Films on China

Commanding Heights:
The Battle for the World Economy

Documentary 2002 NR 360 minutes. Based on the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, this three-part PBS documentary series is the story of how the new global economy was born. It traces the rise of free markets during the last century, as well as the process of globalization. There are three segments – 1. “The Battle of Ideas” (primarily between Capitalism and Communism);  2. “The Agony of Reform” (after the end of Communism)  3. “The New Rules of the Game” (of Globalization). See Full Review

The Baidu Billionaire:
Inside the Google of China

Interview in the Bloomberg West Inside series 2013 NR 22m. Although it’s a familiar name in China, the search engine Baidu is little known elsewhere. This isn’t a full-fledged documentary, but it is certainly an interesting interview with founder Robin Li, who went to grad school in the US and then worked there as a programmer.

High Tech, Low Life

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 25m. Meet Tiger and Zola, two “citizen reporters” who travel throughout China, facing censorship and even imprisonment in their pursuit of the truth.  Citizen journalism at its best. The courage of these people is amazing, and their passion is inspiring. After I watched this, I tried to search for recent blogs by Tiger but couldn’t find anything. This film gives you the feeling and the flavor of Beijing. The real stuff. The way real people live and work and how they are naturally. The countryside scenes and the travel scenes nail it! I lived in China four years 2006 to 2010 teaching English, and this show brought back many memories. This doc shows the importance of the flow of information, and how each and every one of us can make a difference in our communities. I remember Facebook being blocked and on some occasions Yahoo and Google as well. Censorship in China is little known by most around the world, and I was fascinated. This doc does a good job at showing the censorship going on over there. Although it’s not as bad as everyone thinks. In four years I saw so much change it felt like I was inside a time-machine watching new developments pop up overnight — a lot of the same stuff going on here in the States. I recommend this film for anybody who has never been to China. I must say, this film opened my eyes to life in China. We should never take our freedom for granted. I really enjoyed this movie. And great job by all involved in this film! Great watch!

Web Junkie

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 15m.  Spotlighting a troubling social trend in modern China, this documentary visits one of 400 rehab centers focused on treating the symptoms of Internet addiction.  “China is the first country to declare internet addiction as a clinical disorder, claiming it is the number one public health threat to its teenage population.”  And the problem will surely grow, as everything is so net-based these days.  Having seen people close to me spend 10+ hours a day online gaming, I can tell you the addiction is very real.
See Full Review

Last Train Home

Documentary 2009 NR 90 minutes. Documentarian Lixin Fan follows a couple who, like 130 million other Chinese peasants, left their rural village for work in the city, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents, returning only once a year on an arduous 1,000-mile journey.

Death by China

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 19m. This frank documentary chronicles the growing power and global ambitions of China, and concludes that its strength threatens America’s own future. Starting with the agreement in 2001 which allowed China into the World Trade Organization, this movie recounts trends to the present. This is an excellent, frank look at China’s unethical business practices since joining the WTO. It makes some valid points about the negative effects that our trade agreements with China have had. Much of the film is about the manner in which multi-national corporations headquartered in the US exploited free trade agreements for their own short term interests, at the expense of the greater good for the US economy. The documentary makes it clear that the multinationals coupled with their successful lobbying groups have made it easier to move our manufacturing to China.  See Full Review

China from the Inside

Documentary BBC 2006 NR 4 hours (4 segments). Get an unprecedented look inside the history, contemporary life and political realities of China with this fascinating PBS documentary. As China’s global power grows, much of its culture remains veiled from the rest of the world — and conflicts between economic policies and the Communist agenda have grown. The four episodes include “Power and the People,” “Women of the Country,” “Shifting Nature” and “Freedom and Justice.”



