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Cinema in China prior to WWI

A Case Study of West-Eastern Culture Transfer

Meimei Xu

This book looks at the earliest history of exhibiting firms in China at the turn of the
century. The spread of cinema in China as a continuation of the lantern tradition is
contextualized and conventionalized in the late Qing sociopolitical milieu, featuring
a strong foreign monopoly and regional imbalance. However, the key element for
cinema’s development in China is Chinese audience per se.

“The book has produced something truly remarkable and tremendous.”
                                                                                                     —Frank Bren

“The work offers a lot of new insights into the history of the cinema in China. Though
the film business was brought from abroad to the mainland, the candidate was never
nationalistic in her approach to the phenomenon of foreign entertainment in China.”
                                                                                                     —Wolfgang Kubin

“The author painstakingly combed through a large number of historical newspapers,
especially English-language newspapers published both in and outside China, and
pieced together a convincing picture of the earliest history of Chinese cinema.”
                                                                                                       —Xuelei Huang 

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Chapter 1. Magic Lantern, 1843–1897


Abstrakt Die Vorgeschichte des Kinos wurde lange im Feld der chinesischen Filmstudie ignoriert. Dank Charles Mussers (1961–) „Screen History“ (die Bildschirm Geschichte) ist „laterna magica“ in den Vordergrund der Filmstudie gerückt. „Laterna magica“ wurde kurz nach dem ersten Opiumkrieg von den britischen Forschern nach China gebracht. In den folgenden vier Jahrzehnten, mit den Bemühungen der methodistischen Missionaren wurde die Laterne-Ausstellung allmählich in der chinesische Gesellschaft verbreitet. „Laterna magica“ wurde oft von den Missionaren in Lichtbildervorträgen verwendet, um die konservativen Chinesen weiter zu bilden. Mit Hilfe der „Yangwu yundong洋务运动“ (Selbststärkungbewegung) wurde „laterna magica“ als ein Medium des westlichen Lernens stark gefördert. Dabei entwickelt Laterna magica drei grundlegende Funktionsmodelle: pädagogisch, unterhaltsam und sonstiges. In diesem Kapitel der Arbeit wird die „latern tradition“ in China vorgestellt und hervorgehoben, dass die bestehenden Laterne-Praktiken eine beispielhaften Weg für das zukünftige Kino ebenen.

Abstract: Pre-cinema stage has been long ignored in the field of Chinese film study. Thanks to Charles Musser’s “screen history,” the lantern tradition is brought to the foreground. Magic lantern was brought into China by British explorers shortly after the first Opium war (ca. 1943). In the following four decades, with Methodist missionaries’ efforts lantern exhibitions gradually expanded into Chinese society. Magic lantern was often employed by missionaries in illustrated lectures, with a view of enlightening Celestials. With the aid of the ongoing Self-strengthening Movement, magic lantern was strongly promoted as an embodiment of Western learning. In the process, lantern...

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