Photography, Shadow Play, Beijing Opera and The First Chinese Film

Eras Journal – Ge, C: Photography, Shadow Play, Beijing Opera and The First Chinese Film

Photography, Shadow Play, Beijing Opera and The First Chinese Film[1]
Congmin Ge
(University of Leeds)

The origins of Chinese cinema can be traced back to the first decade of the twentieth-century.[2] The birth of Chinese film was closely linked with photography, the pre-technique of filming, the screening of Western films, and traditional genres of Chinese drama.

1. The Exotic Photography, Screening and the Term ‘Shadow Play’

Photography was imported into China in the 1840s,[3] several years after photography was introduced to the rest of the world in 1839. The first Western films were screened in Shanghai in the second half of 1896, about half a year after ‘film’ was invented.

Among the new things transferred into China, photography was one of the earliest and most important techniques to influence the life of Chinese people. In contrast with the portraits previously drawn by artists, Chinese people found that photography could produce a more accurate likeness than any other medium. A contemporary observed: ‘Photography from countries across the sea can make real portraits which are absolutely identical to the subject even down to finest hair.’[4] The strong interest of the Chinese people promoted the establishment of foreign companies in China specializing in photography,[5] which served as an incentive for Chinese natives to learn the technique.

It is incontrovertible that the emergence and development of exotic photography in China was an important prerequisite for the production of film by the Chinese themselves. Although not every good photographer is a good cinematographer, it is a fact that every good cinematographer is definitely capable of being a good photographer. This rule is not only logical in theory but also proven by the vivid examples of the first Chinese filmmaker Ren Qingtai[6] and the present famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou.[7]

Western films were screened first in Shanghai in 1896 then in Beijing in 1902. The term yingxi(shadow play) was used for ‘film’ in the first advertisements for Western films to appear in newspapers. Films from the West were called xiyang yingxi (Western shadow play),[8] dianguang yingxi (electric light shadow play),[9] or jiqi dianguang yingxi (electric light shadow play made by machine). [10] In the initial stage of screening Western films in China, they brought a uniquely real, vivid, varied and interesting world before the eyes of Chinese people.[11] The most marvellous and impressive thing for Chinese people was the appearance of activities on the screen. The first Chinese article on films stated that trick cycling with bumps made the audience applaud warmly and laugh boisterously. The scene, in which horse-drawn carriages were being driven up and down the street and a large number of people were walking on the side of road illuminated by street lamps, made the audience excited with radiant-faced rapture.[12] People thought that yingxi (film) ‘could make events happening ten thousand miles away appear before one’s eyes and could make one’s dreams come true in a moment with the appearing and disappearing of the shadow.’[13]

Films produced in the West were a completely alien form to Chinese people who were extremely surprised at the activities taking place on the screen. However, the term ‘shadow play’ was an old Chinese expression that was the name of a traditional Chinese form of play that had emerged in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

The so-called traditional yingxi involved two major parts:’shadow making’ and ‘playacting.’ ‘Shadow making’ originated from the understanding of ancient Chinese people about the relationship between shadow and light. The first Chinese dictionary, written in the fifth century BC, states that ‘shadow is the dark part in the light’ which is the definition of the ancient Chinese character ying (shadow);[14]and ‘shadow emerges when an object is in the light.’ [15]

The combination of shadow making and playacting started in the Song Dynasty, where traditional Chinese shadow play emerged. These shadow plays demonstrated the same characteristics as traditional Chinese opera especially in art, music and spoken language. The movement of the shadow came from puppets that were made of paper or leather and were controlled by puppet masters, who could make visual figures by painting and cutting leather figures into different shapes. This yingxi was achieved by showing the shadows of simultaneous performances on a screen with light. As an entertainment, the yingxi was so popular that it became an amusement for children of the day, as shown by the following pictures. Figure 1-1 is scribed at the back of a bronze mirror made in the Song Dynasty, which is now preserved in the China History Museum. Figure 1-2 is one of the frescos in the Wenshu Palace of the Yanshan Temple in Fanzhi, Shanxi Province, painted during the Dading period (1161-1189) of the Jin Dynasty.[16]


