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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 Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
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 or screenwriting. Students will view and analyse 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 students' critical and interpretive capacities, small groups of students will make 20-minute films or write 20-minute screenplays modelled on the thematics and aesthetics of silent-era Chinese films.
Course website:
Course description Week 1 Introduction
Film: Labourer's Love, 1922, d. Zhang Shichuan, 23 mins

Week 2 Adaptation and Transnational Cinema
Film: A String of Pearls, 1925, d. Li Zeyuan, 1h42

Week 3 Costume Drama and Martial Arts Film
Film: Romance of the Western Chamber, 1927, d. Hou Yao, 44 mins

Week 4 The Country/city Dichotomy and Spiritual Pollution
Film: Peach Blossom Weeps Tears of Blood, 1931, d. Bu Wancang, 1h35

Week 5 China in Crisis: the 1930s
Film: Small Toys, 1933, d. Sun Yu , 1h43

Week 6 Reading week

Week 7 Women and Evils of the City
Film: The Goddess, 1934, d. Wu Yonggang, 1h12

Week 8 Nationalism, Collectivism and Masculinity
Film: The Big Road, 1934, d. Sun Yu, 1h44

Week 9 Body, Sports, and Redefined Femininity
Film: Queen of Sports, 1934, d. Sun Yu, 1h26

Week 10 Failed New Woman: Proletarian Culture and the Problem of Gender
Film: New Women, 1935, d. Cai Chusheng, 1h45

Week 11 Conclusion and reflection
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 aesthetic strategies deployed in Chinese silent cinema
  3. analyse and interpret visual materials
  4. apply knowledge learned from actual filmmaking or screenwriting practices
  5. better communicate and cooperate with others, using skills learned during the filmmaking or screenwriting process
Reading List
Bao, Weihong. Fiery Cinema: the Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915-1945. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Fan, Victor. Cinema Approaching Reality: Locating Chinese Film Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Fu, Yongchun. The Early Transnational Chinese Cinema Industry. London: Routledge, 2019.
Huang, Xuelei. Shanghai Filmmaking: Crossing Borders, Connecting to the Globe, 1922-1938. Leiden: Brill, 2014.
Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930-1945. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Pang, Laikwan. Building a New China in Cinema: The Chinese Left-Wing Cinema Movement, 1932-1937. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002.
Pickowicz, Paul G. China on Film: a Century of Exploration, Confrontation, and Controversy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.
Rea, Christopher. Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949. NY: Columbia University Press, 2021.
Wang, Yiman. Remaking Chinese Cinema: through the Prism of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Hollywood. Honolulu: University of Hawai┬┐i Press, 2013.
Yeh, Emilie Yueh-yu. Early Film Culture in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Republican China: Kaleidoscopic Histories. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018.
Zhang, Yingjin, ed. Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Zhang, Zhen. An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896-1937. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Additional Class Delivery Information 2-hour weekly seminar
weekly film screening (online or in classroom)
KeywordsChinese cinema; silent film; history
Course organiserDr Xuelei Huang
Tel: (0131 6)50 8985
Course secretaryMs Annie Kelly
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