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New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, The

For the Public Record

Edited by Chris Berry, Lu Xinyu

Publication Year: 2010

The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement is a groundbreaking project unveiling recent documentary film work that has transformed visual culture in China, and brought new immediacy along with a broader base of participation to Chinese media. As a foundational text, this volume provides a much-needed introduction to the topic of Chinese documentary film, the signature mode of contemporary Chinese visual culture. These essays examine how documentary filmmakers have opened up a unique new space of social commentary and critique in an era of rapid social changes amid globalization and marketization. The essays cover topics ranging from cruelty in documentary to the representation of Beijing; gay, lesbian and queer documentary; sound in documentary; the exhibition context in China; authorial intervention and subjectivity; and the distinctive "on the spot" aesthetics of contemporary Chinese documentary. This volume will be critical reading for scholars in disciplines ranging from film and media studies to Chinese studies and Asian studies.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix


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pp. xi-xiii

Part I - Historical Overview

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1 - Introduction

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pp. 3-13

If you turn on Chinese television today, you may be surprised. News reporting outside China often gives the impression that the country is still a tightly controlled propaganda culture. Yet, you will find dozens if not hundreds of different television channels, with a spontaneous, free-flowing style of reporting. Ordinary citizens are interviewed on the street and express their opinions in a ...

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2 - Rethinking China’s New Documentary Movement: Engagement with the Social

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pp. 15-48

The rise of the New Documentary Movement is one of the most important cultural phenomena in contemporary China. The definition of this contemporary film movement has not reached a consensus, as the movement itself is heterogeneous. However, it is clear that the movement arose in the historical, political, and social context of the 1980s and 1990s and must be understood within that context...

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3 - DV: Individual Filmmaking

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pp. 49-54

Two years ago, in May 1999, in a place in Shanxi Province called Guxian, I spent some time with a traveling performance troupe called the “Far & Wide Song and Dance Troupe.” This was an underground group that traveled around from place to place, performing under the big tent they carted around with them. The boss, a fiftyish man named Liu, came from a small village in the Pingdingshan ...

Part II - Documenting Marginalization, or Identities New and Old

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4 - West of the Tracks: History and Class-Consciousness

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pp. 57-76

After watching West of the Tracks (2003), the long take at the beginning remains unforgettable. The camera stares from the cabin of a small goods train moving slowly through snow-muffled, abandoned factories. A few ghostly figures flit under a gloomy sky. The only sound in a silent landscape is the creak of its wheels. These three minutes are like ...

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5 - Coming out of The Box, Marching as Dykes

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pp. 77-95

In the 1980s and early 1990s the People’s Republic of China saw the blossoming of independent documentary filmmaking. Wu Wenguang, Duan Jinchuan, Zhang Yuan, and Jiang Yue launched a wave of documentary filmmaking commonly referred to as the Chinese New Documentary Movement.1 Until the mid-1990s, this movement was monopolized by men. Starting with Li Hong’s Out of Phoenix Bridge (1997),...

Part III - Publics, Counter-Publics, and Alternative Publics

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6 - Blowup Beijing: The City as a Twilight Zone

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pp. 99-115

The title of this chapter reflects two main traits of Beijing documentaries — their tendency to blow up or highlight the city’s marginal inhabitants while also emphasizing their often barely visible locations. Unlike the fast-growing capital that shines in the bright daylight or in the neon lights of its nightlife, the “twilight zone” refers to a symbolic dusk — a moment of partial visibility when ...

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7 - Watching Documentary: Critical Public Discourses and Contemporary Urban Chinese Film Clubs

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pp. 117-134

The past several years have seen a surge of interest in Chinese documentary films. A quick search on the internet returns numerous results on Chinese documentary film screenings both in China and abroad. With this rising interest, important academic research has begun to appear on the topic.1 However, ...

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8 - Alternative Archive: China’s Independent Documentary Culture

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pp. 135-154

In her historical analysis of China’s New Documentary Movement in this volume, Lu Xinyu notes that the term “New Documentary Movement” first appeared in 1992, a little while after the first films began to appear. Wu Wenguang’s Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers (1990), analyzed in Bérénice Reynaud’s chapter in this volume, is widely regarded as the first film of the movement. It was shot in 1989 and shown ...

Part IV - Between Filmmaker and Subject: Re-creating Realism

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9 - Translating the Unspeakable: On-Screenand Off-Screen Voices in Wu Wenguang’s Documentary Work

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pp. 157-176

New Chinese Documentaries have been lauded often enough for “giving the floor” to the subjects of their investigation — allowing them to speak to the camera, in their own words and with their own voices — that such a point has become trivial. What is interesting, on the contrary, in Wu Wenguang’s work, is that from the onset, it opens up the possibility of a split between subjects and ...

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10 - From “Public” to “Private”: Chinese Documentary and the Logic of Xianchang

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pp. 177-194

If the early years of China’s New Documentary Movement were dominated by what has become known as the “public” documentary — films that focused on “public topics” (gonggong huati), usually encompassing issues of nation, history, ethnicity, or the functioning of the state, and which were often shot in public or communal spaces — recent interest has largely shifted ...

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11 - Excuse Me, Your Camera Is in My Face: Auteurial Intervention in PRC New Documentary

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pp. 195-215

The title of this chapter may be taken as a polite rendering of the answer given by an interviewee in There Is a Strong Wind in Beijing (1999, henceforth Strong Wind). The filmmakers intrude on a man in a public toilet, literally caught with his pants down, direct the camera and boom at him, and ask, “Is the wind in Beijing strong?” to which he answers, “Damn! I’m squatting here and you’re still ...

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12 - “I Am One of Them” and “They Are My Actors”: Performing, Witnessing, and DV Image-Making in Plebian China

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pp. 217-236

If Wu Wenguang posits a collective genealogy that emerges only in retrospect, a genealogy that traces the beginning of personal documentary making to the loss of idealism in 1989 (or what many critics see as the inception of the post-socialist era), then Jiang Zhi’s self-mocking analogy underscores the surreptitious connotations of a special type of personal documentary making, namely digital video (DV) documentary since the mid-1990s. Both ...

Appendix 1: Biographies of Key Documentarians

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pp. 237-250

Appendix 2: Sources of Films

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pp. 251


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pp. 253-284

List of Chinese Names

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pp. 285-286

List of Chinese Film and Video Titles

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pp. 287-293


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pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9789882206175
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888028511

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 76 b/w images
Publication Year: 2010