After Ang Lee's Oscar Win, China Imagines Cinema Beyond Censors

Looking to Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee's Oscar win for Best Director with pride and envy, mainland Chinese web users frustrated with the communist regime's tight grip on the film industry are wondering about their own country's cinematic potential.

A search of Lee's name yields [zh] more than 70,886 results and 4,165,630 discussions, making it the second most searched term on popular Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo as of the afternoon of February 25, 2013.

This is the second Academy Award win for Lee, who thanked Taiwan during his acceptance speech for its cooperation in the making of “Life of Pi“. In 2005, when he won the award for Best Director for his movie Brokeback Mountain, the Chinese media censored his acceptance speech, omitting any references to his native Taiwan or homosexuality.

Lee concluded his acceptance speech this time around with a “thank you” in Mandarin, causing some Chinese viewers to swell with pride. But others warned not be get so excited about the cultural nod, emphasizing that Lee's win had nothing to do with China.

Some Weibo users, such as “Qianzhe Yang Fang Lang” [zh], put emphasis on the word “hua ren”, a term used to describe ethnic Chinese people living abroad, as opposed to “zhong guo ren”, meaning Chinese citizens:

Ang Lee picked up his second Best Director award at this year's Oscars.(A screen shot from youku)

Ang Lee picked up his second Best Director award at this year's Oscars. A screen shot of the ceremony from youku.


Ang Lee is a good “hua ren” director, did you hear the word “China” in it? Don't put feathers in your own cap.

Another user wrote [zh]:


He expressed his gratitude to Taiwan, not China!

Writer “Tianyou” wondered [zh] why some were drawing a connection between mainland China and Lee:


Ang Lee's win for Best Director made some people so excited, they said it's China's pride. However, I feel a bit strange, as it's his own business. Even when it comes to pride, it's due to education in Taiwan and the US. How does it have anything to do with us?

However, Jiuzhouzhi magazine editor “Jiangnan Ricardo” disagreed [zh] that Lee's win meant nothing for China:

虽然有朋友觉得李安获奖是个人的事,但我还是觉得究其履历和思维方式李安是个有明显中国文化烙印的中国导演,从「卧虎藏龙」至今他的电影中常有中国式的思辨,包括「派的一生」。他用他的方式让各国的人多一个了解中国文化的渠道, 作为中国人很为他高兴。

Although some friends think Ang Lee's win is his own business, I think his thinking features Chinese culture, which can be seen in his movies such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Life of Pi“. He used his method to present Chinese culture to the world, being Chinese I'm happy for him.

Many netizens attributed Lee's success to the free entertainment industries in Taiwan and the US. “Keguan Nvjia Yunchuang” commented [zh]:


If he were to live in mainland, he wouldn't have made it!

User “Shouwangzhe” echoed [zh]:


Why is he so successful? The answer is simple: because he grew up in Taiwan.

Famous commentator “Zhu Qi“ wrote [zh]:


Taiwanese are ahead of us in terms of culture and arts. Congratulations to Taiwan. Although the they lost to the Communist Party during the Chinese Civil War, their culture and system still prevail!

Ang Lee's win also served as a reminder of China's strict film censorship. User “Zantan Wuwei” pointed out that China is stifling creativity [zh]:


No one from the mainland has won any Oscars. Why? Because there's no freedom in creativity and film production, only propaganda, which has lead to a decline of culture. In a society where political praise sings louder than Oscars, no one is able to create great art.

The system impedes good directors, user “Hexie De Tianxia” wrote


There is no lack of good directors in China, but the system decides what movies you make!

Just a few days’ before Ang Lee's win, China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) announced that “from now on all televised documentaries in China need to be submitted to SARFT for review first.”

Wang Ran, CEO of China eCapital Corporation, a leading private investment bank in China commented [zh] to his 2.65 million fans on Weibo:


Most people are just watching Hollywood for entertainment, but they [the Chinese government] are helping Hollywood to ensure its global empire status by doing this.


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