Shuttling between image and text : a study on bilingual intertitles in Chinese films, 1922-1931

  • Chen WANG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Almost all extant Chinese film before 1932 were equipped with both English and Chinese intertitles. Who were the writers of intertitles? What traits characterized them? How did intertitles relate to images? Did they simply repeat information provided in images or did they underscore certain messages? Alternatively, did intertitles add new meanings to moving images? Did English intertitles help foreign spectators gain a better understanding of the stories?

To answer these questions, this study investigates the bilingual intertitles in Chinese films from 1922 to 1931 by emphasizing how intertitles and their interactions with images direct spectators’ engagement with and perception of the on-screen world.

As the most obvious literary element in the cinematic productions, intertitles link both foreign and indigenous literature to Chinese silent cinema. By acting as a channel, intertitles allow literary features to travel into and operate within Chinese films and thus to affect these films’ look and feel. In Chinese films, English intertitles were juxtaposed with Chinese intertitles on a single title card. Intertitle translators selected and translated the information they believed most informatively and contextually relevant to help foreign spectators understand Chinese films as the filmmakers wanted. Seeing in this light, I argue that intertitles and their interactions with images orient spectators’ perception of the fictional world in terms of narrative, aesthetics, ideology, and culture.

Date of Award5 Apr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorYueh Yu YEH (Supervisor) & Darrell William DAVIS (Supervisor)

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