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Abstract

This dissertation uses the notion of intermediality as a lens through which to re-envision the history of Chinese animation from the 1920s to the present, investigating how animation reanimates a set of critical issues in film and media theories, especially as regards the relations of space and time. I argue that animation thinks—not “thinks about” or “thinks through”—time and space to a degree unimaginable in live-action cinema. What emerges in my investigation is a distinct understanding of space that is neither completely geographical nor entirely graphic, and of time as heterogeneous, disruptive, and surprising. While attending to Chinese animated film’s visual, material, and technological aspects, this dissertation also serves as a reminder of the need for a model of formal description of animation, one that borrows vocabulary from both cinema studies and art history. Each of the four chapters is organized according to Chinese animation’s encounters with other art forms, including photography, painting, and calligraphy. Using untapped archival materials, the first chapter, “Enchanted Space,” explores the use of stop-motion tricks in 1920s Chinese silent films, demonstrating that in the Chinese historical context, stop-motion animation was understood as part and parcel of trick photography. The second chapter, “Contact Zone,” continues the discussion of the affinities between animation and photography in the context of the Chinese reception of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), especially how it made possible the production Princess Iron Fan (Tieshan gongzhu, dir. Wan Brothers, 1941), the first feature-length cel animation in Asia. The third chapter, “Animated Landscape,” discusses Chinese ink animation (shuimo donghua) as a remediation of ink painting, a cultural heritage reinvented, and a restless genre that constantly moves in and out of the sphere of contemporary Chinese art. The last chapter, “Spatial Montage,” offers a fresh look at the relations between calligraphy and animation through a close analysis of contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing’s 2012 animation video, The Character of Characters (Hanzi de xing’ge). Through these case studies, this dissertation not only presents Chinese animation as a missing part of Chinese film history and a missing part of global animation history but also points to a rethinking of animation through theories and a rethinking of theories through animation. Experimenting with a method of animation analysis built at the intersection of the axes and fusion of space and time, materiality and imagination, I active a movement from Chinese animation as products to the production of Chinese animation then to the production of space in Chinese animation. Ultimately, this dissertation aims to develop a paradigm with which to make sense of the interactions of animation and space, where animation is understood as a form of material imagination and where space is understood as an image of time.

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