Stefano Bona Flinders University
16th century portrait of Marco Polo (1254 – 1324)
China has rapidly become the world’s second largest economy, and most of the clothes and shoes we wear, the mobile phones and computers we use, the bicycles we ride today are made there. However China’s cultures and peoples are still largely unknown or misunderstood in Western societies. Italy may be seen as a symbol both of the positive relations of China with the West (an embassy sent by Rome reached China as early as 166 AD, and the legacy of Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci is still thought highly of by the Chinese) and of the misunderstandings which have occurred in the relations between these cultures. Hence the way Italy and Italians identify China, its people and its culture, might be seen as a “litmus test” of their perception by Western countries.
If we add two further considerations, that film makers are intellectuals who interpret the feelings of society, and that, as David Bordwell argues, films are created to have an impact on audiences and speak to their imaginative needs, it then becomes particularly interesting to analyse how China has been represented by Italian directors who have shot films there since 1949 (the year the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed).