All Things Visible and Invisible: Photography, Filmmaking, and American Christian Missions in Modern China
KeywordsModern Chinese History
History of Photography
Global and Transnational History
Abstract"All Things Visible and Invisible" is a transnational history of visual practices situated in Sino-US cultural and religious encounters across the Republican era and the early PRC. This study examines photography and filmmaking as visual world-making – a collective culture of vernacular visual practices and image-based knowledge production. I investigate the ways in which American Protestant and Catholic missionaries imaged their experiences in China while developing a visual “missionary modernity” (ways of seeing shaped by modern cross-cultural and religious perceptions) against the backdrop of local and national Chinese histories. I take into close account the specific imaging technologies – variations in image-making processes and equipment – that structured these practices and their historical afterlives. As mobile material artifacts, still images and films also circulated representations of on-the-ground experiences across transnational cultural networks, visually bridging China and the world. These visual practices ultimately escaped their missionary mold and entered greater trans-Pacific cultural imaginations, uniquely mediating Chinese and American identities while shaping modern visions of a global East Asia. Drawing from a large body of previously unexamined photographs, films, and private and institutional documents, I map the history of American missionary visual practices onto a larger trans-regional history of Republican China (and after 1949, the early People’s Republic of China) between 1921 and 1951. I begin by tracing American Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries’ first visual encounters with interwar China, and then continuing into connections between photographic experience and religious conversion; vernacular filmmaking and translations of time and local community; and missionary visual practices as shaped by the contingencies of the Second Sino-Japanese War. I conclude with links between visual imagination and nostalgia surrounding the American missionary enterprise’s postwar decline and the competing rise of the People’s Republic. In sum, "All Things Visible and Invisible" argues that visual practices were central to American missionaries’ ways of envisioning modern China and Chinese communities’ representation in transnational cultural and religious institutions – even as the world itself radically reshaped those behind and in front of the lens.
University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies
Ho, Joseph; 0000-0002-5346-3872
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