Essex historian features in China on Film documentary

  • Date

    Tue 6 Feb 18

Dr Xun Zhou

Dr Xun Zhou was one of the academic experts interviewed for a unique documentary focused on some of the earliest films made in China broadcast by Channel News Asia.

Mystery still surrounds some of the material featured in China on Film which includes film reels recently discovered in a shop basement in the north of England.

Young men in mandarin attire laugh and joke as they glance at the camera, eyeballing the 21st century viewer from the time of the Qing Dynasty.

Since those gentlemen were recorded on celluloid, China has experienced nearly 120 years of momentous change.

Dr Zhou watched the films at a special personal screening in our Lecture Theatre Building and explained the significance of some of the footage. She said some of the material challenges accepted views on social relationships and cultural practices in the past.

She added: “I am one of those historians who believe that visual documents, as well as oral sources, provide invaluable evidence that both bolsters and supplements textual evidence available to historians.

“This footage is really useful for teaching Chinese history and I am using some of the films for one of my modules this term. I am also aware they are representations so as a historian, I am interested in who made these films, when and why? I encourage my students to ask these questions too.”

The films are part of a unique collection of early films at the British Film Institute (BFI), covering every facet of Chinese life from the time of the Boxer Rebellion to the Communist victory in 1949.

With unique access to the BFI National Archive, this 2-part documentary shows films never seen before outside the UK. The best of these extraordinary images are worked into a compelling narrative to reveal new insights into this period of tremendous change and turmoil in China.