Between Politics and Aesthetics on the Left Screen: Rewriting the History of the Chinese Cinema of Hong Kong, 1937-1997

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project aims to reconstruct the development of Hong Kong leftist films from the inception of the Second Sino-Japanese War to Hong Kong’s return to China, and to rewrite the history of the Chinese cinema of Hong Kong in this period. This important left-wing film culture has been little studied even in Chinese-language film history, not to mention the English-language literature. Its politics, aesthetics, and socio-political criticism remain unexplored.

This historical study raises important issues. How can we redefine ‘leftist cinema’ not narrowly, in terms of political ideologies or institutions, but broadly by analysing its socio-political themes, artistic visions, filmic styles, and the effects of cinematic circulation and audience reception? How can we reassess the legacies of progressive film culture? Secondly, how did filmmakers and artists negotiate individual and group identity, social-ethical criticism and market realities as they crafted their works under political censorship and socioeconomic constraints? Finally, how can the recovery of cinematic pasts and cultural histories enhance mutual understanding and cultural exchange between Hong Kongers and mainlanders, especially the younger generation?

To address the first question, the PI and researchers will scrutinize government documents, film studio materials, memoirs, popular journals and newspapers to reveal the cultural politics of Chinese-language film activities in colonial Hong Kong. The PI and one Singapore-based researcher will undertake archival research in Singapore and Malaysia, where leftist cinema had a popular following in the 1950s and 1960s. The research will go beyond Hong Kong to examine the legacies of leftist films and culture in their global connections. The second issue relates to how cultural politics affected the ethics and identity of individual films. Researchers will conduct oral interviews and examine studio histories to shed light on the politico-ethical practice of veteran workers and professionals.

The project adopts a two-pronged analytical approach, integrating sociohistorical analysis of film culture and a microscopic study of human agency and creativity. It will participate in current debates in Sinophone studies, Cold War history, Chinese-language film historiography, and the cultural politics of Hong Kong cinema. The research outcomes will be several international conference presentations and refereed journal articles. The impacts of the study extend beyond academia to produce new knowledge and public understanding of Hong Kong cultural history and Hong Kong-China relationships. The team will conduct outreach programs through public exhibitions, lectures, and screenings to promote knowledge transfer to the wider public.
Effective start/end date1/09/2131/08/24


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