Three Essays on China's Film Industry and the Film Censorship System

Xuhao Pan

Advisor: Timothy Groseclose, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Carlos D. Ramirez, Tyler Cowen

Buchanan Hall, #D180
April 24, 2023, 01:30 PM to 03:00 PM


Chapter 1: The Economic and Political Institution of China’s Film Censorship 

Film censorship is an inevitable problem when Hollywood filmmakers try to get their films shown in China. The Chinese government and state-owned film corporations are attracted to the profits that Hollywood films would bring. Meanwhile, Chinese conservatism argues that Hollywood films will erode China’s socialist ideology and hinder the development of the film industry in China. To balance the conflict, the Chinese government has established economic and political institutions to regulate the outputs of Hollywood filmmakers. This paper analyzes film censorship in China, including its economic and political institutions of censorship directly involved in importing Hollywood films, and explores strategies employed by the Chinese government in censorship programs.

Chapter 2: Censorship of U.S. Movies in China (with Tim Groseclose and Tyler Cowen)

We introduce a structural econometric model to estimate the extent to which the Chinese government bans U.S. movies.  Our sample contains all U.S. movies that were released during 1994-2019 and grossed at least \$10 million in the U.S.  According to our estimates, if a movie has characteristics similar to the median movie in our sample, then the probability is approximately 0.91 that the Chinese government will ban it. If a movie has characteristics similar to the median blockbuster movie in our sample—where “blockbuster” means grossing at least \$170 million in the U.S.—then the probability is approximately 0.32 that the Chinese government will ban it. During our sample period, approximately 28 percent of the movies shown in China were produced by U.S. studios. We estimate, however, that if the Chinese government had not banned any U.S. movies, then the latter number would have risen to about 69 percent, and Chinese sales of U.S. movies would have increased from approximately \$22.6 billion to approximately \$45.1 billion.  In addition, we estimate that several movies were banned---and otherwise would have been shown---if they had not contained particular controversial content.  Specifically: (i) approximately 9.1 movies were banned because they contained lgbtq themes, (ii) 44.9 were banned because they contained occult themes, (iii) 98.9 were banned because they contained controversial adult content (i.e. they were rated R), and (iv) 1.5 were banned because the actor Richard Gere appeared in them.

Chapter 3: China's Influence on U.S. Films

I intend to study China's influence on U.S. films' casting choices. I recorded the 30 highest revenues films in the U.S. each year from 1985 to 2019 and collected actors' names who are listed in the first eight positions on those casting lists. I noted those actors' ethnic information and categorized them into five ethnic groups: white, African American, Asian, Latinx, and indigenous group. Under the Asian ethnic group, I found that the appearance of non-American Chinese actors increased after 1998 (shown in Figure 1), meanwhile, the number of American Chinese actors remained stable. I attribute the increase in non-American Chinese actors to China's growing film market. Especially due to these two reasons, (1) Hollywood studios have begun to cast more non-American Chinese actors to take advantage of the growth of the Chinese film market. (2) Chinese filmmakers have started co-producing films with Hollywood studios, and as a result, Chinese filmmakers brought native Chinese actors to those films. I use three independent variables as proxies for those two factors, U.S. films revenue in China, the number of U.S. films shown in China, and the number of co-production films with Chinese filmmakers. The regression results show that China is weakly related to the increasing appearance of non-American Chinese actors.