Jiabiangou Elegy: a Conversation with Ai Xiaoming

Before retiring, Ai Xiaoming was a Professor in the Chinese Department at Sun Yat-sen University. She is also a feminist scholar, rights activist, and independent documentary filmmaker. In the 1980s and 1990s, Ai’s academic work focussed on modern and contemporary Chinese literature and comparative literature. In 1999, she moved to the United States for one […]

Autobiography, Exile, and Gender: A Conversation with Ying Liang

Ying Liang is an independent filmmaker, whose work encompasses film curation, teaching, and commentary. His well-known feature films include Taking Father Home (背鸭子的男孩 2005), When Night Falls (我还有话要说 2012), as well as the short movies Condolences (慰问 2009), A Sunny Day (九月二十八日·晴 2016). Ying’s works have won numerous international awards; When Night Falls earned him […]

An Infrastructure for Autopoiesis: On Building a Sustainable Platform for Process-driven Artistic Research and Practice

Autopoiesis (n) the property of a living system that allows it to maintain and renew itself by regulating its composition and conserving its boundaries. China’s recent economic development policies, including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), have served as a poignant reminder of how large infrastructure projects often lose connection with the citizens they are […]

Hooligan Sparrow: A Conversation with Wang Nanfu

After her return to China in June 2013, Wang Nanfu, a postgraduate from New York University, trained her camera on Ye Haiyan, an activist for sex workers (see Tiantian Zheng’s essay in this issue). In Hainan province, she filmed Ye’s protests against the sexual assault of several primary school girls by their principal, and the […]

Once Upon a Time in China: Lu Zhixiang’s Sketches of Shanghai’s Society in the 1930s

Cartoon master Lu Zhixiang’s artistic production offers notable glimpses into timeless aspects of Shanghai’s metropolitan modernisation in the 1930s, providing particular insight into the plight of the underclasses. In this essay, Martina Caschera argues that Lu’s work is not only particularly representative of the ideal approach to artistic creation strongly upheld by leftist intellectuals in that epoch, but can also be useful as we reflect on the social dynamics of present-day China.

Plastic China: Beyond Waste Imports

In the last two years, the issue of waste exports to China has attracted considerable media and public attention. As a result, awareness of the social and environmental impact of the global trade in recyclables has increased substantially, both within and outside of China. Among contributing factors was Plastic China (suliao wangguo, 2016), a documentary directed by […]

Crime and Punishment on a Chinese Border

Zhao Liang’s 2007 documentary Crime and Punishment details the emergence of a local police state in a small Chinese town on the border with North Korea. The film follows national border officers who have been called in to take over the town’s policing duties, and the ways in which they interact with local people. As the film unfolds, one incident after another, viewers are drawn into a world of policing which is slow, tiresome, petty, and punctuated with violence.

Communist Hibernation

I recognise in thieves, traitors, and murderers, in the ruthless and the cunning, a deep beauty—a sunken beauty. Jean Genet Geng Jun’s films are set in north-eastern China where he grew up. As Geng Jun put it in an interview I conducted with him at a friend’s studio in Songzhuang this past August: When people […]

We the Workers: A Conversation with Huang Wenhai

Shot over a six-year period (2009–2015) mainly in the industrial heartland of south China—a major hub in the global supply chain—the 2017 film We the Workers (xiongnian zhi pan) follows labour activists as they find common grounds with workers, helping them to negotiate with local officials and factory owners over wages and working conditions. Threats, attacks, detention, and boredom become part of their daily lives as they struggle to strengthen worker solidarity in the face of threats and pressures from police and their employers. In the process, we see in their words and actions the emergence of a nascent working-class consciousness and labour movement in China. What follows is a conversation between Zeng Jinyan, producer of the movie, and its director Huang Wenhai.

The Last Days of Shi Yang

What follows is a fictionalised account of the last days of Shi Yang (1889–1923) based on the prison diaries included in the commemorative volume Shi Yang jinian wenji (Museum of the 7 February Massacre, Wuhan 1988). Shi Yang was a weiquan lawyer ante litteram, and to this day he remains an inspiration to many labour activists in China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrates him as a martyr of the revolution, the irony of which will not escape those who are aware of the plight of human rights lawyers and labour activists in the country today. That in April 2018 the Chinese government passed a new law to protect the reputation and honour of ‘its’ heroes and martyrs can be seen as further adding to the irony.

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