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[**Images from L to R: newspaper ad selling drugs (1934, Hong Kong); still from movie King of Jungle (1933, US); movie ad: Modern Tears (1933. Guangzhou); and still from movie Invisible Man (1933, US)]

"How to be Human, Good, and Civilized: Everyday Modernity in the Crevices (a Study of Movie Ads for the 15 Lost Local Films Produced in Hong Kong 1934)" / Linda C.H. LAI

** 2011 WCU Alltagsgeschichte: “Transnational Workshop: Everyday Coloniality: Migration, Ego-documents, Visuality”; Organized by the WCU Alltagsgeschichte Transnational Team at Hanyang University’s Research Institute of Comparative History and Culture (RICH), funded by the World Class University (WCU) Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea / October 2011



Following the imperatives of Revisionist Film History debated since 1979, this research examines the bulk of movie ads for the 16 films made and shown in Hong Kong in the entire year of 1934 in order to solicit portraits of the everyday that concern ideal citizenship – as a British colonial subject, a patriotic Chinese and new personhood for modern society – as well as negotiations in embracing these conflicting subject/object positions. Mainly movie ads are studied because they are the only surviving fragments of the films made or exhibited that year. An immediate survey finds these ads phenomenally verbose and burdened with moral admonition. By writing a theory of fragments, and arguing for a spatial approach to historiography that results in a ‘slicing’ method, I study movie ads of the same films found in major Chinese-language newspapers as these films travelled from one movie house to the next across the year.

The original full study of all the movies and movie ads in question is about 100 pages long, which I have adapted for my presentation in the WCU Project 2011 in three parts: (I) the basic conceptual set-up on my historiographic methodology; (II) illustrative data and examples of interpretive strategies I applied to the raw material; and (III) extracts of historical knowledge produced in this study, i.e. arguable portraits of colonial modernity translated into paradigms of everyday ethics.

The historiographic problematic underscoring this study has three facets. First, is film history possible when no viewable films are available? Second, as the bulk of raw material available for this piece of history is primarily ideas and sayings (in the form of movie ads)? How can ideas pass for ‘making’, the key to the notion of ‘lifeworld’ (lebenswelt) and ‘being-in-the-world’, as Husserl and Heidegger use these terms? What kind of everydayness is speech and persuasion via language? Third, what interpretive model best serves the writing of a piece of history concentrated on the fragmentary, often contradicting, trade of thoughts and verbal persuasion? The use of theory is to direct me where to look, how to access, and what narrative strategies to adopt to communicate my findings.

The year 1934 can be characterized as lacking in events of monumental value. A brief moment of peace soon to be rocked by the growing impact of Japan’s aggression in China, 1934 can be described as a ‘crevice’ that has gained little attention in the attempted history of Hong Kong. In fact, it is a unique space-time allowing access to the richness of many everyday operations. The study of ads suggests a de-centering model of film culture: cinema is productively generating knowledge both as concentrated cultural texts and as activities that are only the results and effects of other domains of everyday life. In the context of this study, I have detected explicit persuasion in daily ethics and paradigms of conduct. The discourse effect I read phenomenally falls upon gender divisions: women’s behavior became the central object to define the up and down side of modernity. The government’s most power instrumental reason at the time, especially the promotion of sports, health and sanitation, found its way into the commercial strategies of the film business. In the mean time, what I call ‘Cantonization’ – the differentiation and re-invention of the Cantonese-ness of Hong Kong people, as opposed to their Chinese ethnicity or being a British colonial subject – transformed local filmmaking that resulted in a new boom in the coming few years. (END of abstract)


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First-hand material:
Industrial & Commercial Daily (Kung Sheung Jih Po 工商日報), a Chinese-language daily published in Hong Kong
Wah Kiu Yat Po 華僑日報, a Chinese-language daily published in Hong Kong)
Renaissance [Zhong Xing Bao] 中興報,a Chinese-language daily published in Hong Kong