Nationalism and the birth of Chinese documentary
Just as documentary film as a genre is inseparable from politics, so too is the evolution of documentary film in China inextricably tied to the changes in the political landscape. Film came to China in 1896, a time period when China was close to the end of Imperial rule and the rise of a Chinese Republic. As a mass medium, Western film technology inevitably became a vehicle for Chinese artists, political supporters and revolutionaries promoting Chinese nationalism and various competing political ideologies in China. From the very first Chinese film made in Beijing in 1905, Ding Jun Shan, which recorded a Beijing opera, to about 15 newsreels recording about Japan’s attack on Shanghai in 1932, the early Chinese silent documentaries are, on the one hand, imitations of European and American films, and on the other hand, show nationalists using film for nation-building after the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911. The Japanese invasion in the early 1930s reinforced the idea of film as a mass educational tool, so much so that both the Guomindang government and the Chinese Communist Party used film to call for the nation to participate in the anti-Japanese war effort. Between 1937 and 1945 during the anti-Japanese struggle, and the subsequent conflict between the Guomindang and the Communists from 1947 to 1949, newsreels and documentaries provided powerful images for gathering support inside and outside China.