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Seminar on Chinese Silent Films

18. Jul. 2016

Prof. Paul Pickowicz, guest professor at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies (HCTS), offered a seminar on Chinese silent cinema in the Summer Semester of 2016. Besides discussing theories, students also produced their own silent films in the course. Their works where presented at the “Golden Chopsticks Film Gala” on July 16 at the DAI Heidelberg Cultural Center.

The innovative teaching concept was introduced by Prof. Paul Pickowicz, who is a leading scholar in the field of Modern Chinese History at the University of California in San Diego. Prof. Pickowicz is currently holding a research scholarship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and stays in Heidelberg as a guest professor at the HCTS. This was the first time he brought his film course to a German university, after giving it twice in China and once at a British university.

Together with Liying Sun, Assistant Professor at Institute for Sinology, Prof. Pickowicz offered the seminar “Chinese Silent Cinema 1920-1935” for Bachelor and Master students. In the class, he showed films from Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s, which served as a window to the society in the past and tackled the issues relating to social, political, economic and cultural aspects of the time. In the seminar which took place from April until July, students watched and discussed 15 silent films from the time period 1922-1935. Topics of these films among others were gender relations, modern marriage form, class differences and encounter with other cultures.

Additional to engaging in theoretical discussion on the films, three student groups produced their own twenty-minute films in black and white. These films were required to reflect the themes and aesthetics of silent films of the era. Students were encouraged to write stories themselves, perform as actors and undertake production works including adding Chinese and English subtitles, background music, and making film posters.

These films were presented at the “Golden Chopsticks Film Gala” on July 16 at the DAI. Three works were evaluated by a highly transcultural and diversified jury consisting of: Christiane Brosius (Media Anthropology), Dorothea Redepenning (Musicology), Henry Keazor (Art History), Günter Leypold (American Literature), Barbara Mittler (Chinese Studies), Huang Xuelei (Film & Cultural Studies, Edinburgh—formerly Heidelberg). After each film was shown, the filmmakers explained to the jury, why their work could thematically, technically and aesthetically fit into the era of 1920-1930. Subsequently, the jury voted for the winners in the price categories of “Best Main Actor”, “Best Supporting Actor”, “Best Director”, and “Best Film”.

Prof. Paul G. Pickowicz is Distinguished Professor of History and Chinese Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He has published 16 books (as author, coauthor, and coeditor) and more than 50 articles, all of which fall under the broad heading of interdisciplinary Chinese Studies, with particular focus on the social and cultural history of 20th century China. He received the prestigious Humboldt Research Award in 2016 and is affiliated to the HCTS.

Liying Sun is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Chinese Studies. She is a Cluster’s associated member in projects HRA8 “Chinese Women's Magazines” and MC15 “Powers of the Press”. Currently, she is working on her postdoc book project “Hollywood Silent Films in China: Historical Audiences and Transcultural Receptions, 1918-1929."

The “Golden Chopsticks Film Gala” took place at the DAI Heidelberg Cultural Center (Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut) on July 16, at 3 pm.

Find more information on the event here.


pictures: Emily Graf



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