Visualizing Nostalgia: Postwar China, Missionary Imaging, and Memories of the Future

March 23, 2023 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Joseph W. Ho (History, Albion College)
Event title and details; photo of a film reel and canister

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As the Chinese Civil War ended and the People's Republic of China came into being, visual materials became symbols of loss, nostalgia, and imagined futures for American missions and Chinese Christian communities. In this talk, I explore the competing perspectives of Jesuit filmmakers (one a US visitor, the other an embedded member of a mission in Yangzhou) creating two "feature-length" color films as their order's centuries-long missions in Mainland China crumbled.

In parallel, Protestant families and Chinese associates produced their final images against the backdrop of the missionaries' expulsion from China, with fragmentary images and memories colored by Cold War realignments of 1948-1952. The afterlives of missionary photographs and films coincided with shifting historical identities after the end of the twentieth century mission enterprise.

These materials intersected with episodes of loss, recovery, and recontextualization over the last seventy years, alongside changes in scholarly and popular perceptions of American missionary involvement in modern China and Sino-US relations.

Finally, these images' new circulation in a digital world and their "return" to twenty-first century China speak to shifting constructions of transnational memory - merging microhistorical experiences with the slipperiness of envisioning global pasts and alternative futures.

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  • Asian/Pacific Studies Institute