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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Technologized Vision in Modern China
2: The Attractions of “tu-cinema”: Slide Projection at Mao-era Film Screenings
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
University of Pennsylvania, United States
Huandeng, or slide projection, has received much less scholarly attention than other modern visual technologies such as photography and cinema. Existing scholarship on slide projection tends to focus on the magic lantern and its cultural influence during the period of late 19th and early 20th century. But it would be a mistake to assume that as cinema became the more dominant medium in the twentieth century, slide projection simply disappeared from history. As a visual, narrative, and pedagogical technology, slide projection has continued to update and assert itself. This paper examines the role of huandeng as an integral component of film screenings in Maoist China (1949-1976). Dubbed as “tu dianying” (“rustic cinema”), huandeng was initially employed to supplement films. But from the mid-60s to the 70s, slide shows became so popular that film projection teams sometimes only showed slides, relying largely on self-made slide projectors and slides. This little-known history urges us to recognize the unique advantages of huandeng as a medium, which should not be seen as a mere accessory or even an inferior version of cinema. What this paper will show is that the notion of tu-cinema designated huandeng as a low-cost, flexible medium that cultivated agency and community at the grass roots. Even though both cinema and huandeng were considered propaganda tools, through the work of projectionists who were tasked with creating slides, huandeng became aligned more closely with local interests, even fulfilling the functions of local new media.