China was a changing country. It was growing both in its economy and population (though growth in the latter was slowing down). It was becoming more connected to the rest of the world. Entertainment in China was changing as well. By the 1980s most Chinese had a TV in their home. Thus, television became a huge part of life in China. Film had been present in the country since the closing years of the Qing Dynasty, and film played a huge role in the history of the Republic of China. When talking about Chinese cinema, television, or music, works from Hong Kong are often included, even though Hong Kong would not be returned to China until 1997. Chinese entertainment would experience a boom in the late 20th century and would even come to be known outside of China as well.
The Chinese government had its hand in radio, television, cinema, and music. As the century went on, that hand loosened its grip, but it was still present. The government paid directors to make patriotic films. Historical epics were common, with the Second World War and the Chinese Civil War being the most popular wars. This genre peaked in the mid-1960s. By the 1970s, audiences were growing tired of watching the same type of movie year after year. But Chinese filmmakers had an idea from Hong Kong to get audiences back in theaters to watch propaganda. In 1974, Bruce Lee would fight (and kill) Communists in The Shaanxi Dragon
, his only role in a mainland film. It was wildly popular, breaking box office records in China. The film was a hit in South Korea, the Philippines, and it was even played in some theaters in the West. Attempts to cash in the popularity of The Shaanxi Dragon
mostly failed, as the film’s popularity was tied to Bruce Lee.
Censorship in China kept the Hong Kong film industry going strong. Kung Fu movies would be Hong Kong’s most famous product of that era, but the martial arts genre of film was by no means the only Hong Kong media popular abroad. Hong Kong movies of all sorts would regularly outperform mainland films in the mainland itself. There was little censorship in Hong Kong and popular mainland actors and actresses could easily go to the city as there were no restrictions on travel. They would often film a movie in Cantonese for Hong Kong and Guangdong and produce the Mandarin dub for Northern China at the same time. Hong Kong TV shows, often in the Wuxia genre, were popular in the mainland as well.
Chinese music would evolve during this time. The popularity of the Quarrymen resulted in a more western influenced Chinese music. The 60s and 70s saw an explosion of cover bands of American and British bands, with the Quarrymen being the most covered. Some of these went on to make their own music in Mandarin or Cantonese. Rock and Roll came to China and would remain popular for decades. The most famous rock star from China during the Chiang Era was Tsui Chien, a man from Beiping who became famous in the 1980s. Tsui was active in the pro-democracy circles, and rock music became associated with the pro-democracy movement. Other famous Chinese singers of the 70s and 80s included Teng Li-chun and Chang Yen-ching.
Television was an increasingly important part of life in China. Once again, it was heavily regulated by the government. Historical dramas with patriotic themes were common. Stories from Chinese mythology proved to be more popular. From 1974 to 1979, The China Broadcasting Corporation ran an adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms
, which proved to be a massive success. Journey to The West
would be adapted for television in a series that ran from 1976-1978. An animated series called The Monkey King
was on air during the late 80s and early 90s. Kung Fu series, usually from Hong Kong, were shown on TV as well. Chinese people also tuned in to their Minkuo televisions to watch the news, soap operas, documentaries, and more.
(Chinese celebrities of the 70s and 80s)
The 1980s brought a new form of entertainment to China: video games. The first video games in China were arcade games imported from Japan in the late 1970s. In the middle of the decade, Minkuo electronics got involved in making games. In 1986, the first video game produced in China: Jade Mountain Treasure. The player explores and fights their way through sixty levels in order to find the treasure at the top of Jade Mountain. Their next few releases would be third person shooter games which followed a protagonist, usually a Chinese soldier and sometimes a pilot, who fought hordes of Communist drones. While these games sold many copies in China, they were never translated into other languages and never were released outside the Japanese world.