Blind Mountain
(Mang Shan)

Drama 2007 NR 95 minutes. Blind Mountain reveals one of China’s continuing social problems, selling women for marriage in modern day China. The promise of a good-paying job lures a young Chinese woman into a horrifying predicament in this drama. In the 1990s college student Bai Xuemei (Lu Huang) awakens in a remote village to find she’s been sold into a marriage to the repulsive “husband” that is slavery in disguise. Her resistance only results in being raped by her “husband” and continued beatings at the hands of her husband, her husbands’ parents and the villagers. Trapped in the fiercely traditional town, the young woman finds that her avenues of escape are all blocked. As she searches for allies, including a young boy, a school teacher and a mailman. With hope running out, Bai undertakes one final dramatic stand against her oppressors. See Full Review

The King of Masks

Drama 1999 TV-14 1hr 41m. Nearing the end of his life, Wang — a locally renowned street performer and wizard of the venerable art of mask magic — yearns to pass on his technique. But custom decrees that he can only hand down his craft to a male successor. Anxious to preserve his unique art, the heirless Wang buys an impoverished 8-year-old on the black market in a startling scene. The child is 8, and is held by the seller on a leash. But when the child divulges a dreaded secret, Wang faces a choice between filial love and societal tradition. Setting is provincial Sichuan in 1930. See Full Review

It’s A Girl

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr3m. This grave documentary spotlights the cultural traditions that surround widespread female “gendercide”, female infanticide, and violence toward women in India and China. It tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.

The Women’s Kingdom
In China, How Free Can a Woman Be?

Documentary Frontline / World 2005. On Rough Cut this week, you’ll meet Lamu and several extraordinary Mosuo women as we travel to “The Women’s Kingdom” in southwest China, not far from the Tibetan Buddhist city the Chinese have renamed Shangri-La. Reporter Xiaoli Zhou, who comes from Shanghai, told us she had always wanted to visit the Mosuo region to see for herself how much freedom a woman might enjoy in China.

China’s Lost Girls

Documentary National Geographic 2005 NR 43 minutes. Accompanied by her team from her travel show, “National Geographic’s Ultimate Explorer,” reporter Lisa Ling (“The View”) flies off to China with American parents set to adopt baby girls, the casualties of the country’s long-standing one-child policy. In hewing to this strict rule, families wind up aborting, abandoning or hiding their daughters, many of whom end up in the United States, brought by couples longing for children.


Somewhere Between

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 28m. Questions of identity and heritage are explored through the lives of four American women, adoptees from China who are members of transracial families.

Red Obsession

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 18m. Russell Crowe narrates this sobering study of how the tastes of China’s nouveau riche are driving up wine prices in France’s Bordeaux region.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Documentary  2012 R 1hr 31m. This compelling documentary explores three years in the life of celebrated Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who uses social media and his art to inspire protests against the state, and suffers government persecution for his actions.

Surviving Progress

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr. 26m. This bracing documentary considers whether human “progress” stemming from the Industrial Age could be paving the way for civilization’s collapse. The film asks a range of thinkers whether the modern world might be headed for a “progress trap.”

When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 53m. Dirk Simon’s documentary about the history of China’s occupation of Tibet follows the Tibetan people’s ongoing struggle for freedom.


Documentary 2009 NR. In China, the wheels of justice turn slowly — if at all — for the “petitioners,” the hordes of people from all over the country who come to Beijing to register complaints against local authorities. This film documents their ordeal. Director Zhao Liang spent years documenting the lives of these stubborn souls — many of whom live in makeshift shelters as they wait to be heard — in the process exposing the contradictions of modern-day China.

China Rises
Behind the Great Wall

Documentary 2008 NR 2 discs. China’s shift from secluded land of mystery to global economic powerhouse is explored in this compelling documentary about the country’s progress, power and people. With unprecedented access, the Discovery Times Channel’s cameras capture every aspect of this dynamic country, from the Shanghai Film Festival to a factory floor, a Great Wall rock concert to the legacy of Tiananmen Square and preparations for the 2008 Olympics.

