1927 Film and Marble Relics to Returned to China

Still from The Cave of the Silken Web

The only known copy of a 1927 Chinese film thought to be lost but discovered in Norway is being sent to the China Film Archive (中国电影资料馆 /中國電影資料館) in Beijing.  The Cave of the Silken Web (盘丝洞 / 盤絲洞) was a blockbuster in China and because of its popularity was sent to Europe.  The silent film premiered in Oslo on January 18, 1929 with an orchestral accompaniment and was the first Chinese film to be shown in Norway.  A few minutes of the film can be seen here.

Based on the episode in Journey to the West (西游记/西遊記) where the characters encounter sexy, seductive spider spirits, the movie was part of the “ghost-spirit” (神怪) genre and was the type of film that led to film censorship policies enacted in China in the 1930s by the Republican government to counter the prevalence of belief in the supernatural and superstition.  Chinese film scholar Chris Berry writes:

“However, although the fantastic elements of these films helped to make them popular with Chinese audiences in the 1920s, they also ultimately led to their downfall…the specific concern that intellectuals in the wake of the 1919 May Fourth Movement had about “ghost-spirit” films was that these films did not follow the new spirit of secularism and science, but instead promoted feudal concepts like ghosts. Such films were felt to be holding China back from modernization.”

Inadequate preservation techniques and the political situation in China led to the film being lost.  Discovery of a copy of the film in 2011 in the National Library of Norway’s archives caused much excitement.   A restored version of the film was shown at the Film from the South Festival later in the year and was well-received.  

In a separate deal, seven marble columns that were taken from the Summer Palace (圆明园 /圓明園) in the late 19th century are also being returned in an agreement negotiated by businessman Huang Nubo (黄怒波) with the KODE Art Museum of Bergen.   In exchange for a long-term lease, Huang will donate 10 million Norwegian kroner ($1.6 million) to the museum to refurbish its China exhibition space and to manage its 2,500-item collection, one of the largest in Europe.  The columns will be displayed at Peking University which is adjacent to the grounds of the Old Summer Palace, and an academic cooperation program with the museum will be established to strengthen the museum’s collection and expertise in Chinese art.

The return of the film and the marble relics to China takes place during a period of tension between the Norwegian and Chinese governments stemming from the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波 / 劉曉波).  In protest to this recognition, the Chinese government canceled diplomatic meetings and suspended trade talks with Norway, despite the fact that the committee is not controlled by the Norwegian government.  Norway’s new foreign minister, who came into office last October, made improving relations with China a priority.  It’s unknown how much goodwill cultural repatriation brings to the table. In the meantime, capitulating to China’s unrelenting position, the Norwegian prime minister and foreign minister have agreed not to meet with the Dali Lama when he visits Norway to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize.