The government of the People’s Republic of China has often been criticized for its policies regarding freedom of expression. Cinema in China has been central to this criticism, particularly with respect to the distribution of foreign films. This article uses a case study of the Japanese film Death Note (Kaneko Shūsuke, 2006) to advance current understanding of Chinese cinema found in important studies such as Chu (2002), Zhang (2004) and Berry and Farquhar (2006). To better understand the controversy surrounding Death Note in the Chinese context, this article explores the historical precursors to the Chinese Communist Party’s ban on horror films, and examines the attitudes of Chinese students at an Australian university. The article also proposes a new viewpoint about how trade and popular presses in the West are attempting to understand China’s changing role in the global cultural industries.