Young & Restless in China

Documentary 2008 NR 106 minutes. Helmed by Sue Williams, this eye-opening documentary follows a cross section of Chinese entrepreneurs, pacesetters and struggling Gen-Xers swept up in a bubbling cauldron of rapid social and economic transition. Profiling a handful of people — including an activist attorney, a hotelier and a downtrodden rap artist — the film charts their trajectories over the course of four years and looks at how the sweeping transformations are affecting them.

China: Green Dreams
A Not So Model Village

Documentary Frontline / World 2008. The village of Huangbaiyu in rural northeast China was supposed to be a model for energy-conscious design. But the joint China-U.S. project to initially build 400 sustainable homes went awry.

Wild China

Documentary Series 2008 TV-G 2 discs / 6 episodes. This six-part series uncovers some of the most exotic and uncharted natural habitats hidden within the vast and diverse topography of China, including Yunnan’s forests, the Tibetan plateau, the Silk Road and the Mongol steppes.

China: Undermined
Coal mines threaten villages

Documentary Frontline / World 2007. China’s churning economy runs on coal. But coal mining in China is a dangerous business, killing an average of thirteen miners every day. Digging for coal is also literally undermining whole villages, as Duane Moles reports in this Rough Cut video.

Up the Yangtze
(Sur le Yangzi)

Documentary 2007 NR 93 minutes. When the Three Gorges Dam makes life hard for the Yu family, daughter Yu Shui must take a job aboard a cruise ship, where she enters into a dizzying microcosm of modern China. Meanwhile, her parents face the rising waters of the Yangtze.

Please Vote For Me

Documentary 2007 NR 57m. Though China’s government is Communist, the third grade election for the prestigious position of Class Monitor at the Evergreen Primary School in Wuhan is being decided by a democratic vote. In this enlightening documentary, filmmaker Weijun Chen captures all the action as the three candidates — two boys and a girl — go all out to win: performing in a talent show, debating each other and delivering speeches to their classmates.

e2 (S1E2): China, From Red to Green?

Documentary Series 2006 NR. About the environmental impact of buildings. This PBS documentary series explores the dynamic ideas of the innovators and artisans who strive to advance technological progress while raising awareness about “green” issues in building and reducing damage to the environment by buildings. Among the subjects profiled are architects who use sustainable materials, cities that welcome alternative energies and worldwide efforts to reduce traffic and pollution. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman narrate.

The Tank Man

Documentary Frontline 2006. Seventeen years after the historic Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, filmmaker Antony Thomas goes to China to find the young man who seized the world’s attention by standing unarmed before a column of army tanks. While researching the man’s identity and fate, Thomas also examines how the student uprisings benefited the urban elite and middle class tremendously but did little to change the poverty of China’s throngs of rural workers.   The Tank Man is now an icon as a symbol of protest. However, this film has very little to do with the Tank Man as the title suggests, although they use him as a symbol of courage and an impetus for change. The film consists of two parts. Part 1 tells the story of the uprising in Beijing that focused on Tiananmen Square, and the one unknown man who stood blocking a column of tanks the following day.  Part 2 concerns the long-term results of those protests, which opened Communist China to a more Capitalist economy.  If you have any interest in China, it is a good rental.

China Diaries
Life on the Road in Western China

Documentary Frontline / World 2006. When filmmaker Brent E. Huffman took a six-month assigment in remotest western China, he knew it would be no ordinary adventure. There with his Chinese-born producer wife, Xiaoli, to film endangered wildlife and minority cultures, Huffman kept a diary and captured images of the beauty of China’s last untouched wilderness as well as some of the most polluted, decimated landscapes on the planet.

Japan and China
The Unforgotten War

Documentary Frontline / World 2006. All it took was a few sentences in a Japanese history textbook last year to spark the biggest protests China had seen since 1989. Why did a dispute over the history of a World War II era massacre trigger such outrage? Explore the growing rivalry between China and Japan in a new video by Frontline/World Fellows Emily Taguchi and Lee Wang.

The Blood of Yingzhou District

Documentary 2006 NR 38m. Hong Kong filmmaker Ruby Yang chronicles the lives of young orphans living in China’s Anhui province whose parents have died from AIDS.

