who consumes commercial media in the twenty-first century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520294028
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/31/2017
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,031,184
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Aynne Kokas is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia and a nonresident scholar in Chinese media at the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University.

Read an Excerpt

Hollywood Made in China

By Aynne Kokas


Copyright © 2017 Aynne Kokas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96729-8


Policy and Superheroes


The PRC market has become a powerful force in the global media industries, and Hollywood has noticed. Demand for market expansion by Hollywood media conglomerates, combined with China's thirst for global soft power, has caused the Sino-US industrial relationship to expand. In an era of increasing interaction between China and Hollywood, Sino-US film collaborations reveal the role of policy in joint media production. Hollywood studios and the blockbusters they create with Chinese partners amplify global Chinese media production, while at the same time extending the reach of Chinese soft power. In Iron Man 3, Chinese doctors in Beijing perform lifesaving surgery on a beloved American superhero, using traditional Chinese medicine. In Transformers 4, CGI (computer-generated imagery) robots rebooted from American cartoons tromp through Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. As this chapter will show, the rise of Sino-US joint production activity in the PRC aligns closely with the country's financial, technological, and policy priorities.

The role of soft power in China has a long historical trajectory in Chinese media policy. Although the importance of the term "soft power" has been much debated in policy circles since political scientist Joseph Nye's seminal 1990 article, the concept remains central to how Chinese policymakers think about media. When I was a visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies in the summer of 2013, the idea of soft power guided policymakers' lecture questions throughout my residency. Soft power offers what Chinese policymakers term "cultural security." Former president of the People's Republic of China Hu Jintao observed in the Seventeenth Party Congress in 2007 the need to "enhance the state's cultural soft power." In 2014, Premier Li Keqiang promoted the development of the cultural sector in his Report on the Work of the Government at the Twelfth National People's Congress on March 5, saying: "We promoted the sound development of the cultural sector. A number of high-quality cultural works were produced, and more public cultural facilities were opened free of charge. We deepened reform of the cultural management system and developed the market for cultural products." Chinese media scholar Wendy Su argues that China's cultural policy has led to a complete reformulation of the state's global communication practices. The high profile of the cultural sector underscores its centrality in China's global development.

Soft power is a feature of China's foreign policy at the very highest levels. A January 1, 2014, article in the People's Daily newspaper, entitled "Build Socialist Culture to Strengthen the Nation, Focus on Improving the Country's Cultural Soft Power" (Jianshe Shehuizhuyi Wenhua Qiangguo, Zhuoli Tigao Guojia Wenhua Ruanshili), profiled comments by President Xi Jinping encouraging politburo members to "increase the nation's cultural soft power." In this same article, Xi further advocated for efforts to "strengthen construction of international broadcasting capacity, meticulously construct external discourse, exhibit up-and-coming media activity, increase the creativity, inspiration, and accountability of external discourse, tell Chinese stories well, broadcast Chinese voices, and explain Chinese characteristics properly." Xi's exhortations in a newspaper that is commonly considered one of the key mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party directly linked foreign projection of Chinese international relations discourse to the flowering of the media industries and the rise of the Chinese Dream. (See figure 3.) As Hollywood studios share China's global trade in media, China, in turn, bolsters its media production capabilities. The Hollywood dream factory and the Chinese Dream work together, while mired in a state of perpetual negotiation.



When the People's Republic of China (PRC) joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the country agreed to open its media markets. Yet rather than smoothly increasing trade, the opening of the PRC's media markets has exacerbated tensions between the PRC and the United States. In 2007, the United States issued a formal complaint to the WTO, stating that the PRC was not following its commitment to opening its audiovisual markets as outlined in its WTO accession protocol, in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (a separate trade agreement). The United States won the WTO dispute in 2009, but implementation took three years and required eighteen different WTO status reports issued by the PRC; agreements on film distribution in the PRC were left to bilateral negotiations. The resulting 2012 "Memorandum of Understanding between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America Regarding Films for Theatrical Release" (MOU), also known as the US-China Film Agreement, required an increase in China's revenue-sharing import quota to include fourteen special-format films (3-D, IMAX) in addition to the twenty films already permitted by Chinese law, for a total of thirty-four imported films in the Chinese market. It further stipulated a review of enforcement in 2017, five years after the initial MOU agreement, emphasizing the long-term nature of policy negotiations surrounding Hollywood's influence in China.

