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Rural Film History Museum Opens in China

By Isabella Tianzi Cai


As a stand-alone genre, Chinese rural films are much less well-known than Chinese martial arts films or Chinese costume dramas both in China and abroad. In the past, they have usually been subsumed under Chinese revolutionary and propaganda films, which are famous for glorifying the Chinese proletariat’s struggles against feudal orders and imperial powers. Perhaps the opening of China’s first Museum of Rural Film History in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province, on April 17, 2010, will draw some overdue attention to this much forgotten genre.

The older Chinese generation, who have lived through the founding of the New China, the Great Leap Forward (followed by ten tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution), and the late economic reform and opening-up, still have fond memories of films such as Shan Jian Ling Xiang Ma Bang Lai [Caravans with Ring] (1954), Wu Duo Jin Hua [Five Golden Flowers] (1959), Mo Ya Dai [Moyadai] (1960), A Shi Ma [Ashima] (1964), Cong Nü Li Dao Jiang Jun [From Slave to General] (1979), Kong Que Gong Zhu [Peacock Princess] (1982), Ye He Na [Yehena] (1982), and many others. While it is hardly a stretch to say that these films have either strong revolutionary or socialist undertones, they also share one other feature, that is that they all have outdoor scenes shot in Dali, one of the most beautiful and well-preserved natural sites in China.

When the proposal of the museum was first made by the municipal government of Dali, they believed that the museum would save the fast disappearing artifacts related to Dali’s film culture, which had become part of its illustrious past. Being a tourist destination mainly celebrating the ethnic minority Bai’s art and culture, the city also wanted the museum to be a valuable addition to its already in place cultural heritage. Their proposal was approved with about 80 million yuan ($1.23 million). With this money, a modern museum of rural film history was built on the site of the old Dali Movie Theater.

As reported on Yunnan Daily, the museum boasts a total of ten exhibition halls, which include a restoration of a rural exhibition site, a theater, and different rooms for large film equipment, film props, etc. In terms of its collection, it has over 6,200 artifacts as of now. They range from antiquated projection equipment, to old film prints, to past stills and posters, to film magazines and movie tickets, and to different kinds of film props.

A lesser version in size and volume – but not in ambition and spirit – compared to the Museum of Rural Film History is director Jian Yi’s Museum of Images (MoM) in Ji’an, Jiangxi Province. As already mentioned in another post, MoM is to become a virtual library for people living in this prefecture-level city by housing various kinds of artworks produced by them about their lives. MoM is still in the making – in fact, it will always be – but it is a good example the independent versus the state effort in preserving, and creating too, the culture and history of a city and its people.

To understand rural life in China today, there is a diverse range of films and documentaries addressing previously untouched social problems in this medium. Our catalog is booming with examples: Er Dong, Black and White Milk Cow, Timber Gang, Ghost Town, Crime and Punishment, and 1428. Visit our catalog to learn more about these films.


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