Joseph W. Ho

  • Fellowship year:2016-2017
  • University: University of Michigan
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: International and Global
  • Dissertation Title: All Things Visible and Invisible: Photography, Filmmaking, and American Christian Missions in Modern China
  • All Things Visible and Invisible: Photography, Filmmaking, and American Christian Missions in Modern China is a transnational history of visual practices situated in Sino-US cultural and religious encounters during one of the most tumultuous periods in 20th century China. I examine vernacular photography and filmmaking as world-making processes – means by which American Protestant and Catholic missionaries imaged China in parallel with modern Chinese modes of visual self-representation. I explore the links between imaging practices and experiences on the ground, photographic imaginations in humanitarian and religious contexts, and the trans-Pacific circulation of images between communities in China and the United States. My study investigates the imaging equipment and processes that structured image production and reception – as well as links to allied media technologies (e.g. radio broadcasting, commercial film, print media) that contributed to a broadly-shared “missionary modernity” in East Asia. I interrogate historical relationships between image makers, subjects, and image viewers in order to reconstruct image-based American and Chinese experiences between nation and imperial power.

    In terms of time and space, my study maps the history of American missionary visual practices onto a larger cross-regional history of Republican China (and after 1949, the early People’s Republic of China) between 1921 and 1951. It begins by tracing missionaries of both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations as they first encountered and imaged China, and then moves into connections between photography and religious conversion; vernacular filmmaking and translations of time and community; and missionary visual practices as shaped by the contingencies of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It concludes with links between visual imagination and nostalgia surrounding the mission enterprise’s decline in the opening salvos of the Cold War, a turning point that divorced missionary groups from indigenous communities remaining in Mainland China. In sum, All Things Visible and Invisible argues that visual practices were central to American missionaries’ experiences in modern China as well as Chinese communities’ representation in global cultural and religious institutions – even as the world itself radically reshaped those behind and in front of the lens.