The rise of grassroots voices : Chinese urban identity and independent filmmaking in the post-1989 era

  • Huimin Deng

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


At the beginning of the 1990s, independent Chinese fiction and documentary film works made their first step, marking the rise of Chinese Sixth Generation cinema. Faced with the dominant communist state ideology and commercial values, both the two film types remained “marginal” and even “underground” in Chinese film history. Thus, the purpose of this thesis is to figure out what cinematic subjects and film aesthetics make them an anomaly in relation to Chinese official and commercial cinema. Regardless of their different film types, this study uses the theories of intertextuality to deal with the iconographic signs and film codes shared by them. I shall argue that in the post-1989 era independent Chinese filmmakers root the two film types in marginal urban groups and jishizhuyi [on-the-scene realism]. On the one hand, they concentrate on urbanites’ sufferings against the background of the oppressive political environment and the social upheaval of China’s reform age. On the other hand, they introduce jishizhuyi and neorealism aesthetics to represent social reality, refusing to dissimulate the cruelty of reality. Under the enlightenment of intertextuality, this thesis provides a new angle of view on what and how contemporary Chinese urban identity is shaped in multiple Chinese independent film works. It also exposes the establishment of independent Chinese filmmakers’ speaking rights in the struggle against the official and commercial system.
Date of Award27 Jul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorDina Iordanova (Supervisor) & Lucy Fife Donaldson (Supervisor)


  • Chinese independent cinmea
  • Urban identity
  • Marginality
  • Neorealist cinema
  • Intertextual film images

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  • 11th June 2025

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