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A pivotal figure in the birth of Chinese cinema, Zheng Zhengqiu (鄭正秋 1889–1935) established an art of dramatic film integral to the creation of early Chinese motion pictures. His style incorporated unique cross-media perspectives, producing theatrical works fundamentally grounded in his experiences in graphic arts (illustrated news) and theater. This article focuses on crucial links between Zheng’s films and his work for various illustrated newspapers, as well as between his stage plays and his own experience of family life. The author offers new approaches to and interpretations of Zheng’s art, analyzing his emotional modes of narrative and provocative forms of engagement. These artistic traits are rarely discussed in contemporary scholarship on his contributions to Chinese cinema. Emerging during the 1911 Revolution, Zheng’s sensational style of drama aimed to foster broad social and cultural reforms. For Zheng, art was never for art’s sake alone; instead, art was always in the service of society.