Chinese Documentary and Cultural Identity – from Traditional to Digital Media

Seminar | Leuphana University Lüneburg | BA Minor Digitale Medien / Cultural Informatics: Culture, Aesthetics and History of Digital Media | Weekly, Wednesday: 23.10.2019-31.01.2020 | C 40.254

Le Cao

This course aims at discussing the current events and issues of Chinese documentaries in a changing global media environment and the upcoming digital culture.
Combining cultural, digital media, ethnography and economic approaches, the course is designed to provide students with the necessary knowledge of the history, practice, connotations and new forms of Chinese documentaries. In Chinese documentary, including The outsiders‘ documentary filmmaker and the concept of the interventionist gaze, the politics of authenticity and nationalism; excess and fragmentation in Chinese documentary practice, globalization, and modernity of Chinese documentaries; cultural appropriation and identity.


This course is designed as a seminar, which requires preparation by students before each session and dynamic interaction in the classroom. Students are encouraged to debate each other in class. In order to get a certificate for the course, you have to pass the following components:

1. Group presentation

  • The group with 1-3 members (research questions in Chinese Documentary and Cultural Identity).
  • Presentation: 60min presentation and 30 min discussion.
  • The presentation should be discussed in the consultation hour one or two weeks before the session starts.

2. 1-3 min VLOG

  • Use a first-person or third-person perspective to record a specific event or activity in your daily life (fitness, nightlife, reading, shopping, recording sounds, etc.), this activity or event should be complete, from preparation to completion.
  • Format: Video (e.g. smartphone) mp4.

3. Final essay

  • You are required to write an essay by the end of the semester. Based on your scene/example/material, develop your ideas into an essay on Chinese Documentary and Cultural Identity.
  • Try to respond to one (or more) of the course’s guiding questions.
  • Around 3.000 words (if 300 words per page, then approx. 10 pages of text). Including e.g. images or drawings or poetry etc. then means more pages.
  • The essays are graded.

Anmeldung und weitere Informationen auf mystudy.



Termin 1: 16.10. 2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Canceled (No class) due to the teacher participation in the workshop of Deutsches Museum, München.

Termin 2: 23.10. 2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Introduction to the course. Discussion: Choose one topic and submit a list of team members.



History: Development of Documentary. In the beginning: Documentary as a newsreel for recording and broadcasting real events. Today’s documentary is to share and record our „lifeworld.“

  • Alternative visions: Understanding China through Chinese documentary- cultural identity and collision.
  • The debates around reality and representation in Chinese documentary.
  • The ‚outsider‘ documentary filmmaker and the concept of the interventionist gaze.

  • Ethnic identity and the construction of national politics.

Termin 3: 30.10.2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Teacher presentation. Screening “The Birth of New China” (1949).

Termin 4-6: 06.11.2019, 13.11.2019, 20.11.2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Students presentation and discussion.



Phenomenon: Smartphone, Society Media Apps, Internet, Mobile Digital TV, Portable shooting equipment, making self-video… Search the documentary and discover the new forms of Chinese documentary.

  • How have digital technology shaped/reshaped the Chinese documentaries?
  • Self and society: the autobiographical documentary/ Individual Filmmaking: Independent? Underground?
  • Documentary as a discourse/tool/form/media/meaning, what it does or what it can do?

Termin 7: 27.11.2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Teacher presentation. Screening China’s mega project2(2019).

Termin 8: 04.12.2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Students presentation and discussion.

Termin 9: Sa, 07/12/19, 10:00-14:30 and 14:45-16:15.

Screening Chinese hip-hop documentary “All stars” (2017)
Social Media Practice (1-3 minutes of self-doc in daily life/VLOG)

Termin 10: 11.12.2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Discussion of the documentary “All stars” with these questions below:

1. What is the role of the documentary in China? A tool for recording life? or decentralization of discourse power? Or other else?
2. Search the Chinese hip-hop documentary online by yourselves and discuss the similarities and differences between the Chinese hip-hop music documentary you searched and the hip-hop music documentary that we screened in class. (production, content, theme, structure, form, etc.)

Termin 11: 18.12.2019/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Students presentation and discussion.



Phenomenon: More and more global digital short video apps have emerged, such as Tiktok, Kwai, Meipai, Vigo Video, which have made documentaries more fragmented, autonomous, and towards to the daily life. And it also led to a surge in the number of documentaries and a decrease in quality.

Cross-Cultural Encounters Through Chinese Documentary (From Appropriation to Invocation)

In addition, the watching habit gradually shifted from big screen to the small screen of the mobile phone. And also based on the “short/mini” form.

  • Has the documentary become fragmented, popularized and surplus?

  • How do documentaries fit into a global media environment?

  • Has the documentary become a social tool or technology?

Termin 12: 08.01.2020/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Teacher presentation.
Screening: “Inside: China’s Biggest Gala” (CCTV-9 Documentary & National Geographic Channel) and “A bite of China” (2012).

Termin 13: 15.01.2020/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Student presentation and discussion.

Termin 14: 22.01.2020/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Student presentation and discussion.

Termin 15: 29.01.2020/ Wednesday/ 10:15 – 11:45

Course Review and Wrap-Up, Submit the final essay.