Envisioning Encounters: Missionary Filmmaking as Transnational Documentary in Twentieth Century China

Envisioning Encounters: Missionary Filmmaking as Transnational Documentary in Twentieth Century China

Prof. Joseph W. Ho 賀威瑋教授

Date:  Mar 7 0900-1030 (HKT) / Mar 6 2000-2130 (EST)

Venue: Zoom 網上演講

Language 語言: English

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Across the first half of the twentieth century, American Protestant and Catholic missionaries in China produced vernacular films situated between embeddedness in local communities, contested nation-building, and Sino-US interests. Equipment-oriented engagements, influenced by international amateur film culture, drove new ways of seeing and believing. With encounters mediated by mobile film production, missionaries and Chinese Christians saw themselves as collaborators in filmmaking experiences as well as actors linking global religious and secular communities with modern visual imaginations. Behind the lens and on-screen, they helped to shape American religious and cultural influence in China while embodying cross-cultural identities, wartime traumas, and shifting modernities. In the process, missionary films blended iconography, humanitarian perspectives, and documentary impulses with vernacular visualities – ranging from private family images to eyewitness records of military atrocities and regime change. They created a mediatory visual language that transcended national borders and secular-religious divides. Some films escaped their missionary mold and entered transpacific imaginations, coming to be as much about future perceptions as about present realities.

In this talk, Prof. Joseph W. Ho traces the odysseys of cameras and footage framed by evolving historical milieus and transnational visions. In doing so, he reconstructs a hitherto unexplored visual fabric – embodied in miles of 16mm film and orphaned filmmaking technologies – that bridged the American missionary enterprise and modern China.



Joseph W. Ho is Associate Professor of History at Albion College and a Center Associate at the University of Michigan’s Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies. He is a historian of modern East Asia, Sino-US encounters, and transnational visual culture and media. Ho is the co-editor of War and Occupation in China: The Letters of an American Missionary from Hangzhou, 1937–1938 (Lehigh University Press, 2017), and the author of Developing Mission: Photography, Filmmaking, and American Missionaries in Modern China (Cornell University Press, 2021). He is currently completing a new co-authored book, Time Exposures: Catholic Photography and the Evolution of Modern China (Hong Kong University Press, under contract) and preparing his next monograph, Bamboo Wireless: Mediating the Cold War in Asia.


Speaker's Website: josephweiho.com

Book site: bit.ly/DevelopingMission

Book companion digital repository: dx.doi.org/10.7302/1259


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