Figures 1-1 and 1-2

When films were screened for the first time before Chinese audiences, they were named ‘shadow play,’ which reminded the Chinese public of the notions of ‘shadow’ and traditional ‘shadow play.’ Hence, films from the West were identified with ‘shadow plays’ and such films together with a variety of acts were put on the same entertainment bill. However, there was an essential distinction between traditional Chinese shadow play and Western film. Fundamentally, the shadow play was still a form of play as the presentation was realised by a combination of two single parts: ‘play acting’ and ‘shadow reflection,’ of which play acting was of substantive sense. In contrast, film does not need a puppeteer, and it is a true record of the original movement.

2. From Beijing Opera to the First Chinese Film

It would seem at first glance, that Beijing Opera, which is the main form of traditional Chinese theatre, and film, which originated in the West, are not related. Yet, it is a fact that the filming of the Beijing Opera,Dingjun Mountain (Ding Jun Shan), marks the start of Chinese cinema in a project undertaken by Chinese filmmakers themselves.

The film Dingjun Mountain[17] was made by Ren Qingtai (1850-1932), [18] the owner of the Fengtai Photography Studio, in Beijing in 1905. The cameramen was Liu Zhonglun, the best photographer in Ren’s photo studio, while Ren Qingtai himself could be regarded as the first Chinese film director. There were no such terms as directors and screenwriters in Chinese cinema production at that time. Actually, the term ‘director’ did not emerge in China until the early 1920s.[19]

The film consists of three scenes from the opera Dingjun Mountain, which was one of the most famous Beijing Operas about the heroic deeds of a general of antiquity.[20] Such a fact goes to show that the beginning of Chinese filmmaking is different from that of some other countries. In the rest of the world, such as in France, Germany, Britain and the USA, filmmaking originated with documenting everyday life, whereas in China it started from filming one of the traditional operas. Hence, we should now investigate why Chinese filmmaking began with the filming of Beijing Opera, and what were the circumstances prior to this.

Firstly, this phenomenon is related to the basic nature of cinema, which is a combination of art and commerce. Ren Qingtai was also an entrepreneur and not only established the first photographic studio, Fengtai Studio, in Beijing in 1892, but also founded a series of enterprises specializing in furniture, medicine, soft drinks and theatre. As a result of the screening of Western films, first in Shanghai and later in Beijing in 1902, opportunities for making a profit in the artistic enterprise of filmmaking were brought home to entrepreneurs such as Ren Qingtai who possessed good photographic skills. The screening of Western films in Shanghai in August 1896 lasted almost one week in Xu Garden.[21] From then on, cinema was increasingly developed by foreigners, mainly for business purposes. In 1897, ‘American electric shadow plays made by machine’ had a good run of more than one month in Tianhua Teahouse.[22] In addition, films were also screened in Xu Garden[23] and Qi Garden[24] during the same period. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, foreign film industrialists, including cameramen and showmen gathered in China. At the point of intersection between different cultures, East and West ‘met, clashed, intermingled, hybridised, and above all else, traded.’ [25] The increase in the number of Chinese cinema-goers led to the screening of films shifting from teahouses and public places of entertainment first to traditional theatres and then to newly built cinemas. With the rise of film business, the activities of foreign cameramen from Italy, France and the USA undoubtedly offered direct knowledge of filmmaking to the first Chinese filmmaker. A commercial wave that was stimulated by the new medium of film accelerated the birth of Chinese cinema.

Another reason that motivated Ren to make films was related to the enjoyment of Chinese viewers. As Ren’s staff told him they ‘could not understand Western films.’ [26] What attracted the commercial eye of the first filmmaker to Beijing Opera was that it was profoundly rooted in Chinese culture. At the very beginning, it was traditional Chinese opera that presented itself to the Chinese filmmaker as a suitable subject. The situation that Ren Qingtai faced at that time was very similar to that of the second Chinese filmmaker Zhang Shichuan,[27] when he started his film career in 1913. When Zhang was invited to make films, he said “I agreed without any hesitation…because the intention was to make a shadow play (yingxi, film), I very quickly thought of old drama (traditional opera), which was indigenous to China.” [28] Faced with this new medium, the Chinese filmmaker understood it in terms of his own cultural legacy – his knowledge of ‘shadow’ (ying); his experience of the traditional Chinese ‘shadow play’ (yingxi ); and the so-called ‘old drama.’[29] In Ren’s time, audiences enjoyed traditional opera and would be willing to see a great actor in a Beijing opera even though they could not hear him sing.

