Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

1/1/2011 - 12/31/2011

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Trading in Cultural Spaces: How Chinese Film Came to America

FAIN: FA-56087-11

Ramona Curry
Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Champaign, IL 61801-3620)

Cinema scholars have well documented how movies "made in the USA" have dominated screens internationally for 90 years, yet much needed are careful accounts of intra-regional and community-based media circuits around the globe that do not fit the “West to the Rest” model. I seek NEH support to finish my book “Trading in Cultural Spaces,” which draws on dense archival research to document individuals, practices, and locales comprising an unwritten strand of American film history: the trans-Pacific flow of Chinese movies into and within the U.S. From the early 20th century such films have challenged stereotypes and forged avenues for cross-cultural exchange. By recovering multiple Chinese American and supporting voices, images and multicultural networks, my project aims to refocus cinema history on its prior margins, to enrich transnational and national film and social histories and make intellectual contributions consonant with the new NEH "Bridging Cultures" initiative.

Media Coverage

Documentary Symposium@Stockholm University: A Response (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Charles Musser
Publication: blog
Date: 12/14/2011
Abstract: Response from Prof. Musser, himself a participant and presenter at the symposium "Palpable Realities: Documentary Practices from Brodsky to Morris" at Stockholm University from Dec. 9-11, 2011, about other presentations, including that by Ramona Curry about Benjamin Brodsky's role in Chinese cinema and his 1916 ethno-documentary film A TRIP THROUGH CHINA.

Chinese Cinema: Tracing the Origins (Review)
Author(s): Po Fung
Publication: HFKA Newsletter 58
Date: 11/1/2011
Abstract: Pg. 10-13, available by request of Prof. Curry.

Associated Products

"Benjamin Brodsky (1877-1960): The Trans-Pacific American Film Entrepreneur -- Part Two, Taking A Trip Thru China to America." (Article)
Title: "Benjamin Brodsky (1877-1960): The Trans-Pacific American Film Entrepreneur -- Part Two, Taking A Trip Thru China to America."
Author: Ramona Curry
Abstract: Abstract Part One of this essay traced a biography for Benjamin Brodsky and revealed surprising facets of the production of his 1916 feature-length travelogue A Trip Thru China. Part Two addresses the film’s genre inscription and cinematic qualities and relates its embedded values to its enthusiastic reception across America 1916-18. Although the ethnographic documentary pays admiring tribute to laboring men and women throughout China, it also valorizes the moribund Chinese empire, as embodied in Brodsky’s ultimate patron in China, President Yuan Shikai. While fully eschewing the “Yellow Menace” U.S. discourse of its period, Trip humorously delineates the East and West as essentially different. The rare work’s exceptional critical and popular success from California to New York City points to Brodsky’s skilled showmanship and ability to engage the support of independent movie distributors and investors. Why, then, the essay considers in conclusion, did Brodsky’s subsequent experiences after his shift in 1917 to making films in Japan, including the feature-length travelogue Beautiful Japan (1918), so diverge in its outcome from his early filmmaking career in China?
Year: 2011
Primary URL:
Primary URL: http:/
Primary URL Description: "Intragent" website for the JOURNAL FOR AMERICAN-EAST ASIAN RELATIONS, where the article can be ordered.
Access Model: subscription only (library or individual)
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of American - East Asian Relations
Publisher: Brill (Leiden, The Netherlands)

"Making Connections: Benjamin Brodsky and Early Trans-Pacific Cinema Historiography" (translated into Chinese). (Article)
Title: "Making Connections: Benjamin Brodsky and Early Trans-Pacific Cinema Historiography" (translated into Chinese).
Author: Ain-ling WONG, lead editor of book CHINESE CINEMA: TRACING THE ORIGINS: Hong Kong: HK Film Archive.
Author: Ramona Curry (article) pp. 94-109
Abstract: ABSTRACT OF ARTICLE BY CURRY (only American author in the book): Histories of Chinese cinema have long credited the Russian American immigrant Benjamin Brodsky (1877-1960) with founding production companies in Shanghai and Hong Kong as early as 1909 and initiating filmmaking collaborations with local Chinese. Closer examination reveals those accounts to be sketchy assertions offered without documentation. Recent original transnational research, conducted in part among U.S. government archives and library holdings now available on-line, has yielded evidence that reframes and elaborates the historical narrative. This essay departs from a 1915 American film trade journal report and its illustrating photograph and from a tale in Brodsky’s unpublished autobiography to demonstrate his unexpected connections to members of the Chinese elite around 1912-1916. A chance shipboard meeting led to Brodsky’s acquaintance with several Chinese graduates of American universities and through them the early republican minister Zhou Ziqi. Extensive records suggest that these Chinese returned students themselves motivated and through family and political connections helped to facilitate Brodsky’s shift in 1913-1914 from limited film distribution in China into production, including of A Trip Through China (1916). The new findings have intriguing implications for histories of early twentieth-century trans-Pacific cultural associations as well as of Chinese cinema.
Year: 2011
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Page linked to the Hong Kong Film Archive publications website that gives the titles of essays in the collection and abstracts about them in English (although the book itself appears in Chinese only.)
Access Model: purchase of the book
Publisher: Hong Kong Film Archive