China: Silenced
A Reporter’s Nightmare

Documentary Frontline / World 2005. Frontline/World reporter Serene Fang visits a remote Chinese province, Xinjiang, to investigate growing tensions between the government and the Muslim people known as the Uighurs. Her clandestine interview with a Uighur man turns into a reporter’s nightmare when Chinese authorities arrest Fang and her source, confiscate her videotape, interrogate her for 24 hours, and take the Uighur man away to an unknown fate. In her story, Fang reveals the name of the man in an effort to bring attention to his plight.

China: Shanghai Nights
A New Generation’s Cultural Revolution

Documentary Frontline / World 2004. Frontline/World reporter Nguyen Qui Duc visits a changing boomtown on the edge of China’s cultural frontier. Explore Shanghai’s restless youth culture with pop novelist and literary “bad girl” Mian Mian, whose writing about sex, drugs and music rocked a generation.

From China with Love

Documentary Frontline 2004. Her code name was “Parlor Maid.” She was a spy whose information about China found its way to four American presidents. For 20 years Katrina Leung’s handler was a freewheeling FBI agent named J.J. Smith. But “Parlor Maid” and J.J. were more than agent and asset: they were lovers. Last April, the government claimed “Parlor Maid” was a double agent–spying for China with the help of her lover J.J.–and the two were arrested. Frontline investigates a story of sex, secrets, risk, patriotism and power, and explores how U.S. intelligence about China has been seriously compromised.

China in the Red

Documentary Frontline 2003. Four years in the making, this two-hour Frontline documentary chronicles three pivotal years in China’s historic evolution from a rigid Communist society to an exploding market economy. For more than half a century, millions of Chinese workers labored in state-run factories that provided cradle-to-grave job security. But the economic reforms that have brought the world’s most populous nation economic prosperity and world-power status now threaten the livelihood of many Chinese workers. The Chinese Communist Party can no longer afford to subsidize the factories, and millions of workers are being laid off, with no social safety net to catch them. “China in the Red” follows ten Chinese citizens caught up in the social and economic transformation, and through their stories reveals a nation in flux and a people struggling to survive in a world they never dreamed would exist.

Blind Shaft

Drama 2003 NR. True loyalty has no place in the hearts of criminals, especially two back-stabbing Chinese mobsters, Yi Xiang Li (Qiang Li) and Yuan Fengmin (Baoqiang Wang), who aren’t afraid to turn on their own bosses in the name of greed and envy. Soon, however, they find that performing their misdeeds is one thing, but getting away with them is another business altogether. Although one decides to change his ways, trouble looms for both.

Beijing Bicycle

Drama 2002 PG-13. When 16-year-old villager Guei finds work as a messenger in the Chinese capital, he buys himself a bicycle. But as he nears the final payment, the bike disappears — and without his wheels, Guei can’t work. After desperately searching all of Beijing for his prized possession, he finally is introduced to Jian, who claims that the bike is his. The two boys ultimately learn to share in this drama about social classes, delinquency and fairness.


Drama 2002 PG 119 minutes. A young boy, Xiao Chun (Tang Yun), proves to be a massive talent when it comes to the violin, so his father (Liu Peigi) helps him find the best teacher in Beijing, far away from their hometown. There, Xiao Chun meets a nightclub worker with a heart of gold and finds true friendship.


Documentary Video Visits 2002 NR 68 minutes. Armchair travelers, take heart: Your next destination is the Far East, the land the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, exuberant Hong Kong and more. “Video Visits” takes you to China on a grand tour of some of the country’s most vibrant cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and X’ian (home of the eerily fascinating terracotta warriors).

Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl

Drama 1999 R. At the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, a girl is sent to a remote area as part of a government initiative and finds her exile a thrilling adventure — and a nightmarish trap. This rich tale examines the individual cost of collective decisions.

