China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper studies how words and images, when appearing on and across the screen, mediate scientific facts in China’s early educational films. In 1934, Yinshui weisheng (Drinking Water Hygiene), scripted by Chen Guofu, was screened under the Nationalist Government’s promotion of “film education” (dianying jiaoyu) that adopted new media technology in science education. Amalgamating micro-cinematography into dramatization, the film features a progressive teacher Li Zhichao, who guided his students through classroom experiments in the hope that science would help to form hygienic habits. Similar to Li who painstakingly taught ways of seeing harmful microbes hidden in the water supplies, the film aimed at inculcating knowledge of microorganism by visualizing what was otherwise imperceptible to the naked eye. Across the cinematic frame, the task of teaching the audience what to see and how to see on the screen posed pedagogical challenges to the educators, who had to resort to written and spoken words in remedy of the inadequacy of the image. Learning science through films thus entailed the coordination of texts with images and sound, processes in which the audience also learned science of films. Contextualized in contemporaneous discussions on cinema as an objective and efficient medium in science popularization, the return of the verbal, despite the substitution and sublimation thereof, reveals the complex dynamic between reading, listening, and watching that constituted 1930s cinematic experiences. This study of media archeology demonstrates how reinvented scientific visuality in the 1930s, by organizing and regulating perceptions, staged science in and as transmedia storytelling.