Light Sabers, Spider Women, and other Discoveries in the Digital Archives of Early Chinese Cinema

Key information

5:00 pm to 6:30 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings
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Event highlights

About this event

What can we learn about early Chinese film history from the expanding digital archive? Which stories, images, linguistic patterns, filmmaking techniques, and industry behaviours exhibit similarities with other parts of the world, and which appear to be uniquely Chinese? Join a talk and exhibition with film historian Christopher Rea about new discoveries from the Chinese Film Classics Project, an ongoing international effort to make early Chinese cinema history more accessible to the English-speaking world. Rea will speak about his experience working with collaborators to create a free digital archive of early Chinese films with English translations, including curatorial techniques that highlight significant features, from songs to scenes to special effects. The exhibition will showcase sights and scenes from “pre-Code” Chinese cinema, including magical swords in a martial arts flick, a blackface performance in a moral melodrama, a woman who transforms into a spider on her wedding night, a hula dance, and a mixed-genre film featuring frontal nudity.

About the speaker

Christopher Rea is Professor of Chinese and former Director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (California, 2015) and co-author of Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World) (with Thomas Mullaney; Chicago, 2022). He is the creator of the Chinese Film Classics Project, whose website hosts over 30 early Chinese films translated by Dr Rea and collaborators, as well as film clips, essays, links, and a free online course on early Chinese films. The website and the course are companions to his book Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949, published by Columbia University Press in 2021, which covers fourteen films, and has a Chinese edition forthcoming. Full films and over 200 film clips (songs, gags, superlative scenes) are also viewable at his YouTube channel @ModernChineseCulturalStudies. He is currently working on a second volume of The Book of Swindles (Columbia, 2017) and on a history of melons.

Professor Christopher Rea


This event is open to the public and free to attend, however registration is required. Complete this form to register.  Please note that this seminar is taking place on campus and will not be recorded or live-streamed.

Chair: Dr Xiaoning Lu, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, SOAS University of London.

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

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Photo credit: Edderkoppene (Pan si dong 盤絲洞, 1927)