LU new open-access database showcases history of film exhibition and reception in Colonial Hong Kong

2 Nov 2021

A History of Film Exhibition and Reception in Colonial Hong Kong (1897 to 1925)

A History of Film Exhibition and Reception in Colonial Hong Kong (1897 to 1925)

The Centre for Film and Creative Industries, the University Library and the Department of Visual Studies of Lingnan University (LU) jointly launched “A History of Film Exhibition and Reception in Colonial Hong Kong (1897 to 1925)” database. The open-access database, developed under the Research Grants Committee-funded project “Screen Practices in Colonial Hong Kong: A History of Film Exhibition and Reception from 1897 to 1925”, serves as an essential resource for research on Hong Kong film history from the initial screenings of motion pictures in the late 1890s to the mid-1920s when the local film industry took shape. It provides online access to over 29,000 items of news materials, covering movie theatres, distribution companies and circuits, advertisements, and film reviews.


The LU research team, led by Prof Emilie Yeh Yueh-yu, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Lam Wong Yiu Wah Chair Professor of Visual Studies of LU, uncovered more than 58,000 primary source materials on film marketing, promotion, exhibition, and reception published from 1897 to 1925 in three major English-language Hong Kong newspapers, namely, The China Mail, The Hongkong Telegraph and The South China Morning Post.


Relevant news clippings were collected from the three daily newspapers in microfilm format, and were converted into more than 29,000 summarised entries. Each entry contains the date of publication, original title (if any), column/section, and excerpt. They also created four datasets by venues, organisations, key persons, and film projectors and titles, with each data item identified by a tag. The entries that include the same item can be browsed or searched by the public easily using the tag.


Prof Emilie Yeh explained that these primary materials would be expected to help construct the history of early screen practices in Hong Kong. “Screen practices means two things, including screening events, particularly the projection of motion pictures as multi-faceted and multivalent occurrences, such as a technological display, a public assembly for charity, an entertaining performance, and a trendy cultural pursuit; and the domination of exhibition in the cultivation of a film industry before production entered the picture. Exploring the exclusive role of exhibition and the logistics, space, facilities, and equipment required to set up screening events is crucial to understand how movie shows were connected to the social fabric of Hong Kong of the early 20th century. All of this information can be used to explore the formation of the early film industry by identifying screening routines and business transaction patterns,” said Prof Yeh.


She added that the term “practice” highlights the repetition of such screening events to achieve some form of proficiency and recognition. The history of screen practices thus reveals the multiplicity and heterogeneity of early Hong Kong film culture, covering the screening equipment, built environment, distribution and exhibition, censorship, and cinema reception as a key part of public life in colonial Hong Kong.



The public are welcome to visit A History of Film Exhibition and Reception in Colonial Hong Kong (1897 to 1925) database at: