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Revolutionary Becomings: Documentary Media in Twentieth-Century China

Y. Qian
Wednesday, March 6, 2024, 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

From the toppling of the Qing Empire in 1911 to the political campaigns and mass protests in the Mao and post-Mao eras, revolutionary upheavals characterized China’s twentieth century. In this talk, Ying Qian draws from her newly published book to discuss documentary as deeply embedded in these upheavals and as a prism to investigate the entwined histories of media and China’s revolutionary movements. Situating cinema’s invention in 1895 in the East Asian context of colonial warfare and revolutionary agitation, this talk excavates the documentary’s emergence in transnational activism at the turn of the 20th century, traces its development in political contestation and war propaganda between 1920s and 1940s, and reflects on documentary’s productivity and crisis during the Mao-era and its reorientation in the post-Mao decade. Arguing that there is no universal “documentary,” but the historical materialization of its potentials, the talk proposes a method to engage with documentary as an “eventful medium,” around which the dialectical relationship between media practice, political relationality and revolutionary epistemology can be examined.