A traditional Chinese proverb states that ‘heroes are created by the times.’ The proverb could be used to illustrate the relationship between the birth of the first Chinese film, the filmmaker and Beijing Opera. Generally speaking, the connection between the first Chinese film and Beijing Opera resulted from the high development of Beijing Opera in its heyday from 1861 to 1908 and the outstanding reputation of Tan Xinpei, the most famous artist of Beijing Opera at that time. Furthermore, it was affected by the commercial and artistic influence of Western film over the Chinese filmmaker. Ren Qingtai witnessed the development of Beijing Opera, the success of the most famous artist of Beijing Opera, and the profit obtained by Western film tycoons at about the same time of the making of the first Chinese film.

As the most popular and the most influential type of traditional Chinese opera, Beijing Opera was formed in Beijing during the late Qing Dynasty, from the turn of the eighteenth century to the first half of the nineteenth century. After 1840, Beijing Opera became the main type of traditional Chinese opera and was popular throughout the whole country, especially during the period of the Emperor Tongzhi and the Emperor Guangxu (1861-1908).

During the reign of the Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908), Tan Xinpei (1847-1917), the actor in the first Chinese film, was the most famous actor of Beijing Opera whilst it was at its height in the last period of great prosperity in the late Qing Dynasty. When Tan Xinpei performed in the first Chinese film, he had already been the most famous artist in Beijing opera for more than twenty years. Among his different roles of Beijing Opera, Tan Xinpei was highly acclaimed for acting the part of ‘Laosheng‘ (Old Man: a middle-aged or older man of honest and resolute temper), but more so for his complete mastery of different types of performance including singing, gestures and acrobatic fighting. Usually Beijing Opera actors excelled in only one aspect. Because of his famous acting, Tan Xinpei was rewarded an official title and invited to perform at the imperial palace in 1890. On the first occasion, Tan Xinpei performed acrobatic sword-acting, which was appreciated by the Empress dowager, Cixi,[30] and was granted the title ‘Single-Broadsword Jiaotian’er.’[31] From then on, Tan Xinpei became increasingly famous, being named ‘the king of the theatre.’ Because Tan created a new style for the performance of ‘Old Man’ using singing, gestures and acrobatic fighting, many actors learned from him and a new school of Beijing Opera arose under the name, ‘The School of Tan.’

The film Dingjun Mountain marks a significant start of Chinese filmmaking, from which both documentary and feature filmmakers could learn. In terms of feature filmmaking, this Beijing Opera film was enlightening for subsequent Chinese feature filmmakers as it selected only a few episodes to make a ‘story.’ During the period when the first Chinese film was made, the most influential genre of dramatic storytelling was Beijing Opera.

According to the memoir of one of Ren Qingtai’s staff who was involved in the making of Dingjun Mountain, Tan Xinpei’s acting was carried out in front of a white curtain hung between two pillars of the colonnade of the Fengtai Studio. The camera was made in France. [32]

After the first sounds of gongs and drums, an ancient general, who wore whiskers and held a broadsword, walked out rapidly from a side of the curtain. With the rhythm of the sounds, he swung his whiskers, drew his sword and struck a heroic pose…The episode of Huang Zhong brandishing his sword was so fantastic that it led Liu to forget to shoot.[33]

As a film, Dingjun Mountain followed its stage presentation. All the shots were made from the frontal, showing a theatre audience’s view of the character appearing from behind a curtain and acting as if on stage. However, Ren’s choice of three episodes derived from his idea of ‘shooting with only acting but not singing,’[34] which expressed his preliminary understanding of the visual nature of silent film. According to the existent still of Dingjun Mountain, [35] the General was shown in a medium shot, resembling a full length picture.


