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Ren Qingtai Biography

 

Ren QingtaiRen Qingtai was born in Shenyang, Liaoning Province in 1850. As a youth he studied photography in Japan, but it was not until 1892 that he established Beijing’s first photographic studio, the Fengtai Photo Studio. By now Ren was a successful businessman with interests in pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, furniture and theatre.

His Fengtai Photo Studio was a huge success, largely because it was equipped with the latest technology. When he saw the money that could be made from film exhibition, Ren converted an empty room next to the studio into a makeshift movie theatre However, two things prevented Ren from making the kind of profits he knew were possible. Firstly, the popularity of the shows meant that suitable western films were constantly in short supply, and as Ren was reluctant to repeat the same films over and over again, audiences began to dwindle. In addition to this, Ren’s staff told him that they ‘couldn’t understand western films‘.

Ren decided to produce his own films. He purchased a French motion picture camera and fourteen reels of film from a German merchant and decided to shoot films in his studio. The question was: what type of films should he make?

Instead of the actuality films that recorded real-life - and often mundane - events, Ren decided to film scenes from Ding jun shan (Conquering Jun Mountain) a popular Beijing opera starring the renowned actor Tan Xinpei. He had Liu Zhonlung, his best photographer from the studio shoot the film over three days in the courtyard of the studio in July 1905.

The film was a huge success and, encouraged by its enthusiastic reception from the Beijing public, the Fengtai Studio went on to make a series of eight more films of Beijing Opera between 1905 and 1909, which Ren screened at his Da Guanlou Theatre (which still stands today) and which were all popular with the Beijing public. In 1909, a fire which destroyed the film studio brought Ren Qingtai’s film career to a premature end.

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Ren Qingtai

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