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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : Asian Studies

Undergraduate Course: Chinese Silent Cinema: 1920-1935 (ASST10138)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis is an interdisciplinary course that deals with history, cultural studies, film studies and involves actual film production. Students will view and analyse fifteen early, silent-era, feature films made in China and learn how to use visual sources to understand historical phenomena. More specifically, the course will examine a number of important themes in modern Chinese history. The themes include modernity, urban transformation, gender, migration, consumption patterns, marriage and family, class, sexuality and nationalism. In spatial and chronological terms, the main focus is on the Shanghai global metropolis and its vanguard role in China and in East Asia during the pre-war 1920s and early 1930s. In order to sharpen their critical and interpretive capacities, small groups of students will made 20 minute films modeled on the thematics and aesthetics of silent-era Chinese films.
Course website:
Course description Week 1 Tue Mapping the History of Chinese Silent Cinema: the Genre of Comedy
Film: Labourer's Love 1922, d. Zhang Shichuan, 23 mins
Reading: Zhang Zhen, "Teahouse, Shadowplay, Bricolage"
Zhao Tiaokuang, "In the Pawnshop" (1923)

Week 1 Thu Mapping the History: Adaptation and Family Melodrama
Film: A String of Pearls 1925, d. Li Zeyuan, 1h42
Reading: Xuelei Huang, "From East Lynne to Konggu lan"
Guy de Maupassant, "The Diamond Necklace" (1884)

Week 2 Tue Mapping the History: Costume Drama and Martial Arts Film
Film: Romance of the Western Chamber 1927, d. Hou Yao, 44 mins
Reading: Kristine Harris, "The Romance of the Western Chamber and the Classical Subject Film in 1920s Shanghai"

Week 2 Thu Mapping the History: the Country/city Dichotomy and Spiritual Pollution
Film: Peach Blossom Weeps Tears of Blood 1931, d. Bu Wancang, 1h35
Reading: Paul G. Pickowicz, "The Theme of Spiritual Pollution"

Week 3 Tue Mapping the History: Nationalism, Collectivism and Masculinity
Film: The Big Road 1934, d. Sun Yu, 1h44
Reading: Laikwan Pang, Building a New China in Cinema, chapter 4

Week 3 Thu Mapping the History: Women and Evils of the City
Film: The Goddess) 1934, d. Wu Yonggang, 1h12
Reading: Gail Hershatter, "Modernizing Sex, Sexing Modernity: Prostitution in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai". *e-book available at UoE Library

Week 4 Tue Shanghai Modern and the Shanghai Film Industry
Reading: Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern, Chapter 1 "Remapping Shanghai" (pp. 3-42)
Huang Xuelei, Shanghai Filmmaking, Chapter 1. *e-book available at UoE Library

Week 4 Thu Modernity and its Discontents: In Search of the Modern Marriage
Film: Oceans of Passion, Heavy Kissing 1928, d. Xie Yunqing, 61 mins
Reading: Paul G. Pickowicz, "Shanghai Twenties: Early Chinese Cinematic Explorations of the Modern Marriage"
Lu Xun, Regret for the Past (1925)

Week 5 Tue Modernity and its Discontents: Masculinity in the Urban Milieu
Film: Dream in Pink 1932, d. Cai Chusheng, 1h23
Reading: Kam Louie, and Louise P. Edwards, "Chinese Masculinity"
Yu Dafu, "Sinking" (1921)

Week 5 Thu Melodramatic Imagination: the Dominant Genre
Reading: Pickowicz, "Melodramatic Representation and the May Fourth Tradition of Chinese Filmmaking," China on Film, chap. 3.
Huang, Shanghai Filmmaking, chap. 5 *e-book available at UoE Library

Week 6 Tue Women in Danger: Chinese Womanhood in Transition
Film: Orphan in the Snow 1929, d. Zhang Huimin, 1h16
Reading: Louise Edwards, Policing the Modern Woman in Republican China.
Ding Ling, Diary of Miss Sophia (1927)

Week 6 Thu Women in Danger? Female Agency in a Time of National Crisis
Film: Daybreak 1933, d. Sun Yu, 1h38

Week 7 Tue Previous Student Films: A Survey of Typical Thematic and Aesthetic Directions
Reading: Zhang Henshui, Shanghai Express (1934) *e-book available at UoE Library

Week 7 Thu China in Crisis: the 1930s
Film: Small Toys 1933, d. Sun Yu, 1h43
Reading: Anne Kerlan, "The enemy is coming"

Week 8 Tue Consultations on Film Projects

Week 8 Thu China in Crisis: Body, Sports, and a Redefined Femininity
Film: Queen of Sports 1934, d. Sun Yu, 1h26
Reading: Yunxiang Gao, "Sex, Sports, and China¿s National Crisis, 1931-1945"

Week 9 Tue Failed New Woman: Proletarian Culture and the Problem of Gender
Film: New Women 1935, d. Cai Chusheng, 1h45
Reading: Kristine Harris, "The New Woman Incident"

