Academic Writing.
Ph.D. thesis

   
"Producing Heterotopia: Traces of the Cinema in the Thick Space of Governmentality, Localism and Citizenship in 1934 Hong Kong" (2004)

 

This thesis was in partial fulfullment of Linda C.H. Lai's PhD degree at NYU (Cinema Studies, Tisch School of the Arts), successfully defended in June 2004.

 

Abstract

 

The Project began as the quest for an absent history of the pre-war Hong Kong cinema, finally re-defined as the study of one year, an attempt to gain the first sights and sounds of 1934’s material existence, a year without monumental significance and before cinema turned full sound.

 

The choice of 1934 problematizes at once normative definitions of “significant events” and “film culture.” Upholding “spatial realism” (as opposed to conceptual realism), I refresh the category of “space-time” to supercede the “time versus space” dichotomy in history=writing, thus re-assessing standard historiographic categories like causal relations, continuity, progress, and structure-conjuncture to call  for revised narrative models. Spatial realism leads to the critical engagement with mapping, urban morphology, and a sought dialog between “production of space” and “heterotopia.”

 

I also critique the notion of film culture, arguing that pro-filmic events need not always be placed in the paradigmatic center to yield productive cinema history, whereas individual films and related activities can be unique nodal points through which factual and fictional histories travel.

 

A multiple-approach chapter scheme establishes the following: that cinema necessarily forums a continuum with other everyday life domains that quotidian micro-processes involving multiple players best illumine (the effect of) governmentality, and in Hong Kong’s case, one looks at the colonial administration’s pacification tactics in population management, the promotion of leisure via spatial reproduction, relaxing land purchase and rental legislation, and a bottom-up “Cantonization” process forging a local identity around a distinct shared dialect, Cantonese. Two key chapters trace my virtual walk through the urban space along key transportation routes, steered by thick description and free story-telling. I reveal traces of the government’s constant relocation of Chinese residential clusters as disciplinary measures, and how movie theaters spatially intervened into a minor district as it evolved into modernized urbanity. Seventeen silent and Cantonese-language films are investigated, following the order of their exhibition dates across 1934, emphasizing the textual transportation between cinema and other locations of cultural writings and moral exegesis, yielding a unique picture of production of citizenship via self-techniques. Adopting process-oriented narrative strategies, I have embodied both the reflexive historian and situated ethnographer, illustrating performativity in positive knowledge production.


 

TABLE OF CONTENT

 

INTRODUCTION

One-year Slicing, Street-mapping, and Fractured Reality: a Spatial and Surficial Approach to Cinema History for Hong Kong

 

CHAPTER 1

Hong Kong Cinema in the 1930s: Docility, Social Hygiene, Pleasure-seeking and the Consolidation of the Film Industry

 

CHAPTER 2

Street-walking: a Geography of Leisure and Control in Urban Hong Kong and Kowloon (1)

 

CHAPTER 3

Street-walking: a Geography of Leisure and Control in Urban Hong Kong and Kowloon (2)

 

CHAPTER 4

“Made in Hong Kong”: How to Be Human, How to Be Good, How to Be Civilized, and Everyday Modernity in the Crevices

 

CHAPTER 5

Tracing Cinema in the Thick Urban Space

 

APPENDICES

APPENDIX A:

PRODUCTION INFORMATION & EXHIBITION PATTERN OF INDIVIDUAL FILMS STUDIED FOR THE YEAR 1934

APPENDIX B:

THE MICRO-PROCESSES OF “CANTONIZATION”: THE MODERNIZATION & COMMODIFICATION OF AN ECLECTIC ART FORM

APPENDIX C:

THE MAKING OF A MOVIE ACTOR: THE CASE OF NG CHOR-FAN

 

PHOTOGRAPHIC ILLUSTRATIONS AND MAPS FOR CHAPTERS 2 & 3 (a total of 74 pages)

 

 

 

**Two chapters of the thesis has been presented as published referee essay and conference paper. Much of the research material has been used and presented as art installation works. A rewriting of the entire book with a new introduction is now in progress, for necessary conceptual re-framing for the contemporary reader.