Figure 2

This suggests that medium shot would likely be the approach to filming the first Chinese film, which indicates that the filmmaker Ren Qingtai and the photographer Liu Zhonglun were concerned with showing clear, and full length images. This was relevant to their experience of taking full-length photographs. Hence, ‘the images were very clear and Tan Xinpei could be recognised at the first glance.’ But when the character started to brandish his sword, the spectators saw only ‘the waving of the broadsword and could not find the character.’ Yet, the audience ‘liked it very much.’[36] It seemed the whole town turned out to see this Chinese-made film.[37] In contrast with Western films made in the same period, Dingjun Mountain started to include the element of narrating a story shown in a fixed scene in front of a curtain. Western films, for example, The Life of Charles Peace, a British feature film made by Walter Haggar in Pembroke in the same period as Dingjun Mountain in 1905, showed the story in different interiors and exteriors. [38]

Following the success of the first film of Beijing Opera, Fengtai Studio continued to make films of Beijing Opera, including Black Stone Mountain (Qingshi Shan), White Water Shoal (Baishui Tan), andLeopard (Jinqian Bao). These films were characterised by acrobatic fighting, dance movements and facial expressions. During this period, the filmmaker Ren Qingtai changed his department store into a cinema named Daguanlou Shadow Play Theatre, which led to his film business to be more prosperous. [39] Fengtai Studio made a total of eight films based on Beijing Opera from 1905 to 1909,[40] all of which were screened in Beijing and were warmly received by the public. This fact demonstrates that not only were films a success, but also that the aesthetic and cultural psychology of filmmaker and the audience were at one.

The fusion of Beijing Opera and the foreign medium, film, was not an accidental phenomenon, but rather a natural occurrence at that time. The first Chinese film succeeded directly in the combination of photography and the most influential Chinese theatre of the day. This was apparently different from the start of cinema in many Western countries. However, if one further compares the early history of Chinese cinema with that of the West, some similarities may also be found. In the West, ‘…early cinema (before 1907) is distinguished by the use of fairly direct presentational modes, and draws heavily on existing conventions of photography and theatre.’ [41] In the USA, with the emergence of the Frenchman George Melies,’the movies’ first great craftsman and the father of its theatrical traditions…the American film as an art begins.’ [42] After filming the first productions of Beijing Operas, the form of the Chinese drama which Chinese audiences wished to see rapidly changed within a few years. Western cinema and the new genre of drama in China henceforth developed in tandem, especially in the 1910s. In the West, from 1907 to the mid-1910s, theatre contributed more performers and directors to cinema, including the great director D.W. Griffith.

Evidence shows that in its infancy, the influence of theatre on cinema was not restricted to China but was also common in the West. Since the 1980s, there has been a viewpoint which regards the relationship between early Chinese cinema and theatre as a unique phenomenon in early Chinese film circles and based on such an understanding the critics built up a theory. [43] Dealing with these critics’ theory is far beyond the task of this paper. But significantly, the origins of Chinese cinema indicate that such an opinion is difficult to agree with. The start of Chinese filmmaking embodies a cultural developing process, of which the first stages manifested the impact of the imported photographic technique and the screening of Western films. The ensuing stage showed how the cultural interactions led to the naming of film as shadow play, which mixed traditional Chinese awareness with the fantasy caused by the new medium. The making of the first Chinese film signified the marriage of the then dominant theatrical form of Beijing Opera and the exotic Western genre of film.

This study argues that the birth of Chinese cinema was a consequence of a series of complex interactions between local indigenous cultures – as exemplified by traditional shadow play and Beijing Opera, and the forces of modernization and Westernization – as represented in the technologies of photography and cinema. The transfer of film from the West to China accelerated these interactions, which led to an indigenization – or using the term of recent theorization of such interactions,glocalization – of the filmic medium. Such a glocalization can be read in the various formal differences between early Chinese film and early Western film relating to the understanding, awareness and experimenting on the new medium as stated above. Briefly, the first Chinese filmmaker learnt and used foreign skills of photography and cinema, but recorded and narrated a Chinese story following a completely traditional Chinese dramatic approach. The course of theindigenization and glocalization of film in China as represented by filming Beijing Operas made the start of the history of Chinese cinema. It determines a starting-point of the investigation of early Chinese cinema and of modern Chinese culture as well.

