Early Chinese Films
Chinese filmmakers made significant contributions to the cinematic arts during the first decades of film history. This website presents a selection of some of the best early Chinese films we can still see (and hear) today, with English subtitles, along with a selection of materials that helps us to understand each film’s historical, cultural, linguistic, social, and cinematic context.
Thousands of films were made in China, and by Chinese filmmakers around the world, between the 1890s and the 1940s. Many were destroyed by war, or have yet to be restored and released to the public. This website features a small selection from the hundreds of films still extant, with a focus on those made in Shanghai. The selection presented here emphasizes films that are in the public domain or subject to fair-use provisions, are accessible to project participants, and whose accessible copies meet minimum audio-visual quality standards.
The web page for each film includes:
- the subtitled film
- basic information about production and personnel
- a link to the relevant module of the online course, if any
- a selected list of further readings and viewings (forthcoming)
The films currently available are:
(in chronological order of production or release)
See More Films and Clips on YouTube
The Modern Chinese Cultural Studies YouTube channel hosts many more full films, film clips, and discussions related to Chinese cinematic and cultural history. For example, you can explore Chinese film history through these playlists:
- Chinese Film Classics: full black-and-white films with English subtitles
- Chinese Film Classics – online course: video lectures on individual films, two lectures per film
- Sounds of early Chinese cinema: Songs, music, and sound effects in Chinese films up to 1949
- Best of early Chinese cinema: Classic and superlative scenes, and exemplary uses of film form
- Early Chinese animation: Cartoons and animated features
- How-tos from early Chinese cinema: Iconic scenarios, problems, and their resolution, as presented in cinema
- Gags and special effects in early Chinese cinema: Comedy, pratfalls, stunts, and camera tricks
- Shared cinematic motifs – China, Hollywood, Europe: Examples of foreign films with intertextual relationships to Chinese films up to 1949
Contribute to this Ongoing Project
More films, and more information about films, will be added in coming months, and better-qualities copies of films will be substituted in as they become available. Subscribe to the Modern Chinese Cultural Studies YouTube channel for updates.
Translating and subtitling early Chinese films is a labor-intensive process requiring linguistic, scholarly, and technical expertise. All translated films made available here have undergone quality control review by professional scholars; please contact the project leader with any inquiries or corrections, or if you are interested in contributing to this archive. A huge thank-you to all contributors to this ongoing project.
Most of the films were translated by Christopher Rea and the subtitles created by Liu Yuqing or Yao Jiaqi. New Women was translated by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and the subtitles were created by Andrew Rodekohr. Subtitles are copyright their respective translators, and we thank them for sharing their work.
Copyright © Christopher Rea