The cinema of China is one of three distinct historical threads of Chinese-language cinema together with the cinema of Hong Kong and the cinema of Taiwan.
Cinema was introduced in China in 1896 and the first Chinese film, The Battle of Dingjunshan, was made in 1905, with the film industry being centered on Shanghai in the first decades. The first sound film, Sing-Song Girl Red Peony, using the sound-on-disc technology, was made in 1931. The 1930s, considered the first "golden period" of Chinese cinema, saw the advent of the Leftist cinematic movement and the dispute between Nationalists and Communists was reflected in the films produced. After the Japanese invasion of China and the occupation of Shanghai, the industry in the city was severely curtailed, with filmmakers moving to Hong Kong, Chongqing and other places, starting a "Solitary Island" period in Shanghai, referring to the city's foreign concessions, with the remaining filmmakers working there. Princess Iron Fan (1941), the first Chinese animated feature film, was released at the end of this period. It influenced wartime Japanese animation and later Osamu Tezuka. After being completely engulfed by the occupation in 1941, and until the end of the war in 1945, the film industry in the city was under Japanese control.
After the end of the war, a second golden age took place, with production in Shanghai resuming, with films such as Spring in a Small Town (1948), named the best Chinese-language film at the 24th Hong Kong Film Awards. After the communist revolution in 1949, previous and some foreign films were banned in 1951, and movie attendance increased sharply. During the Cultural Revolution, the film industry was severely restricted, coming almost to a standstill from 1967 to 1972. The industry flourished following the end of the Cultural Revolution, including the "scar dramas" of the 1980s, such as Evening Rain (1980), Legend of Tianyun Mountain (1980) and Hibiscus Town (1986), depicting the emotional traumas left by the period. Starting in the mid to late 1980s, with films such as One and Eight (1983) and Yellow Earth (1984), the rise of the Fifth Generation brought increased popularity to Chinese cinema abroad, especially among Western arthouse audiences, with films like Red Sorghum (1987), The Story of Qiu Ju (1992) and Farewell My Concubine (1993) winning major international awards. The movement partially ended after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The post-1990 period saw the rise of the Sixth Generation and post-Sixth Generation, both mostly making films outside of the main Chinese film system and played mostly on the international film festival circuit.
Following the international commercial success of films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Hero (2002), the number of co-productions in Chinese-language cinema has increased and there has been a movement of Chinese-language cinema into a domain of large scale international influence. After The Dream Factory (1997) demonstrated the viability of the commercial model, and with the growth of the Chinese box office in the new millennium, Chinese films have broken box office records and, as of January 2017, 5 of the top 10 highest-grossing films in China are domestic productions. Lost in Thailand (2012) was the first Chinese film to reach CN¥1 billion at the Chinese box office, Monster Hunt (2015) was the first to reach CN¥2 billion and The Mermaid (2016) was the first to CN¥3 billion and is currently the highest-grossing film in China.
China is the home of the largest film studio in the world, the Hengdian World Studios, and in 2010 it had the third largest film industry by number of feature films produced annually. In 2012 the country became the second-largest market in the world by box office receipts. In 2016, the gross box office in China was CN¥45.71 billion (US$6.58 billion ). The country has the largest number of screens in the world since 2016, and is expected to become the largest theatrical market by 2019. China has also become a major hub of business for Hollywood studios.
In November 2016, China passed a film law banning content deemed harmful to the “dignity, honor and interests” of the People’s Republic and encouraging the promotion of “socialist core values", approved by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
Motion pictures were introduced to China in 1896. The first recorded screening of a motion picture in China occurred in Shanghai on August 11, 1896, as an "act" on a variety bill. The first Chinese film, a recording of the Peking opera, The Battle of Dingjunshan, was made in November 1905 in Beijing. For the next decade the production companies were mainly foreign-owned, and the domestic film industry was centered on Shanghai, a thriving entrepot and the largest city in the Far East. In 1913, the first independent Chinese screenplay, The Difficult Couple, was filmed in Shanghai by Zheng Z