It is also necessary to clarify the issues relating to similarities and dissimilarities between early Chinese and Western cinema, and to the connection between drawing on ‘cosmopolitan culture’ and on national culture. The process of making the first film of Beijing Opera indicates that Chinese film, from its start, shares common ground with Western cinema in ‘three things: a commodity, a craft, a social force.’[44] Also, as has been mentioned, in terms of being strongly influenced by theatre, the development of early Chinese cinema resembled that of early Western film. However, while affirming such general similarities relating to theatre (i.e. either in the East or in the West, early cinema drawing on theatre was a common phenomenon), one should likewise note that different dramatic culture and tradition between China and the West caused dissimilarities between early Chinese and Western film. Chinese cinema in its infancy was intimately linked to traditional Chinese theatre, which was characterised by symbolic and stylised acting as shown by Beijing Opera whereas early Western film was connected to the modern Western realistic theatrical tradition. Both Chinese and Western film experienced a process to be independent from theatre. (This viewpoint was generalised from my research on Western cinema and the extant early Chinese films). But the particular difficulties that early Chinese filmmakers met were the contradictions between the tendency of feature film to imitate life and the influence of traditional stylised drama. According to my investigation, after the stage of filming Beijing Opera, Chinese feature film was connected with civilized drama – the transitional form of modern spoken drama – in the 1910s and then with modern drama. The development of early Chinese cinema was an intricate process of a glocalization , which paralleled and was strongly influenced by the reform relating to glocalization taking place in the cultural field of drama in China from 1907 to the 1920s.

In Ren Qingtai’s time, the issues with which Chinese filmmakers were confronted was how they could succeed in initiating Chinese-made film and if it would be well-received by Chinese people. The making of Dingjun Mountain marks the start of Chinese film culture; a culture that emerged out of an amalgamation of foreign film culture and Chinese national culture. On the one hand, it means Western medium film was indigenized in China. On the other hand, such an indigenization was closely connected to the endeavour of Chinese filmmakers and the cultural flavour of Chinese spectators. That is to say, in the process of such a glocalization, while

the global and the local are negotiated…there is constant action to decide what should be allowed in and what should be kept out. Neither absolute homogeneity nor absolute diversity is likely when the global and the local are dynamically negotiating. Instead the local is permeated by the global to the extent that the local finds from the global what is useful, and employs various strategies to retain its identity. [45]

The filming of the Beijing Opera Dingjun Mountain indicates the extent to which, in such a negotiation, local Chinese culture shaped the filmmaker’s cultural choice and artistic paradigm. In such a sense, film, the new medium in China, remained rooted in Chinese culture.

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[1] I wish to express my sincere thanks to Dr Fran Martin from La Trobe University for her encouraging and constructive commentary on this article. Her observations have allowed me to deal with this intercultural subject from the angle of the theory of glocalization. Back

[2] The earliest history concerning the origins of Chinese cinema that I have located is Cheng Shuren (ed.), The Almanac of Chinese Cinema (Zhonghua yingye nianjian), Shanghai: The Society for the Almanac of Chinese (Zhonghua Yingye Nianjianshe), 1927. Cheng Shuren’s book includes his article ‘The History of Chinese Cinema’ (Zhonghua yingye shi), which influenced later researchers including the influential history written by Cheng Jihua published in 1963. In addition to similar historical outlines relating to Chinese origin and the import of Western films as elucidated in Cheng Shuren’s article, Cheng Jihua incorporated the filming of the first Chinese film in his history. The existing Chinese language work in this field also includes Li Suyuan and Hu Jubin, The History of Chinese Silent Film(Zhongguo wusheng dianying shi, Zhongguo Dianying chubanshe), Beijing, 1996. English language histories concerning early Chinese cinema include Jay Leyda,Dianying, Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1972; Chris Berry, ‘China Before 1949,’ a section of ‘The History of Chinese Cinema’ in Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (ed.), The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996; and Bérénice Reynaud ‘Chinese Cinema’ in John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (eds), The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. However, there are still many gaps in this academic area. For example, how should one explain the historical facts as shown in Cheng Jihua’s book? What are the particular reasons behind the filming of the first Chinese film? How did the first Chinese filmmaker succeed in making the first Chinese film? What are the similarities and differences in early cinema between China and the West? How did the first Chinese film distinguish itself from early Western cinema? All of these are still open to contention. Back

