Translating Yingxi: Chinese film genealogy and early cinema in Hong Kong

Emilie Yueh Yu Yeh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The essay targets the concept of yingxi and its translation, "shadowplay," in prevailing histories of Chinese cinema. Yingxi, a popular Chinese term used for motion pictures between 1897 and 1910s, has been translated as "shadowplay" in English language literature. By translating yingxi as "shadowplay," scholars have presumed and forged a link between early cinema and traditional artforms like shadow puppetry, or Peking opera. However, little evidence has been produced to link yingxi (motion pictures) with shadow puppetry, or Peking opera in terms of production, exhibition and reception. This de-stabilizes the equation made between yingxi and "shadowplay." Furthermore, based on new evidence recently recovered on early film exhibition in Hong Kong (1900-1924), we foundyinghua (photo pictures) was used more frequently thanyingxi, indicating the early reception of cinema was more fluid than what has been prescribed by the yingxi concept. Following yinghua, we discovered that the film screenings in colonial Hong Kong of the 1910s and 1920s were multifaceted events serving various functions, ranging from missionary talks to fund raising and enjoyment of the theatre space. The discovery urges us to look beyond the standard film historiography in the early Republican period, as prescribed by the "drama-centered" yingxi concept and its attendant spatial setup in opera theatres and teahouses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-109
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Chinese Cinemas
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


Dive into the research topics of 'Translating Yingxi: Chinese film genealogy and early cinema in Hong Kong'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this