Week 9 Thu Consultations on Film Projects

Week 10 Tue After the Silent Era: A Comparison I
Film: Shanghai Old and New 1936, d. Cheng Bugao, 1h41

Week 10 Thu After the Silent Era: A Comparison II
Film: Spring in a Small Town 1948, d. Fei Mu, 1h33
Reading: Carolyn Fitzgerald, "Spring in a Small Town: Gazing at Ruins"

Week 11 Tue Revision and Consultations on Film Projects

Week 11 Thu Consultations on Film Projects
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. understand materials and theoretical approaches that emphasise new modes of understanding the complexities of modern Chinese history
  2. appreciate the strikingly global aesthetic strategies deployed in China in the early twentieth century by examining the case of the early Chinese film industry
  3. analyse and interpret visual materials
  4. apply knowledge learned from actual film-making practices
  5. better communicate and cooperate with others, using skills learned during the film-making process
Reading List
Ding Ling ¿¿. ¿Sha Fei nüshi de riji ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ (Diary of Miss Sophia). In Ding Ling. Miss Sophie's Diary and other Stories. Beijing: Chinese Literature, 1985.
Lu Xun ¿¿. ¿Shangshi¿¿¿ (Regret for the Past). In Lu Xun. Selected Stories of Lu Hsun. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.
Maupassant, Guy de. ¿The Diamond Necklace¿, 1884, Gutenberg ebook edition
Yu Dafu ¿¿¿. ¿Chenlun ¿¿¿ (Sinking). In Joseph Lau, ed. Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
Zhang Henshui ¿¿¿. Shanghai Express (¿¿¿¿). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997. *e-book available at UoE Library.
Zhao Tiaokuang ¿¿¿. ¿In the Pawnshop¿ (¿¿). In Timothy C Wong, ed. Stories for Saturday: twentieth-century Chinese popular fiction. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003.

Edwards, Louise. ¿Policing the Modern Woman in Republican China,¿ Modern China, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 115-147.
Fitzgerald, Carolyn. "Spring in a Small Town: Gazing at Ruins." In Chris Berry, ed., Chinese Films in Focus II. Basingstoke: BFI/Palgrave MacMillan, 2008, 205-11.
Gao, Yunxiang. ¿Sex, Sports, and China's National Crisis, 1931-1945: The "Athletic Movie Star" Li Lili (1915-2005).¿ Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Vol. 22, No. 1 (SPRING, 2010), pp. 96-161.
Harris, Kristine. ¿The Romance of the Western Chamber and the Classical Subject Film in 1920s Shanghai,¿ in Zhang, Yingjin, ed., Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
¿¿¿¿¿. ¿The New Woman Incident: Cinema, Scandal, and Spectacle in 1935 Shanghai,¿ in Lu, Sheldon H., ed., Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
Hershatter, Gail. ¿Modernizing Sex, Sexing Modernity: Prostitution in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai¿ in Chinese Femininities - Chinese Masculinities: A Reader. *e-book available at UoE Library
Huang, Xuelei. Shanghai Filmmaking. Leiden: Brill, 2014, chaps. 1, 5. *e-book available at UoE Library
¿¿¿¿¿. ¿From East Lynne to Konggu lan: Transcultural Tour, Trans-medial Translation¿. Transcultural Studies no. 2 (Dec. 2012): 48¿84.
Kerlan, Anne. ¿¿The enemy is coming¿: The 28th January 1932 Attack on Shanghai in Chinese cinema.¿ in Henriot, Christian and Yeh Wen-hsin, eds., History in images: pictures and public space in modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012, pp. 163-190.
Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930-1945. Cambridge, Mass. ; London : Harvard University Press, 1999, Chapter 1 ¿Remapping Shanghai¿.
Louie, Kam and Louise P. Edwards. 1994. ¿Chinese Masculinity: Theorising 'wen' and 'wu'¿. East Asian History. no. 8.
Pang, Laikwan. Building a New China in Cinema: The Chinese Left-Wing Cinema Movement, 1932-1937. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002, chapter 4.
Pickowicz, Paul G. ¿Shanghai Twenties: Early Chinese Cinematic Explorations of the Modern Marriage,¿ China on Film, chap. 1.
¿¿¿¿¿¿. ¿The Theme of Spiritual Pollution in Chinese Films of the 1930s,¿ China on Film, chap. 2.
¿¿¿¿¿¿. ¿Melodramatic Representation and the ¿May Fourth¿ Tradition of Chinese Filmmaking,¿ China on Film, chap. 3.
Zhang, Zhen. ¿Teahouse, Shadowplay, Bricolage: ¿Laborer¿s Love¿ and the Question of Early Chinese Cinema,¿ in Zhang, Yingjin, ed. Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999, pp. 27-50.
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsChinese cinema; silent film; history
Course organiserDr Xuelei Huang
Tel: (0131 6)50 8985
Course secretaryMrs Vivien MacNish Porter
Tel: (0131 6)50 3528
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