Explore the Golden Age of Chinese Cinema Through These Movie Magazines

Chinese Movie Magazines
Chinese Movie Magazines | © Paul Kendel Fonoroff Collection for Chinese Film Studies, C. V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley

Editorial Manager

Chinese Movie Magazines 1921-1951: From Charlie Chaplin to Chairman Mao is a new photo book that captures the glamour of Chinese cinema, offering a rare insight into popular culture during the golden ages of Shanghai and Hollywood.

“When I started collecting old Chinese movie magazines over 30 years ago, it was both a labor of love and a matter of necessity,” says collector Paul Fonoroff. “As a grad student researching Chinese cinema in Beijing in the early 1980s, I quickly discovered that magazines dated before the Communist victory of 1949 were ‘off-limits’ to foreign students.” Now, however, his prints form the basis of the new photo book.

‘Wha Jet Engraving’, issue 2 (left); ‘Art Forum’, issue 2

The collection of magazines Fonoroff has assembled highlights how global megastars of the time, such as Charlie Chaplin, would feature alongside local celebrities such as “movie empress” Butterfly Wu – the star of the first movie containing spoken Chinese dialogue – and Hu Rongrong, who was known as the Chinese Shirley Temple.

Charlie Chaplin’s first Chinese magazine appearance; a Butterfly Wu cover

Putting together such a collection wasn’t easy. “I began searching the second-hand bookstores and flea market stalls, not only in Beijing and Shanghai but also such far-flung locales as Bangkok, Penang, and Singapore, where Chinese-language cinema had a huge overseas ethnically Chinese audience who were also fans of movie magazines in their native tongue,” Fonoroff reveals.

You might also like: 10 Films to See Before Visiting Shanghai

His collection – which includes more than 500 full-colour covers, many of which aren’t even available in Chinese archives – grew to include thousands of issues of entertainment publications such as original magazines of the 1920s, souvenir booklets, movie newspapers, theatre pamphlets and much more.

“Together, they presented a portrait of the era’s entertainment press that doubled as a window into the film industries of both China and the then British colony of Hong Kong, also a major filmmaking centre,” Fonoroff explains.

‘Silver Screen’ (left), featuring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon; ‘Screen Voice’

The magazines “serve as a guide to the nation’s cinema during its formative decades, from silent pictures through the talkie revolution and concluding with the Communist Revolution.”

Chinese Movie Magazines 1921 -1951: From Charlie Chaplin to Chairman Mao is released in hardback on 13 September

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