The Cinema of Wang Bing

Chinese Documentary between History and Labor


Bruno Lessard

ISBN : 978-988-8805-77-8

Film, Media, Fine Arts

November 2023

188 pages, 6″ x 9″

  • HK$350.00

Having made documentary films screened at the most prestigious film festivals in the West, Chinese documentary filmmaker Wang Bing presents a unique case of independent filmmaking. In The Cinema of Wang Bing, Bruno Lessard examines the documentarian’s most important films, focusing on the two obsessions at the heart of his oeuvre—the legacy of Maoist China in the present and the transformation of labor since China’s entry into the market economy—and how the crucial figures of survivor and worker are represented on screen. Bruno Lessard argues that Wang Bing is a minjian (grassroots) intellectual whose films document the impact of Mao’s Great Leap Forward on Chinese collective memory and register the repercussions of China’s turn to neoliberalism on workers in the post-Reform era. Bringing together Chinese documentary studies and China studies, the author shows how Wang Bing’s practice reflects the minjian ethos when documenting the survivors of the Great Famine and those who have not benefitted from China’s neoliberal policies—from laid-off workers to migrant workers. The films discussed include some of Wang Bing’s most celebrated works such as West of the Tracks and Dead Souls, as well as neglected documentaries such as Coal Money and Bitter Money.

Bruno Lessard is an associate professor in the School of Image Arts at Toronto Metropolitan University where he directed the MFA program in documentary media.

“Bruno Lessard analyzes Wang Bing’s documentary masterpieces through the twin lens of history and labor. Incisively framing them as a sustained critical intervention in how China understands itself through the legacy of Maoism and Deng Xiaoping’s neoliberal reform project, The Cinema of Wang Bing makes me want to watch the films again.”

Chris Berry, King’s College London

“Professor Lessard offers an original and comprehensive study of Wang Bing’s contribution to Chinese documentary as a mode of observation and reflection on some of the most crucial periods of China’s recent and present history . . . I certainly felt that reading the films through a sociohistorical approach produced a more vibrant understanding of Wang Bing’s oeuvre.”

Cecília Mello, University of São Paulo