Film Industry and the Straits Chinese between Empires - The Family of Mrs Loke Yew and the Cathay Organisation in Hong Kong, Singapore & Kuala Lumpur, 1920s-70s

Project: Research project

Project Details


The Cathay Organisation (Cathay) was a significant player during the early years of the film industry in Singapore and HK but some features of its origins and evolution have been overlooked. In particular, the role played by the Nyonya matriarch, Mrs. Loke Yew (Madame Lim Cheng Kim 林淑佳), in the incorporation of the company, and the hybrid culture that characterised its early years have not yet been researched. Attention to these issues, within a study of the role of culture, geographical mobility and politics in the company’s rise and fall, will add new insights to the historical relationship between ethnicity, migration and the film industry. To achieve this, the project will explore how Cathay evolved within the institutional and cultural networks linking Hong Kong and Singapore that drove the rapidly expanding production and consumption of film from the 1920s to the 1970s. It adopts a trans-regional lens to examine newly accessible archival sources and films. The research will focus on contextualising the agency of key figures in the Loke family and their business partners. The aim is to discover how mother and son, Mrs Loke Yew and Loke Wan Tho, rather than father and son, worked with entrepreneurial filmmakers (baba trader Ho Ah Loke; Hong Kong-born Jewish agent Albert Odell and HKU-educated broadcaster Robert Chung) while navigating cultural differences and regime changes in Asia.
The project will contribute to three areas of historical study: the burgeoning field of “Chinese cultural entrepreneurism” in the Sinosphere, Chinese film studies, and the formation of Baba/Nyonya identities in Southeast Asia. By examining and interpreting the shared history of HK and Singapore through the longue durée framework of this study, the project will generate new perspectives on film history and the early cultural economy of the Sino-sphere. It will develop new insights into the interconnected histories of Chinese film industry centres beyond mainland China and their significance in the development of diasporic Chinese modernities. This study provides a valuable opportunity to explore the formation and evolution of cultural identities in the context of entrepreneurial sojourns between changing political contexts and with highly mobile populations through the lens of film and the film industry. The project has a public history orientation and will be of great interest to educators and to those working in the cultural sector. An online archive, including digital stories and interactive maps, will be developed as part of the project.
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/2531/12/27


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