A small history of wenyi

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Book chapter

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The Oxford handbook of Chinese cinemas

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Oxford University Press


The concept of wenyi played a key role in the distribution and promotion of films in the period from the second decade of the twentieth century to the early 1930s. Unlike the negative connotations of triviality, self-indulgence, even puerile pursuits that the term tends to carry today, wenyi at the time promised a sophisticated, worldly experience. This chapter maps the trajectory of wenyi, clarifies its importance, including its shifting meanings driven by literary and political forces and, more crucially, places it in a fluid cultural environment of literary enlightenment and social reform. Though wenyi as a construct has followed different paths since the 1960s, around 1930 it was a robust way to classify and describe cultural products and consumption. By revising wenyi’s history during the first decade of China’s full-fledged film production, we also find some of the exchanges between film and literature in this period.



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ISBN of the source publication: 9780199765607

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Recommended Citation

Yeh, E. Y.-y. (2013). A small history of wenyi. In C. Rojas & E. C.-Y. Chow (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of Chinese cinemas (pp. 225-249). Oxford: Oxford University Press.