Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Pearl White and the New Female Image in Chinese Silent Cinema
Xiqing Qin

Last modified: 2010-02-22


Enjoying great popularity in Shanghai in the 1920s when Chinese silent cinema stepped into its germinal stage, American serial movies exerted a dominating influence on Chinese filmmaking. Research on this influence, however, has hardly attracted any academic attention, partly because American serials were once harshly criticized by high-brow critics in the 1920s. This morally-oriented judgement is carried on in one of the most widely-cited and authoritative textbook of Chinese film history by Cheng Jihua, Li Shaobai and Xing Zuwen and its first edition came out in 1963.

Taking Shenbao [Shanghai Daily], one of the most influential newspapers in the 1920s, as its main resource and reconsidering Chinese film history in terms of modernity and gender, this paper will reveal the other side of the story: how American serial movies, especially the “serial queens” such as Pearl White, created a new female image for Chinese movie-goers.

In the first part of the paper, I will outline the history of what American serial movies were shown and how they were received by Chinese audience. Then I will touch on their “negative” effects on Chinese early crime-genre films. The second part of the paper will focus on Pearl White and her films, at the time the most popular serials in Shanghai. The third section of the paper will take Yin Mingzhu, a Chinese actress known for her Pearl White-style attire in off-screen life, as a case study to show what Pearl White meant for Chinese women in their search for a new self-image in modern China through screen images.

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