Cross-Cultural Collaboration and Inter-Asia Identities: Wartime Shanghai and Postwar Hong Kong Song-and-Dance Films, 1931-1972

  • CHEN, Chih-ting (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


The Chinese song-and-dance film (gewu pian) is an understudied genre often (mis)understood as apolitical, escapist, and superficial. This project aims to change this perception by exploring the role of gewu pian in cross-cultural collaboration and the construction of inter-Asia identities during and after the second Sino-Japanese War, and by arguing that the genre is marked by the cultural history of the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance and its attendant ambivalence. I will fill in the gaps in the genre’s controversial production and reception histories by analyzing the moral anxieties associated with China’s long conversion to sound between 1931 and 1936, foregrounding the pivotal Japanese-occupied Shanghai between 1937 and 1945, and reevaluating its lasting cinematic legacy and lingering traumatic memories in postwar and Cold War Hong Kong (from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, when the genre died out). Gewu pian has long been dismissed as derivative, shallow, pornographic, or even traitorous in wartime China, yet celebrated as modern, fashionable, and cosmopolitan in postwar and Cold War Hong Kong. Building on existing scholarship on the Shanghai-Hong Kong nexus, the songstress, and Chinese popular music, this project aims at a more nuanced understanding of the role of gewu pian in wartime and postwar periods and an analysis of how this genre forged transitional connections between these periods and between Shanghai and Hong Kong’s music and film industries.

Informed by film studies, musicology, and cultural studies, this project considers gewu pian as an “intermedial field” participating in corporeal and discursive warfare. I will examine cross-media synergies between cinema, live performance, print culture, and sonic culture. Chinese song-and-dance films will be discussed as a global genre and compared with their precedent and coeval counterparts in Hollywood and Japan. This project draws on various primary sources—including neglected films, newspapers, periodicals, film stills, memoirs, oral histories, scores, scripts, and recordings—from the China Film Archive in Beijing, the Hong Kong Film Archive, the “Hong Kong TV and Film Publication Database” at Hong Kong Baptist University, the Hong Kong Collection at the University of Hong Kong, the Shanghai Library, the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute in Tokyo, and the National University of Singapore. The objectives are to bring to light recently available archival films produced in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, to reconstruct the intermedial film culture of wartime and postwar gewu pian, and arrive at a deeper understanding of the continuity between wartime propaganda cinema and the commercial entertainment industry
Effective start/end date1/01/2231/12/24


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