Projecting the ‘Modern’: The reconstruction of urban cinemas in post-Mao China, 1987–1989

Yiyang HOU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


In the midst of China’s market reform during the 1980s, urban cinemas were at the center of the changing cultural landscape, revealing how quickly a distinct urban space could consume, digest, and recycle various consumerist attractions adapted from the West. Following the China Film Corporation’s call for a nation-wide reconstruction of urban movie theaters in 1987, moviegoing as a historically and socially defined activity became deeply rooted in, and further complicated by, urban consumers’ modern experience of public life. By 1991, nearly 2000 movie theaters across China had been renovated and commercialized, contributing significantly to the remapping of China’s urban geography. Through examining newspapers, magazines and floorplans published in the late 1980s, this article proposes a reconsideration of post-Mao urban culture in relation to this unprecedented change in the spatial refashioning of urban cinemas. I argue that the reconstructed movie theater illustrates the complex connections between state policy and mass consumption in the wake of China’s turn to marketization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-91
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Chinese Cinemas
Issue number1
Early online date10 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank Michael Berry, Shu-mei Shih, Junko Yamazaki, Andrea Goldman, Jasmine Trice, Chenshu Zhou, Yomi Braester, two anonymous reviewers for The Journal of Chinese Cinemas, as well as participants at the 2021 SCMS virtual conference for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Chinese consumer culture in the 1980s
  • Urban cinema
  • urban development in post-Mao China


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