The Southern Film Corporation, Opera films, and the PRC’s
Cultural Diplomacy in Cold War Asia, 1950s and 1960s

By Lanjun Xu

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 29, no.1  (Spring 2017), pp. 239-281

Based on recently declassified archival materials, oral histories, film studio records, press coverage, and government documents, this essay takes a close look at the Hong Kong based Southern Film Corporation, which was one of the most important distributors of Chinese films to Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. By investigating the production and circulation of the films, the essay explores the Southern Film Corporation’s strategies in introducing PRC opera films to this region. In the process, it attempts to shed light on the complex interactions among communist propaganda, cultural diplomacy, and the popularity of Chinese opera films in Cold War Asia. This analysis helps to map out significant cultural interactions of the time among the regions of mainland China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.

In exploring the local reception of these opera films in Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries, this essay treats these films as a Cold War structure of feeling and investigates how these sentimental narrative modes were involved in the local politics of decolonization as well as nation building during the Cold War period. These local operas and opera films came from their own place of origin and their regionality provides a solid connection between these films and the overseas Chinese audience. More important, the bond of community is created through regional ties, rather than the abstract concept of “Chineseness” by itself.