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Introduction Chris Berry and Lisa Rofel 1 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 sometimes stumbling and therefore clearly unrehearsed manner. Reporters do not speak as representatives of the Communist Party and government line, but as independent journalists. With hand-held cameras, they breathlessly investigate social issues and follow stories. While certainly monitored by the state and at no time oppositional, China’s most popular medium adopts a more spur-of-themoment style than many foreigners would expect. And if China’s reputation for a rigorously policed internet limits your expectations, the local equivalent of YouTube — — may surprise you, too. Here a vibrant amateur version of the same on-the-spot style found in television reporting also dominates the scene. All kinds of videos stream off the screen, from personal videos and reflections on home life to oral history and recordings of local events — some of them contentious.1 However, this wholesale transformation of public culture has been relatively ignored by academic work to date. Outside China, that may be because these kinds of materials do not circulate internationally as readily as blockbuster feature films or contemporary art. Inside China, that neglect began to change in 1997, with the publication of our co-editor Lu Xinyu’s article on the “Contemporary Television Documentary Movement,” followed by her 2003 book on the “New Documentary Movement” in general.2 This work traced the major transformations that had occurred in all kinds of actuality-based visual culture — from television news to the internet — back to the beginning of the 1990s, and in particular to documentary film and video production. Not only had the topics, style, and production circumstances of documentary changed in China, but also the new documentary aesthetic has been at the cutting edge of changes elsewhere 4 Chris Berry and Lisa Rofel in Chinese film, television, and video production. What you see today on Chinese television and at was pioneered by the New Documentary Movement from the early 1990s on. Therefore, any attempt to understand China’s visual culture today must start from an understanding of the New Documentary Movement. With this anthology, we attempt to follow Lu Xinyu’s lead into the world of English-language Chinese film studies. So far, significant discussion of China’s New Documentary Movement in English has been largely confined to articles and book chapters.3 Here, we bring together work by some of the main scholars writing on the topic to create a sustained focus on Chinese independent documentary in English for the first time. In this introduction, we will discuss the significance of the New Documentary Movement in two ways. First, we will try to indicate why it has taken such a central role in Chinese audio-visual culture over the last two decades. Second, we will consider it in its more recent digital form as a contribution to the debates about what cinema is in the digital era, and argue that this new Chinese digital cinema treasures immediacy, spontaneity, and contact with lived experience over the high levels of manipulability associated with the special effects culture of mainstream cinema. The history of the movement is outlined and analyzed in Lu Xinyu’s first chapter for this volume, which follows on from this introduction. Looking back from today, she not only traces the development of the movement but also questions many of the assumptions that have been made about it so far. This introductory chapter, along with Lu Xinyu’s historical overview and a chapter by Wu Wenguang, considered by many as the initiator of the New Documentary Movement, comprise Part I of this volume, which is meant to offer a broad introduction to the movement. What is the New Documentary Movement and why has it been so important in China’s visual culture? Before 1990 all documentary was state-produced, and took the form of illustrated lectures. Television news was delivered by newsreaders who spoke as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party and the government. There were no spontaneous interviews with the man (or woman) on the street, and no investigative reporting shows. Independent film production was impossible in an era where all...


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