Anti-May Fourth Films of Republican China

Chris Rea

Nora should not step out and find her own way. She should stay at home, dress modestly, and be a good wife. Chinese silent films of the 1920s and early 1930s often convey ideological messages strikingly at odds with May Fourth ideals such as equality of the sexes and liberation of the individual. While some films express sympathy for progressive causes and outrage at present inequalities, others are overtly misogynistic and reactionary. This talk will focus on Chinese-made films that May Fourth figures would consider to be on the wrong side of history, and show how they harness the power of the film medium—charismatic stars, special effects, popular Hollywood tropes—to take us back to the good old days. On this May Fourth anniversary, bring your sense of righteousness and film studies sensibilities to this tour through moral dramas such as The Pearl Necklace 一串珍珠 (1926), Don’t Change Your Husband 情海重吻 (1929), Poor Daddy 怕老婆 (1929), Love and Duty 戀愛與義務 (1931), and The Peach Girl 桃花泣血記 (1931). #NoraStayHome

Christopher Rea is Professor of Chinese and former Director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia. He is the creator of the Chinese Film Classics Project, whose website hosts over 30 early Chinese films translated by Dr Rea and collaborators, as well as film clips, essays, links, and a free online course on early Chinese films. The website and the course are companions to his book Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949 (Columbia, 2021), which covers fourteen films, and has a Chinese edition forthcoming. Full films and over 200 film clips (songs, gags, superlative scenes) are also viewable at the YouTube channel @ModernChineseCulturalStudies. Rea is also the author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (California, 2015) and the co-author of Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World) (with Thomas Mullaney; Chicago, 2022). He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World in 2012.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

ONLINE EVENT. Please register to receive Zoom link prior to seminar.


Christopher Rea

Dates & times

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

4.00am - 5.30am



Updated:  6 October 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team