Did Madame Mao dream in Technicolor? Rethinking Cold War colour cinema through Technicolor's 'Chinese copy'

Kirsty Sinclair Dootson, Zhaoyu Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Seeking a way to mass produce copies of colour propaganda films during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the Chinese government purchased expertise and equipment from Technicolor in the early 1970s to establish a dye-transfer printing unit at the Beijing Film Laboratory. This technological transfer from West to East is surprising given that during this period colour film technologies were ideologically freighted in an explicit manner as part of a chromatic Cold War. This proxy conflict saw Technicolor’s vivid palette aligned with the capitalist values of commercialism in opposition to the muted hues of chromogenic stocks used by the socialist countries of the Eastern Bloc (based on Germany’s Agfacolor patents dispersed after the war). China’s purchase of Technicolor’s printing system therefore invites two critical interventions into both our understanding of the history of colour cinema during the Cold War, and the history of Chinese film technology during the Cultural Revolution. First, it asks how globalising our understanding of Cold War colour cinema might produce alternative narratives to those established around the West/East binaries of the US/USSR. Secondly, it demands we reconsider China’s connection to larger transnational networks of film technology during the Cultural Revolution—a period typically characterized as one of isolationist self-sufficiency. This article explores the technical and economic reasons for China’s interest in Technicolor, but also demonstrates the significance of imported Technicolor films upon the development of Chinese cinema in the 1970s, arguing that the Chinese government was not simply interested in Technicolor as a technology, but as an aesthetic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-367
Number of pages25
Issue number3
Early online date31 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Did Madame Mao dream in Technicolor? Rethinking Cold War colour cinema through Technicolor's 'Chinese copy''. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this