The 2014 Report to Congress on China's WTO Compliance underscored that China had "not yet fully implemented its MOU commitments." In a public hearing before the Trade Policy Staff Committee on China's WTO Compliance, the Office of the United States Trade Representative further elaborated by explaining that few films could secure import quota slots. Additional distribution options were limited because of the power of Chinese state-owned enterprises, opaque censorship processes, and special protected periods for the distribution of local films, with each of these practices violating the US-China Film Agreement of 2012.

In China, the film import "master contract," or the agreement outlining policies for the importing of foreign films into China, is reportedly under negotiation to more accurately reflect WTO commitments. China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) (Guojia Guangbo Dianying Dianshi Zongju) first established co-production regulations, outlined in "The Stipulation of the Administration of Chinese-Foreign Film Co-production," at an executive meeting on June 15, 2004, three years after China's accession to the WTO. In 2013, the newly formed State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) (Guojia Xinwen Chuban Guangbo Dianying Dianshi Zongju) absorbed SARFT and adopted its existing policies. However, through July 2015, the imported film master contract on the official SAPPRFT website reflected a policy written in 2009, which stipulated specific domestic Chinese film distributors for foreign and coproduced films, in opposition to the 2012 ruling. Given that SARFT was absorbed into SAPPRFT in 2013, this indicates that the website had been updated since the 2012 decision was issued but still included the 2009 policy, rather than the 2012 ruling. The tension caused by increasing access to the Chinese market despite ambivalence about opening the market epitomizes the types of challenges the PRC faces in working with the United States, and vice versa.

In addition to China's film import regulations, central government media policy informs the rise of other types of Sino-US media collaborations. The Chinese government's film co-production policy allows foreign films with sufficient Chinese talent and financing to be treated as "local" films for the purpose of distribution and to circumvent the country's thirty-four-film import quota. The quota on imported films restricts foreign access to a market that was worth USD 6.8 billion in 2015. PRC co-production policy allows films to apply for approval at the preproduction, rather than the postproduction, stage. Hollywood producers therefore have strong market incentives to follow Chinese co-production policy from the beginning of a project to secure market access. Although co-productions provide US film companies an important entry point into the PRC's market, the SAPPRFT (and, by extension, the central government) has final-cut and distribution approval of any film that is considered an official PRC product — including co-productions. Any films produced within the context of the Sino-US film co-production policy are thus beholden to a complex political approval landscape for distribution in the PRC, which begins during preproduction. Through co-production policy, the PRC can leverage Hollywood expertise in developing its domestic media industries and national brand.

Still, Chinese policymakers have reason to be concerned about foreign investment in a changing domestic industry. Protecting culture industries from Hollywood has been the subject of multilateral negotiations around the world, including negotiations in the Uruguay Round of the GATT from 1986 to 1994, WTO negotiations, and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005. Pushback from WTO member countries against Hollywood's influence led to a cultural exception to protect domestic culture industries. At the same time, China's state-owned media industries — and its film studios in particular — wield a huge amount of power. As film scholars Emilie Yuehyu Yeh and Darrell William Davis compellingly argue, state-owned film groups broker between the pressure to expand the market and the pressure to protect the national screen industry. Even as state-owned film groups privatize, the inertia behind long histories of government involvement continue to protect domestic industries. When extended to the role of media in China's larger economic plan, these tensions become even more acute.

The PRC's twelfth five-year plan, released in 2011, identified the country's media industries as a major pillar for economic growth that should therefore receive central government support. Within the policy context of the PRC's twelfth five-year plan, Sino-US media are an extension of the PRC central government's role as a media industry stakeholder. The plan discusses the growth of media industries in terms of the development of hard infrastructure (physical spaces for industrial development) and soft infrastructure (workforce skills development). Brandscapes — what architect, academic, and branding expert Anna Klingmann refers to as "the demarcation of territory by brands" — demand both hard infrastructure (as in the case of the production studio Oriental DreamWorks) and soft infrastructure (as with the requirements for Chinese talent to be used in Sino-US film co-productions). China's cultural policy demands growth, which not only stimulates the Chinese media economy, but also creates an opportunity for Hollywood media conglomerates that can amplify domestic capabilities.

Films such as the Sino-US collaborative productions Iron Man 3 and Transformers 4 demonstrate how blockbuster production in the PRC can train Chinese media industry labor. Intense special effects meet the demands for infrastructure innovation outlined in the twelfth five-year plan, which stipulates "cultural innovation, video production, publication, printing and reproduction, performing and entertaining arts, digital contents, and animation." The plan articulates "a need to implement ... major cultural industrial projects, and [to] enhance the construction of cultural industrial bases and the building of cultural industrial clusters with special regional characteristics." The growth of co-ventures — think of projects like Shanghai Disney Resort and Oriental DreamWorks that build hard and soft infrastructures — drives cultural production in the Chinese and US media industries.