The Road Home

Drama 1999 G 89 minutes. In 1950s China, young country girl Zhao Di falls head over heels for her village’s new schoolteacher, but the couple’s courtship is cut short when the new communist government summons him for questioning during the Cultural Revolution.

The Gate of Heavenly Peace

Documentary Frontline 1996. In the spring of 1989, students and workers occupied Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the world watched as China struggled with this wrenching upheaval in the name of democracy. ‘The Gate of Heavenly Peace’ documents the history of China’s Protest Movement, providing context to the history and political attitudes which shaped the development of the movement, and reveals how moderates among student protesters and within the government were silenced by extremist factions. In its first television broadcast, the film reflects five years of meticulous research and interviews to construct the most complete and accurate account to date of the complex political process that eventually led to the Beijing Massacre on June 4.

To Live

Drama 1994 NR 133 minutes. A bold, energetic masterpiece from Zhang Yimou, the foremost director from China’s influential “fifth generation” of filmmakers. Continuing his brilliant collaboration with China’s best-known actress, Gong Li, Zhang weaves a tapestry of personal and political events, following the struggles of an impoverished husband and wife (Ge You and Li) from their heyday in the 1940s to the hardships that accompanied the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

The Story of Qiu Ju

Drama 1993 NR 100 minutes. Gong Li delivers a superbly nuanced performance as the titular heroine in director Yimou Zhang’s droll take on the absurdities of bureaucratic impotency. Set in a remote Chinese province, the film follows pregnant peasant Qui Ju on her resolute quest for justice after the village elder kicks her husband in the family jewels. Merely seeking an apology from the stubborn chief, Qui Ju soon gets caught in the cogs of an exasperating legal system.

The Blue Kite

Drama 1993 NR 138 minutes. This critically acclaimed award-winner, banned in China for its harshly realistic portrayal of life under Chairman Mao, is an epic look at recent Chinese history and how politics affect personal lives. The film follows young Tietou growing up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, watching colleagues denounce each other and neighbors spy on one another. Soon, Tietou’s family and friends — and even Tietou — get caught in the violent upheaval.

China After Tiananmen

Documentary Frontline 1992. In June 1989, Chinese students defied their government and held pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. Their voices of protest were silenced with tanks and guns. Three years later, Frontline examines a country torn by the conflicting realities of liberal economic reform and continuing political repression. While China’s ruling gerontocracy maintains a firm hold on political dissent, the people are embracing economic reforms and a more open society.

Looking for Mao

Documentary Frontline 1983. Only seven years after Mao’s death, it is clear that China is undergoing another revolution. This is a revolution of political and social relaxation. Frontline explores what has been retained and what has been rejected from the days of the Cultural Revolution.

A Chinese Affair

Documentary Frontline 1983. For thirty-four years, those who fled to Taiwan in the wake of the Communist victory have had only their memories and fantasies of mainland China. Now they want to know much more, and a political struggle is underway to determine how Taiwan will relate to the mainland.

The True Story of Marco Polo

Documentary History’s Mysteries 2005 NR 50 minutes. Aside from serving as a popular swimming pool shout-out, the words Marco Polo conjure up one of the most well-known explorers in history — his fame due in part to his captivating written accounts about his epic journey to China, India and beyond. In this fascinating “History’s Mysteries” program, experts and scholars weigh in on the details of Polo’s travels, retracing his steps and first impressions in his own eloquent words.

China’s Terracotta Warriors

Documentary Secrets of the Dead 2011 TV-PG 53m. Putting 8,000 clay soldiers in historical context, this documentary explores the terracotta warriors created to guard the Emperor of China’s tomb.

(Kong Zi)

Docudrama 2010 NR 2hr5m. This sweeping epic revisits China’s Spring and Autumn periods through the dramatic biography of Confucius, the legendary Eastern philosopher. Sixth century BCE scenery, attire, architecture, manners are all fascinating. Yes, a bit long but, Master Kong is China’s ‘First Teacher’ and to understand his teachings one must understand that the political intrigue of his era gave the context for his desire to reinstitute the mores of an earlier peaceful time.


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