[3] According to “Nanjing Treaty” signed by China and Britain in 1842, China opened trading ports in Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Ningpo and Shanghai. Photography was imported into China by the activities of entrepreneurs, diplomats and missionaries. Following the emergence of foreign photographic studios, Chinese photographic studios emerged from South China to North China, in Hongkong, Guangzhou and Shanghai originally, and later in Tianjin and Beijing. The earliest material related to photography in China was written by Shi Ying (1790-1858), the Governor-General of Guangdong and Guangxi, and the Commercial Minister of the five trading ports. In 1843, Shi Ying received the photographs given by the British diplomat Sir Henry Pottinger (1789-1856), the first Minister to represent Britain in China and the Governor-General in Hongkong from 1841 to 1844. From diplomatic communication, Shi Ying understood that it was a necessary courtesy to give portraits as gifts in diplomatic relations. In 1844, Shi Ying gave photos of himself taken by Jules Itier, French Prosecutor General of Customs in Aomen (Macao) to the officials of Italy, Britain, USA and Portugal as gifts. Sources: Shi Ying, ‘Shi Ying’s Second Memorial To The Throne On the Necessity of Presenting to Them Photographs of Himself to Express His Understanding of Them'(Shi Ying you zou ticha yangqing budebu jiyi quanpian), in The Process of Making Preparation for Foreign Business (Chouban yiwu shimo), Qing Dynasty, Daoguang Period 1821-1850, Vol.73. See The History of Chinese Photography (Zhongguo sheying shihua), Hu Zhichuan and Ma Yunzeng (eds), Beijing: Zhongguo sheying chubanshe, 1987, p. 14. Back

[4] Fu Ge, (?-1856), military officer of the troops of Qing Dynasty in Guangzhou, ‘Xiezhen’ (‘Likeness’), in The Collection of Articles Written in Tingyu Room (Ting yu congtan), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, Vol. 8. See Hu Zhchuan and Ma Yunzeng (ed.), The History of Chinese Photography, p. 14. Back

[5] An advertisement in a newspaper in Hongkong in 1846 reads: ‘The colour and black and white photos made in Hongkong and China are being sold in Hongkong Silverplate Photograph and Zincograph Company,’ in Hu Zhichuan and Ma Yunzeng, The History of Chinese Photography, p 16.Back

[6] Ren Qingtai,also known as Ren Jingfeng, was born in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. He went to Japan to learn photography when he was young and then established the first photographic studio ‘Fengtai Photo Studio’ in Beijing in 1892. He became the first Chinese filmmaker in 1905. Although Ren Qingtai did not directly learn photography in China, the motivation for him to learn the skill and to open his own photographic studio in China was drawn from the environment in north China where he grew up. Another factor was related to the development of Japan since the Meiji Reform began in 1874. Japan became a strong empire economically and militarily in the following two decades. Therefore, Ren Qingtai was induced to travel to Japan, the nearest and comparatively advanced country, to learn Western photography. Back

[7] Zhang Yimou (1951-) is also one of the most famous cinematographers, and has been awarded the Best Award for Cinematography for The Yellow Earth which was directed by Chen Kaige in 1984. The basis of his achievements in cinema are also closely connected to photographing. Before enrolling as a student at the Beijing Film Academy, Zhang was a worker. He had a passion for photography, which attracted him to so strong a degree that he bought a Chinese camera with the money he made from donating his blood to a hospital. After this, his achievements in the field of photography played a crucial part in his admittance to the Beijing Film Academy, despite being five years older than the regulation. Back

