chapter  6
35 Pages

Documenting the minorities

Documentaries on Chinese minorities are a good illustration of my theme that Chinese documentary films are evolving from a dogmatic mode towards a multi-voice or polyphonic style. Members of the minorities themselves are beginning to contribute, mostly to the latter style, as participating subjects and as directors of films. Throughout this evolutionary trajectory from 1949 to the present, documentary films on minorities are produced in accordance with the political and economic conditions of the time. In the planned economy, such documentaries are designed to illustrate and promote the CCP’s policies on minorities. Minority groups are shown supporting the Party leadership; actively contributing their share to the heroic socialist construction programme, to political movements and economic reforms; and enjoying and appreciating a better life in the new China. In the planned economy, themes and stories are framed within CCP policies, while the presentational mode is dominated by the monological voice of a narrator whose utterances are neither contradicted nor even qualified. There are no interviews and the entire film typically offers a top-down perspective of minorities as objects of authoritative as well as authoritarian depiction. More recently, government directed and sponsored minority representations have changed to the degree that they now contain interviews with local people expressing how they are coping with the demands of the market economy, that is, the tourist industry. Typically, these films portray minorities as flourishing in the new socialist market, which allows them to maintain and display their traditional cultures as a tourist commodity, with an emphasis on their harmonious coexistence with the Han majority and on the theme of the unity of China. Such films are produced mainly by the CCTV under the term zhonghua minzu da jiating, understood as the big family of the nation made up of different Chinese ethnic groups. Here, minzu should be understood as including such notions as ‘people, ethnos, nationality, nation and ethnic group’ (Luo 2005: 1).