Demolition, Documentary and the Politics of Minjian on Contemporary Chinese Screens


China’s transformation in the reform era has been most immediately experienced by many ordinary citizens in spatial terms, as existing urban communities have been dispersed and their environments levelled, to be replaced by ‘spaces of flows’ that prioritise speed, mobility and circulation. A wide range of Chinese films have represented this experience from the perspective of existing urban communities. This article argues that in certain ‘unofficial’ documentaries produced outside China’s state-sanctioned channels of production and distribution, using small, highly mobile digital video cameras, an engagement with grassroots communities has opened up a new space on screen, in which a critical questioning of the developmental ethos driving contemporary China becomes evident. A close analysis of Ou Ning’s Meishi Street (2006), Shu Haolun’s Nostalgia (2006) and Du Haibin’s A Young Patriot (2015) will illustrate how the unofficial spaces of localised, grassroots cultures (minjian) are represented in these works as sites of resistance to the coercive imposition of a globalised modernity on Chinese cities.


Documentary; China; chaiqian (demolition and relocation); minjian; independent cinema

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