Hou's birthplace, a county in Kuangtung Province, had been well known as an intellectual center in China. In 1948 his family moved to Taiwan and, like all children raised there, he went through an extremely demanding educational system. In 1969 he studied film at the National Taiwan Arts Academy. After graduation in 1972, he worked briefly as a salesman. Later he began his film career as a scriptwriter and assistant director. Hou's cinema is often concerned with his experiences of growing up in rural Taiwan in the 1950s and 60s. The 50s marked a time in which refugee families from the mainland were painfully struggling for survival, while the 60s saw the beginning of the most significant social change in modern Taiwan. The economic boom of that period meant the beginning of Westernization and urbanization. The normal frustrations of growing up were aggravated by these complicated changes, and Hou's films are intimate expressions of those experiences. His emotionally charged work is replete with highly nostalgic images and beautiful compositions; their power lies in his total identification with the past and the fate of families who suffered through difficult times. His stories, often written in collaboration with scriptwriters Chu Tien-wen and Wu Nien-chun, depict the complex intertwining of the different strands that shape the lives of individuals. In a poetic yet relaxed style, they reflect a deep sympathy and a profound humanism.