Why Do Chinese Filmmakers Love Melons? and Other Questions from a New Digital Archive of Early Cinema

How did the early decades of Chinese cinema differ from anywhere else in the world? How can we make meaningful distinctions ‒ or connections ‒ between the cinematic languages of different film industries? Take melons. Why do they roll through Chinese cinema history, from early days to the twenty-first century? And how does their meaning in Chinese films like Laborer’s Love (1922) or Rickshaw Boy (1982), differ from, say, North American films like Melvin van Peebles’ Watermelon Man (1970)? When it comes to cinematic language, can we really compare melons and melons? In this presentation, Christopher Rea will share techniques for developing an original research project, using illustrative examples from a new digital humanities archive on early Chinese cinema. The Chinese Film Classics Project (chinesefilmclassics.org) is an ongoing international effort to make early Chinese cinema history more accessible to the English-speaking world.

Christopher Rea is Professor of Chinese and former Director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia.