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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Capturing the memoryscape : alternative visual discourse and the documentaries of Hu Jie and Wang Bing O'Connor, Marie Nicole


Alternative Chinese film culture has become increasingly diverse since the 1990s. This diversification is related to the kinds of films being produced and to who has ‘the right’ to make and to view them. A significant number of new films are documentaries, distinct in form from the newsreels (xinwen pian) or special topic films (zhuanti pian) that represent the more traditional official forms of documentary. Some of these new unofficial (non-state funded) documentaries have attempted to create alternative space for the telling of individual stories about sensitive and traumatic historical periods such as the Great Leap Forward, the Great Famine, and the Cultural Revolution. Such stories are in marked contrast to official visual histories of these periods. This paper’s focus is the new alternative space created by two individual filmmakers, Hu Jie and Wang Bing, who have documented unofficial, individual histories. Three of their films are examined in the context of a film industry that offers them severely limited or no access at all to official channels of distribution. The paper begins by examining the manner in which historical narratives have been and are ongoingly integral to the construction of a specific official view of the Chinese nation. Such official narratives are dominant in state-run environments, such as schools and in the media, and they tend to drown out any attempted alternative narratives. Hu Jie and Wang Bing stand out, even within alternative film culture, as filmmakers willing to challenge official doctrine and history. The narrative styles of three of their films are closely analyzed with a view to understanding how and why their work differs from that of official historical narratives. The approaches taken by the two filmmakers are also compared and contrasted. A major aspect of this project has been the translation of Hu Jie’s film In Search of Soul of Lin Zhao into English. The other two films examined have already been translated. This paper argues that by privileging the individual narrative, the two filmmakers present more complex versions of traumatic historical periods that stand in contrast to the often idealized or superficial official histories.

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