Similarly, the twelfth five-year plan also underscored the importance of international trade in reaching China's media industry development goals. Explicitly, it "encourage[d] cultural enterprises to engage in cross-region,cross-trade, cross-ownership operations and reorganizations; and raise the scale, intensification, and professional level of the cultural industry." The plan emphasized the high-level policy- and decision-making that back film and media collaborations, from major blockbusters to media production parks, between the PRC and the United States.

There is reason to follow this strategy: Chinese central planning in the 1990s and early 2000s was effective in developing the country's industrial landscape. The number of buildings for Chinese creative-industry clusters is increasing throughout the country, with government support. Communications scholar Wendy Su argues that, through central planning, China has effectively harnessed the power of Hollywood to do China's soft power work. Even so, Hollywood and China continue to negotiate the terms of the balance of global media power with each new deal creating uncertainty for both sides.


The Chinese government's approach to regulation of the film industry is very different from the inconsistent intervention of the US federal government in Hollywood. Blockbusters made in the United States, such as Independence Day (1996), and military-themed superhero films, such as the Captain America series (2011 to 2016) and the Iron Man series (2008 to 2013), are produced with ad hoc cooperation from the US federal government via the public affairs offices of specific military branches, including the Marine Corps Motion Picture and TV Liaison Office, the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, the US Army Community Relations Office–West, and the Navy Office of Information–West. According to these organizations' websites, filmmakers can choose to use these resources, just as the offices can choose to support or not support certain films. Policymakers advocate for the industry as a whole more rarely, usually in conjunction with trade groups and industry representatives.

Feature film production in Hollywood has never been an official state-run enterprise, unlike large portions of the PRC's film industry. However, this does not mean that censorship, albeit industry driven, has not played an important role in shaping both Hollywood itself and Hollywood's global influence. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America established the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (also known as the Hays Code) in March 1930. The group changed its name to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in 1945. Industry partners established the Hays Code via collusive industry efforts to consolidate power. However, like China's censorship practices, the Hays Code influenced the types of films produced in Hollywood until the code fell out of favor in the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. The Motion Picture Association of America remains the dominant trade organization for the United States and still provides content ratings for films.

Despite a lack of official authority over each other, Hollywood and Washington, DC, have historically been mutually influential. Nongovernmental lobbying organizations contribute to larger policy debates regarding the growth of Sino-US media. Washington, DC, insiders have run the MPAA since 1966. Jack Valenti, a former advisor to US president Lyndon B. Johnson, was the organization's head from 1966 to 2004. Dan Glickman, who succeeded Valenti, was previously secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture and a congressman from Kansas. Starting in 2011, Christopher Dodd, a former Connecticut senator, assumed the role of MPAA chairman and CEO. Because of its significance in setting US policy and circulating images of the United States around the world, the MPAA has long held the nickname the "Little State Department." The movement of high-level US government officials into positions of leadership with the MPAA demonstrates the importance of the US federal government's influence in Hollywood's relationship with Chinese regulators.

In 2011 the Motion Picture Association of America began hosting screenings of Chinese film co-productions each November. Chinese film regulators are typically the special invited guests or official partners, and American industry partners cohost. This type of event calls attention to the type of joint efforts between the US trade association and the Chinese government that create the conditions for media collaboration. Yet cooperation also presents the downsides of the globalization of Chinese media policy. If films can enter the Chinese market only after Chinese censors have approved them, then the US efforts to increase market quotas in the PRC stand as an example of exchanging freedom of expression for market-access opportunities. The MPAA lobbies heavily for access to the Chinese market, even while turning a blind eye to the concessions US filmmakers may have to make to the Chinese SAPPRFT to get their films approved for Chinese distribution.


Excerpted from Hollywood Made in China by Aynne Kokas. Copyright © 2017 Aynne Kokas. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1. Policy and Superheroes: China and Hollywood in Sino-US Relations
2. Hollywood’s China: Mickey Mouse, Kung Fu Panda, and the Rise of Sino-US Brandscapes
3. Soft Power Plays: How Chinese Film Policy Influences Hollywood
4. Whispers in the Gallery: How Industry Forums Build Sino-US Media Collaboration
5. Compradors: How Above-the-Line Workers Brand Sino-US Film Production
6. Farm Labor, Film Labor: How Below-the-Line Workers Shape Sino-US Film Production

Appendix 1: Examples of Sino-US Film Collaboration by Type
Appendix 2: Chinese Character Glossary

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