[8] See the supplement of Shen bao, 10, 11, 14 and 17 Aug. 1896. When films were first shown, they were alternated with vaudeville acts such as juggling and fireworks. Back

[9] See ‘The Impression of American Films’ (Guan meiguo yingxi ji), in Games Paper (Youxi bao), Shanghai , No. 74, 5 September, 1897. Back

[10] See the advertisements placed by Tianhua Teahouse in Shenbao 26 July to 27 August 1897.Back

[11] The films included marvellous spectacles like The Sight Seeing Of The Russian Emperor In Parisand Madrid, The Famous Capital Of Spain ; wonderful visions such as Dancing In Spain, Dancing By The Indians With Long Sticks In Their Hands, and dancing in other foreign places performed with long snakes or by peasants; thrilling sights including Betting On Sword Competitions, Betting On Box Competitions and extraordinary scenes such as The Big Dutch Lady In Funny Situation. The titles of the films above were given in the advertisement of The Supplement of Shen bao, 27 July 1897. Back

[12] ‘The Impression of American Films’.Back

[13] ‘The Impression of American Films’.Back

[14] Originally, Chinese character ‘ying‘ (shadow) and ‘jing’ (scenery) were the same character:’jing ‘ (scenery) because a function of both shadow and scenery were related to light. Later, the character ‘ying‘ was created by adding three strokes indicating dark to the previous character: ‘jing‘, which showed the development of the knowledge of Chinese people from light to shadow. See Xu Shen (67-148, the Eastern Han Dynasty), Analyses and Explanations of The Characters (Shuo wen jie zi), Duan Yucai (1735-1815, Qing Dynasty) Annotations On Analyses and Explanations of The Characters (Shuo wen jie zi zhu), Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1981, p. 304. Back

[15] See Mo Zi (about 478-392 BC), The Classics of Mo Di (Mo jing) , in Tan Jiefu, The Classified Annotations On ‘The Classics of Mo Di’ (Mo jing fenlei zhushi), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981. Back

[16] See Jiang Yuxiang, Chinese Shadow Theatre (Zhongguo yingxi), Chengdu: Sichuan renming chubanshe, 1991.Back

[17] Dingjun Mountain is the title of this film, which originated from the name of a mountain (Dingjun Shan). This is incorrectly translated as ‘Conquering Jun Mountain’ in Yingjin Zhang and Zhiwei Xiao,Encyclopaedia of Chinese Film, New York & London: 1998, p. 5. Back

[18] In Yingjin Zhang and Zhiwei Xiao,Encyclopaedia of Chinese Film (p. 5), the name of Ren Qingtai is given as Ren Fengtai. This is also incorrect. Fengtai is the name of Ren Qingtai’s photograph studio. Back

[19] The term ‘director’ emerged in China in 1922. The Chinese word ‘daoyan ‘ for the term ‘director’ was created by Lu Jie when he edited, co-operating with Gu Kenfu, Yingxi zazhi (Film Magazine) in 1922. The title ‘director’ first emerged in the film A Poor Heart (Ren xin), writer: Lu Jie, director: Gu Kenfu and Chen Shouyin in 1924. Back

[20] The story of the play Dingjun Mountain was adapted on the basis of a classic novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The plot of the novel Three Kingdoms is set in the period 220- 265 AD and relates to the kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu. Huang Zhong was a senior general of the kingdom of Shu. The film only includes the following scenes: Huang Zhong’s volunteering for a mission, Huang Zhong brandishing his large sword to demonstrate his military accomplishments and strength, and Huang Zhong crossing swords with the enemy. See Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema – Visiting Record About the Filmmaking of Beijing “Fengtai” Photo Studio Written Afterwards’ (Zhongguo dianying de yaolan – Beijing ‘Fengtai’ zhaoxiangguan paishe dianying fangwen zhuiji), The Culture of Film and TV (Yingshi wenhua), No. 1, pp. 295-301, p. 299, 1988. Back

