A String of Pearls

Ho Rui An

04 jun. 2024 • 1 min

A classic of Republican-era cinema, the 1926 silent film A String of Pearls follows the trials and tribulations of a middle-class Shanghai couple after a pearl necklace borrowed by the husband to please his materialistic wife is stolen. In order to pay for a replacement, the protagonist resorts to embezzling public funds and consequently ends up in prison. After working as a weaver during his sentence, he becomes a worker at Zhenhua Cotton Mill following his release. In an obvious homage to the Lumières brothers’ seminal film, a scene in the film shows workers, including children, entering the factory to begin a day’s work.

Even though the precise location of the factory gate in the film cannot be determined, it happens that the first enterprise that attracted the investment of Rong Ruixin – a relative of cotton magnates Rong Zongjing and Rong Desheng – was called Zhenhua Cotton Mill. Established in 1905, Zhenhua Cotton Mill was not fully mechanised, which would correspond with the appearance of a hand-operated loom in the film. Today, a residential community sits on the original site of the cotton mill.

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Ho Rui An is an artist and writer working in the intersections of contemporary art, cinema, performance and theory. Through lectures, essays and films, his research examines the relations between labour, technology and capital across different systems of governance in a global age.

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