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Chapitre D'ouvrage Année : 2018

Masterpieces of early cinema



The last phase of the nineteenth-century China was in a state of dramatic political instability, caused both by foreign aggression and internal troubles. The fall of the Qing dynasty seemed more and more likely, and the presence of the foreign (people, goods, ideas) on the imperial soil aroused confl icting reactions: shame and pride, the desire to emulate and the desire to rekindle "traditional" culture(s), as well as the evidence of the necessity of rapid modernization, at least in the technical fi eld. Stretched between these overlapping poles, cinema as a technical development and as a new form of entertainment appeared very quickly as a formidable way to get to know the West, as well as a medium to be appropriated by local standards. Early movies made by the Lumière Company were travelling to China, and it was easy to understand the clamor made by the depiction of contemporary Europe. La sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon (August and Louis Lumière, 1895), for example, is a manifestation of a scientifi c accomplishment of the West (a movie) and at the same time is showing where this new object was made (the camera factory): spectators could see men and women coming out of a modern (soon to be Fordist) industry, some of them riding bicycles. In The Last Emperor (1987) Bertolucci poetizes the seduction of the newly imported (foreign) innovation of locomotion. Audiences could be in awe of the epitome of the industrialization of Europe via an astonishing product of this progress, the movie projector. This scientifi c curiosity is displayed as an attraction: movies are shown in theatres, tea houses, expositions, and slowly contribute to the shaping of the fast-growing eastern metropolis via the building of ad hoc modern cinema theatres. The local public showed a desire to appropriate the representational device, linking it to the shadow puppetry that they used to appreciate. The debate is still ongoing to clarify how much the cultural appreciation of puppet theatre has been a source of inspiration for the adoption of the term yingxi fi rst, and dianying later. The former merges the "shadow (ying)" with the "spectacle (xi)," and the latter is a word that conjures ideas of electricity (therefore modernity) and the theatrical/traditional visual apparatus. As Emi-lie Yueh-yu Yeh states, the fi rst fi lm magazine used the title The Motion Picture Review ; 1 yet, in an article published in the very same review, she cautions readers in remembering that "Central to these dominant historiographical discourses lies the yingxi concept and its literal English translation 'shadow play.' " Scholars of Chinese fi lm history, in both China and the West, have adopted the ideas of yingxi and its translated twin "shadow play" to frame the reception of cinema in late 15 MASTERPIECES OF EARLY CINEMA Corrado Neri 15031-1823d-1Pass-r03.indd 205
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hal-02278853 , version 1 (05-09-2019)


  • HAL Id : hal-02278853 , version 1


Corrado Neri. Masterpieces of early cinema. Ming Dong Gu. Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature, Routledge, 2018. ⟨hal-02278853⟩
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