‘Rethinking Chinese Film Industry: New Methods, New Histories’ Conference

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8-9 October 2010

Hong Kong


As an important element of the world cinema, Chinese-language cinema has a long history almost as long as film itself. Yet it only started to attract serious scholarly attention in the mid-1980s, and most of the important work thus far has been focused on contemporary Chinese-language films over the last three to four decades.


The 'Rethinking Chinese Film Industry: New Methods, New Histories' conference held on 8-9 October 2010 and organised by Hong Kong Baptist University came timely as an important intervention of the field to raise awareness regarding the gaps that are not yet filled. It brought scholarly and critical attention to the matters of pre-war Chinese-language film industries. Led by Emilie Yeh (herself a specialist in East Asian cinemas), the conference built a platform where speakers and participants could discuss new perspectives on Chinese film industries with a focus on, though not limited to, pre-1950 industrial history. It had two aims: to expand the existing scope of industry research and to explore new methodological approaches. It featured experts from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, the UK and USA.


There were six panels altogether over two days. The first day had four panels, bringing to us some under-researched periods in the past when Chinese film industries in different localities began to gain momentum, albeit unknown to the world until recently. Panel One set the tone of the conference with ‘New Directions in Chinese Film Industry Research'. Feng Xiaocai (Fudan University, China) talked about the possible reconstruction of a synoptic Chinese film history from 1896 to 1976. Hong Kong veteran film critic Law Kar's paper highlighted the close connection between Shanghai's and Hong Kong's film industries during several years (1946-50) of the post-war period.


Panel Two was on 'Rethinking Westernization'. Two papers offered us new vantage points to study Chinese film industries. Qin Xiqing's (Chinese National Academy of Arts) paper provided us with a methodological reflection on the comparative film studies between Chinese film industry and Hollywood during the period from the 1900s to 1950. Xiao Zhiwei (California State University, USA) raised questions about the notion of 'cultural imperialism' by reflecting on Hollywood's presence in China during the first half of the twentieth century in his paper 'Translating American Films to a Chinese Audience: Agency and Appropriation in Cross Cultural Encounters during Republican China'.


Panel Three shifted the focus of film industry in mainland China to those in peripheral areas, forming the first part of 'Film Capital and Regional Spheres'. Yung Sai-shing (National University of Singapore) explored the cultural importance and industrial network of xiayu dialect cinema in Southeast Asia between 1949 and 1959. Yang Yuanying (Beijing Film Academy) offered an overview of how Beijing Film Studio has become an important breeding ground of mainland Chinese cinema after 1949 through studying its infrastructure, creativity strategy, filmmakers and film star system as well as the modes of film sale.


Panel Four, 'Industry Moguls', discussed several big studios and their impact on Chinese film industry evolvement before Chinese-language films were introduced to the world. While Stephenie Chung (Hong Kong Baptist University) painted a concise picture of how the Shaw Brothers expanded their film empire from Shanghai, through Hong Kong, to Singapore in the first half of the twentieth century, Sugawara Yoshino (Kansai University, Japan) revisited the influence of Liuhe Company in the early silent cinema era of China in the 1920s. Liu Hui (Shenzhen University, China) investigated the setup of China Film United, a Shanghai-based studio established by Japanese occupation forces between 1937 and 1945.


On the second day of the conference, Panel Five brought to us new research approaches to studying Chinese-language film industries. Robert Chen and Yi-ting Huang (National Chengchi University, Taiwan) employed ideas from business studies to examine the market concentration of Taiwan film industry and its evolvement over the past twenty years. My paper entitled 'Running Out of Time: From Red Cliff through New Media Platforms Then Back to the Old Days' was included in this panel. It shed new light on audience reception studies among Chinese audiences across various places and in different historical time periods. This paper and the research on which it was based form part of the 'Dynamics of World Cinema' project funded by The Leverhulme Trust. I am delighted that this paper was given positive feedback by the panel discussant Lu Feii from National Chengchi University, Taiwan.


Panel six constituted the second part of the discussion on 'Film Capital and Regional Spheres'. Albert Tang's (Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan) study on Chongqing's neglected role in regaining cultural resources from Shanghai in the 1930s before many of them were moved to Taiwan was illuminating. Stephanie Ng (Hong Kong Baptist University) employed post-war sing-song comedy films in Hong Kong as a case study to explore the production modes of the local Cantonese film industry of that period.


Papers were presented in languages with which the presenters were most comfortable, including Mandarin, Cantonese and English - an aspect showing the international dimension of the study of Chinese-language cinemas nowadays. All conference panels were given feedback by specific discussants, including Chen Xihe (Shanghai University, China), Lu Feii (National Chengchi University, Taiwan), Sam Ho (Hong Kong Film Archive) and Xiao Zhiwei (California State University, USA). Their constructive comments on individual papers helped generate insightful exchanges that will surely lead to more research work in Chinese-language film industries in the near future.


Dr Ruby Cheung
Research Associate
Dynamics of World Cinema





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