Along with economic reform and the reintroduction of a market economy, China has seen an increasing tension be-tween the socialist regime and the capitalist agenda since the 1980s. In tandem with incongruities between the political and economic realms, China’s postsocialist condition has also found expression in the cultural terrain. In particular, the formation of an “alternative public sphere” has been facilitated by a changing mediascape that includes practices and venues outside the state system (Zhang 30). Notably imperative to this alternative public culture is the growing strand of independent documentary ﬁlmmaking known as the New Documentary Movement. Launched by ﬁlmmakers such as Wu Wenguang, Duan Jinchuan, Zhang Yuan, and Jiang Yue in the 1990s, the New Documentary generally rejects the official tradition of newsreels and zhuanti pian—literally “special topic ﬁlms”—which are characterized by footage compiled in accordance with pre-written scripts, and by directly addressing the audience from a grand, top-down perspective (Berry “Getting Real” 117).In opposition to these previous forms, the New Documentary highlights the “spontaneous and unscripted quality” of on-the-spot realism (122), conveying a deep concern for “civilian life” from a “personal standpoint” (Lu 14-15).
Thematically, the New Documentary distances itself from official discourses, choosing instead to document the lives of ordinary people, especially those on the periphery of society, such as marginalized artists, migrant workers, miners, Tibetans, the disabled, the elderly, the poor, and those who are queer-identifying.