Translating Yingxi : Chinese film genealogy and early cinema in Hong Kong

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The probable earliest film screenings in China, according to Law and Bren, took place between April and July 1897, in a variety of venues, from the City Hall in Hong Kong to the Astor House (Pujiang Hotel) in Shanghai and foreign-owned theaters in Tianjin (Lyceum) and Beijing (Legation). The date Law and Bren identify as the “first” screening was almost a year later than the date of August 1896 asserted by Cheng Jihua, Li Shaobai, and Xing Zuwen, in their seminal volumes on Chinese cinema.Immediately after the debut in Hong Kong in April 1897, subsequent screenings were held at a number of tea gardens and amusement parks in Shanghai, Tianjin, and Beijing. These new dates and venues proposed by Law and Bren are supported by another historian, Huang Dequan, in his studies on the arrival of cinema in China. Based on the research by Law and Bren and the subsequent endorsement by Huang, it is safe to say that our prior knowledge of early film exhibitions in China is equivocal, specifically, the dates and venues of the first screenings. Instead of traditional places like the tea garden or teahouse (chayuan) as venues for film’s debut to Chinese audiences, generic Western portals like public halls, a hotel ballroom, and theater stage were more likely to have housed the first film shows. A corollary arises from these findings: we need to revisit the existing scholarship of early Chinese film culture that has repeatedly asserted the teahouse and the garden as the inaugural sites of film exhibition and germination of movie spectatorship in China. The methods that scholars have employed in examining early Chinese film history, be they archival or sociocultural, require adjustment and a thorough reexamination. Furthermore, the conceptualizations of a native spectatorship hovering between the vernacular and the elite during the late Qing dynasty (circa 1900) may also need new calibration. With recent findings that alert us to gaps and flaws in early film scholarship, I intend to revisit some prevailing concepts and terms by presenting additional new evidence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEarly film culture in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Republican China : kaleidoscopic histories
EditorsEmilie Yueh-yu YEH
Place of PublicationAnn Arbor
PublisherUniversity of Michigan Press
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9780472901029, 9780472123445
ISBN (Print)9780472053728, 9780472073726
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


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