[21] See the advertisements placed by Xu Gardon in Shenbao, 10, 11, 14, 17 August 1896. Back

[22] See the advertisements placed by Tianhua Teahouse in Shenbao, 26 July to 27 August 1897.Back

[23] See the advertisements placed by Xu Gardon in Shenbao, 3 and 4 August 1897. Back

[24] See the advertisements placed by Qi Gardon in Shenbao, 14, 27 and 29 August 1897. Back

[25] Chris Berry, ‘China Before 1949,’ Section One of ‘The History of Chinese Cinema,’ Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (ed.), The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 409. Back

[26] Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema,’ p. 298. Back

[27] Zhang Shichuan (1889-1953), the second Chinese film maker and one of the earliest Chinese film directors, was employed as a consultant by the Asian Film Company owned by two American business men and started his career in cinema in 1913. Previously, Zhang Shichuan had been an agent of the Publicity Section of Meihua Western Company. Back

[28] See Zhang Shichuan, ‘Since I Became A Director’ (Zi wo daoyan yilai), in Star (Mingxing), No. 3, Vol.1, 1935. Reprinted in China Film Archive (ed.), Chinese Silent Film (Zhongguo wusheng dianying) , Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1996, pp.401-410. Back

[29] The term ‘old drama,’ which means traditional Chinese opera, emerged in the period of the high tide of the May Fourth literary revolution. Back

[30] Cixi (1835-1908) was a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor (reigned 1851-1861), the mother of the Tongzhi Emperor and the nominal mother of the Guangxu Emperor. She reigned during the periods of both Tongzhi and Guangxu (1861-1908). Back

[31] Jiaotian’ er from Tan Xinpei’s stage name: Xiao Jiaotian (Little Jiaotian). Back

[32] Ren Qingtai bought this camera from a German businessman. See Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema,’ p. 298 Back

[33] Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema,’ p. 298-299. Back

[34] Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema,’ p. 299. Back

[35] China Research Centre of the Art of the Film and China Film Archive (ed.), Pictorial History of Chinese Cinema (Zhongguo dianying tuzhi), Zhuhai: Zhuhai chubanshe, 1995, p. 11. Back

[36] Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema,’ p.301. Back

[37] See ‘The Filmmaking of Old Drama Did Not Start from Mei Lanfang’ (Jiuju dianyinghua bingfei shizi Mei Lanfang), Film Weekly (Dianying zhoukan) Shanghai: No. 14, 7 December, 1938. Back

[38] Part of the script can be found in Ernest Lindgren, The Art of the Film, London: George Allen and Unwin Limited; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955, p. 48. Back

[39] Xiao, ‘The Development of Cinema in Beijing’ (Beijing dianying shiye zhi fada), Film Weekly (Dianying zhoukan), No. 1, 1921; Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema,’ p. 297.Back

[40] See Wang Yue, ‘The Cradle of Chinese Cinema,’ p. 299; Mei Lanfang, Forty Years of Life on Stage (Wutai shenghuo sishi nian), Beijing: China Drama Press, 1957, Vol. 2, p.82. Back

[41] Roberta Pearson, ‘Early Cinema’, in Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (ed.) The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 13. Back

[42] Lewis Jacobs, The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History , New York: Harcourt, Brach and Company HB, 1939, p. 22. Back

[43] Zhong Dafeng, ‘The Investigation for the Origins of the Theory of “Shadow Play”‘ (“Yingxi” lilun lishi suyuan), in Contemporary Film (Dangdai dianying), No. 3, 1986; Chen Xihe, ‘Shadow Play: Chinese Film Aesthetics and Their Philosophical and Cultural Fundamentals,’ George S. Semsel (ed.),Chinese Film Theory: A Guide to the New Era, New York, Xia Hong, and Hou Jianping: Praeger Publishers, 1990.Back

[44] Lewis Jacobs, The Rise of the American Film, p. 21. Back

[45] Hongladarom, Soraj, ‘Negotiating the Global and the Local: How Thai Culture Co-opts the Internet’, at , accessed 30 October 2001.Back

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