Show us life and make us think: engagement, witnessing and activism in independent Chinese documentary today

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This introduction to the special issue, ‘Engagement, Witnessing and Activism: Independent Chinese Documentary Filmmakers’ Different Positions, Approaches and Aesthetics,’ argues that how the political is registered and expressed in Chinese activist documentaries cannot simply be read through Western ideas, concepts and aesthetics. Rather, Chinese work has been shaped partly in relation to state-sanctioned public discourse, and partly through the localising of international influences according to Chinese socio-political conditions. Contemporary Chinese activist documentary makers have chosen as their primary modus operandi an open, exploratory engagement with the ‘grassroots’ (jiceng). The core commitment in this approach is to the truth of the on-screen subject’s experience as they themselves see it. Modes of engagement with the grassroots include: making visible people and identities that state-sanctioned representations hide or gloss over; bearing witness to events and situations that are similarly hidden, or presented in a very particular manner, in state-sanctioned representations; and exploring memories and historical experiences which are otherwise unacknowledged or presented within narrow interpretive parameters in state-sanctioned media. This introduction details how the articles in this special issue analyse and discuss Chinese activist works that utilise one or more of these modes.


External organisations
  • No affiliation available (private)
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Studies on Film
  • Communication Studies
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • documentary film, China , activism, Asian studies
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-169
Number of pages9
JournalStudies in Documentary Film
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication categoryResearch

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