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Censorship and Sovereignty: Shanghai and the Struggle to Regulate Film Content in the International Settlement

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image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

The Nationalist government struggled to control the content and exhibition of motion pictures in Shanghai in the 1920s. Officials of the Shanghai Municipal Council in the foreign-controlled International Settlement, empowered by the right of extraterritoriality, stymied Chinese efforts to control foreign – predominantly American – motion pictures shown in the enclave. The struggle over political control was exacerbated by increasing nationalist sentiment and belief that foreign motion pictures contained distorted and unflattering images of China and its people. Demonstrations targeted Hollywood films including those by Douglas Fairbanks and Harold Lloyd. Ultimately, neither strenuous Chinese efforts nor stubborn foreign resistance could resolve the matter satisfactorily, but the dispute became moot with Japan's seizure of Shanghai in 1937.


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