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

Postgraduate Course: Chinese Silent Cinema: 1920-1935 (ASST11091)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) 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 modelled on the thematics and aesthetics of silent-era Chinese films.
Course website:

*This course is taught jointly with undergraduate students.
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. evidence exposure to materials and theoretical approaches that emphasize new modes of understanding the complexities of modern Chinese history;
  2. show an awareness of 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. point to the difference between visual culture and print culture;
  5. demonstrate the ways in which student film production activities improve the ability of students to learn from film artefacts produced nearly 100 years ago.
Reading List
Lu Xun, 'Diary of a Madman' (1918), 'The True Story of Ah Q' (1921), and 'New Year's Sacrifice' (1924).

Zhang Henshui, Shanghai Express (1935).

Mao Dun, 'Spring Silkworms' (1932), 'Autumn Harvest' (1933), 'Winter Ruin' (1933), and 'The Shop of the Lin Family' (1932).

Yu Dafu, 'Sinking' (1921).

Ding Ling, 'Diary of Miss Sophia' (1927).

Liang Qichao, 'On the Relationship between Fiction and the Government of the People' (1902).

Hu Shi, 'Some Modest Proposals for the Reform of Literature' (1917).

Chen Duxiu, 'On Literary Revolution' (1917).

Qian Xingcun, 'The Bygone Era of Ah Q' (1928).

Paul G. Pickowicz, 'Shanghai Twenties: Early Cinematic Explorations of the Modern Marriage,' China on Film, chapter 1.

Paul G. Pickowicz, 'Melodramatic Representation and the 'May Fourth' Tradition of Chinese Filmmaking,' China on Film, chapter 3.

Paul G. Pickowicz, 'The Theme of Spiritual Pollution in Chinese Films of the 1930s,' China on Film, chapter 2.

Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930-1945.

Zhang Yingjin, ed. Cinema and urban culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Link, Perry. Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies: Popular fiction in early twentieth-century Chinese cities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Henriot, Christian. Prostitution and sexuality in Shanghai: a social history 1849-1949. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Recommended Reading:
Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, pp. 271-434.
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Foundation in Chinese film studies. Familiarisation with core literary and film texts. Development of reading skills to advanced level. Training in critical analytical thinking and written and oral presentation of ideas.
Special Arrangements Jointly taught with undergraduate students (ASST10138)
Course organiserDr Xuelei Huang
Tel: (0131 6)50 8985
Course secretaryMr Alan Binnie
Tel: (0131 6)51 1822
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