chapter  4
22 Pages

Media reform, documentary programming and the new citizen

The year of 1993 is a significant marker for Chinese documentary. In that year television replaces film to become the dominant medium for documentary film. In the same year the government also abolished its central control in film distribution. As a consequence, all film studios had to face a new market challenge by seeking their own distribution mechanisms. The Central News Documentary Film Studio formally ended its era of four decades of domination in documentary cinema. In 1993 the Studio was transferred to the CCTV, which was now responsible for most television documentaries. Also in the same year, the CCTV adopted a producer responsibility system, permitting programme producers to recruit their own crew, outsource projects to freelance filmmakers and manage their own budget. At though still constrained in many respects, what is new is that the system provided some space for independent documentary filmmakers and the screening of their work. The year is also marked by the emergence of ‘television pingmin hua’ (shift to present the ordinary). Images of a variety of ordinary people (laobaixing) as individuals now appear on television. This new trend was pioneered by two popular documentary television programmes in 1993, Dongfang shikong / Oriental Horizon screened on CCTV and Jilu pian bianji shi / Editorial Room for Documentary Film on Shanghai TV. Oriental Horizon contracted a number of independent documentary filmmakers for its production, while Editorial Room for Documentary Film is regarded as ‘China’s first documentary programme independently run by filmmakers themselves’ (He 2005: 79). On another front, the China Television Documentary Academic Association is founded for the promotion of a documentary culture through its journal Jilu shouce (Documentary Handbook) and the hosting of an annual documentary award festival. Internationally, the independent film 1966: Wo de hongweibing shidai / Red Guards in 1966 (1993) by Wu Wenguang won the best film award at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, ahead of six other Chinese documentary films competing at the festival.