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Atlas in Motion: Visualising Manchuria in Moving Images

Yufei Li

Manchuria, China

2022

PhD in Architecture

Categories

Colonialism, Geopolitics, Culture

The mimetic nature of film gives it the ability to create a place in cinematic geographies that is bonded to the particular time and spatial coordinates and tinted with historical and social contexts. As a practical example of such virtual recreation, a specific group of films were produced during the period of the 1930s-40s, all serving a placemaking purpose: to portray a territory named Manchuria.

Manchuria, corresponding roughly to the current Northeast China geographically, was under the control of Imperial Japan as the puppet state of Manchukuo from 1932 to 1945. While Japanese architects planned their cities as a dreamscape of Far East modernisation, their politicians relied on media in cultural construction to promote the region towards the wider world. Films, produced by the South Manchuria Railway Company and Manchuria Film Association, mapped out Manchuria in a collection of moving images featuring its urban landscapes, customs and daily lives. However, after the Japanese retreated in 1945, the region's colonial past as Manchuria remains distant from the mainstream historical accounts of modern China, despite the glorious propaganda on screen.

How was Manchuria lived, experienced and picturised? Can we visualise its past, through film as a 'live' medium? How has the absent Manchuria shaped the current cultural identity of Northeast China? With these questions in mind, the research offers a novel approach to cinematic place-making by using film as a medium to immerse the present landscape into its visual and experiential past, in this case mapping the historical geography of Manchuria in a collection of moving images. The research sources available Manchuria films produced between 1932 and 1945, accompanied with on-site ethnographic surveys, to illustrate the cinematic ukiyo-e of Manchuria in the light of its contemporary urban cultural regeneration.