Sounding Screen Ambiance: Acoustic Culture and Transmediality in 1920s-1940s Chinese Cinema


Henry Luce Foundation/ ACLS Program in China Studies Postdoctoral Fellowships


Film and Media Studies


My proposed project aims to link two major trends in the existing scholarship on early to mid twentieth-century Chinese cinema and media studies and popular culture. The first considers cinema as part of a broader visual culture, highlighting its capacity to promote socially-relevant messages or engage audiences in the indulgence of entertainment or affect (Zhang, 2005; Bao, 2015). The second focuses critical attention on popular music in relation to political strife and “colonial modernity” in semi-colonial Shanghai (Jones, 2001). Building on and contributing to these discourses, I examine how the emergence and transformations of cinematic sound technology and aesthetics interacted with politics, other audiovisual media, acoustic culture, and sonic perception in China from the 1920s to the 1940s. Moreover, my research extends the geopolitical and conceptual boundaries of “early Chinese cinema” from the city of Shanghai to other areas within and beyond mainland China such as Manchuria, Taiwan and “Nanyang” (Southeast Asia). Rather than imposing an essentialized, Chinese-centered narrative of early film history, I explore the multifaceted flow, exchange, and network of films and film cultures among different Chinese and diasporic populations in various regions, populations for which popular music and film sound played significant roles in transcending porous political and other boundaries.