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Relatively few movie theaters for film fans

June 18, 2007

ON AN AVERAGE DAY IN CHINA film goers visit 1,325 movie houses, with 3,024 screens. The United States, with a much smaller population, has 6,100 movie theaters with 37,700 screens. As Paula Miller notes in The China Business Review, this means there’s just one screen for every 428,477 Chinese compared to about one screen for every 8,100 Americans.


The largest Chinese chains (e.g., Beijing New Cinema United 北京新影联) have 80-90 theaters with more than 200 screens. By contrast, Regal Entertainment Group, America’s largest chain, has 539 theaters with 6,386 screens.


One reason for the disparity is that propaganda aims drove (and to a lesser extent continue to drive) filmmaking and film exhibition efforts. Many Chinese saw films at their urban work units or when a mobile film exhibition group arrived in their village and films were shown outside or in schools. With economic liberalization in the 1980s, some entrepreneurs began opening video parlors screening tapes and then video cassette discs, often featuring films from Hong Kong. By the early 1990s urban families and, increasingly, affluent rural ones as well, had their own vcd/dvd players at home where they watched pirated films, often as soon as they were released to theaters. A single ticket at regular movie theaters was more expensive than a pirated disc. As a result, demand for the big screen experience has been limited.


In Loutang and Wuqiao, small towns outside Shanghai, for example, theaters in the early 1990s were small and audiences consisted mainly of older male teens and migrant workers. In Loutang, the theater business was not enough to sustain the staff, which had opened up a small shop producing plastic bags.



Current releases are among the films available on pirate dvds. Photo courtesy of

In recent years, China has opened up the film exhibition business to foreign investors. In 2004, the minimum investment required of foreigners wanting to enter the cinema business was reduced from RMB10 million to RMB6 million. Theater operators from Hong Kong and Macao became able to open theaters in China in May 2005.




Paula A. Miller, “Reeling in China's Movie Fans,” The Chinese Business Review, March 2007, <>, accessed June 17, 2007.


Regal Entertainment Group, “About Us”, <>, accessed June 17, 2007.


Wang Taihua, Bo Xilai, and Sun Jiazheng, “Order of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, No. 49: Supplementary Provisions to the Provisional Regulations on Investment in Cinemas by Foreign Investors,” Beijing: State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, April 8, 2005: <link>, accessed June 17, 2007.


Fengxian xian Wuqiao xiang "Wuqiao zhi" bian xie zu, “Wuqiao dianying dui (Wuqiao film team),” Wuqiao zhi 邬桥志 (Wuqiao Gazetteer), 1985.


Song Guozhang 宋国章, interviewed Oct. 28, 1991, Wuqiao, Shanghai Municipality.


Zhongying wang (,, accessed June 17, 2007.


Zhu Renxing 朱仁兴, interviewed April 18, 1992, Loutang, Shanghai Municipality.

[Clayton Dube, USC U.S.-China Institute]