From enlightenment to revolution: lantern slides technology in Yan’an Period of China


The lantern slides show was brought to China as early as the late Qing dynasty, which was regarded as an entertainment media spectacle or enlightenment tool of foreign missionaries at that time. Later the ‘civic education campaign’ initiated by liberal intellectuals advocated it in an enlightenment sense. It was further localized by the Communist Party in the Yan’an Period, and transformed into a revolutionary weapon, fighting against enemies as landlords, Japanese and then the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) in wars.

Through analyzing news reports and historical archives, this article unfolds the continuities and differences in this transformation. On the one hand, similar to the previous periods, the Yan’an Period lantern slides practice expanded public spaces, indigenized the making process, and embedded a national salvage social discourse. On the other hand, it played multiple roles such as organizing peasants’ social lives, creating new political subjectivities in a class sense, and building the bond between peasants, soldiers and the party.

The mechanism of ‘workers, peasants, soldier’s literature and arts (gong nong bing wen yi)’ within the media ecosystem of Yan’an period enabled the party’s mobilization of the mass in villages and the front line. In a broad sense, the media ecosystem consists of films and lantern slides, literature, woodcut pictures, folk dances and songs, schools for the mass, party leaders and artists, and so on. To get more peasants and soldiers involved in the revolutionary affair, the Communist Party continuously modified the lantern slides technology and created its content. Genres such as ‘great production campaign’ in agriculture, literacy education, military affairs were innovatively produced. And in turn, through this mechanism, peasants and soldiers inspired the artists of the party in painting and making stories in the lantern slides.

This article regards lantern slides technology as a conglomerate of materials, symbols and new conventions created by different players in the 20th century of China, and the Yan’an Period lantern slides practice provides a critical and historical perspective for present-day discussions about the inclusiveness and reciprocity of new media.