In his lengthy documentary films and video installations, Chinese filmmaker and artist Wang Bing (王兵) charts the unofficial history of modern China. Frequent topics in his work include forced labour camps, abandoned industrial complexes, and life in poverty-stricken rural China, often documented using a digital camera for furtive and easy filming.Read More
Following his graduation from Beijing Film Academy in the 1990s, Wang witnessed the decline of state-owned enterprises in China and the advance of privatisation under Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms. Related to this process of reform, many workers lost their livelihoods and this was the subject of Wang's three-part documentary Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003), filmed between 1999 and 2001 in Shenyang's Tie Xi district. Once a burgeoning industrial area, Tie Xi is in decline in the documentary, with its state-owned factories expecting shutdown and the neighbourhoods facing demolition in the coming months. Recognised for its candid and uncompromising representation of China in transition, Tie Xi Qu received numerous international awards including the Grand Prix at the Marseille International Film Festival in 2003 and the Festival Award for Best Documentary Feature at Mexico International Film Festival in 2005.
A recurrent interest in Wang's works is the forced labour camps of Mao's regime. Fengming, a Chinese Memoir (2007), which was screened at the Festival de Cannes in 2007, is a three-hour documentary consisting mainly of an interview with He Fengming—a former journalist who was sent to work in labour camps when her and her husband were accused of harbouring rightist tendencies. In the documentary, He Fengming reminisces upon the past 30 years of her life, much of which overlap with historic moments of China since the Cultural Revolution. The Ditch (2010), presented at the 67th Venice International Film Festival, and Dead Souls (2018), shown at Cannes in 2018, reflect on Jiabiangou Labour Camp—in operation between 1957 and 1961—where the labourers were allegedly condemned to starve to death.
Wang also examines the lives of people in rural China, who are often marginalised and overlooked in the nation's schemes for economic development. Three Sisters (2012) follows three young siblings aged 10, 6, and 4, who live in a small Yunnan village. The children were abandoned by their mother and when their father departed to find work in the city, he took the two youngest with him, leaving the oldest by herself. For his unvarnished portrayal of daily struggles in a remote part of China, Wang was awarded the Venice Horizons Award at the Venice International Film Festival 2012 and the Grand Prix at the Fribourg International Film Festival 2013, among others. In his documentary titled Mrs Fang (2017), the camera shows the last days of Fang Xiu Ying—Wang's friend's mother—while offering a hauntingly intimate view of a poor Zhejiang village. Originally commissioned for documenta 14 in 2017, Mrs Fang won the Golden Leopard at that year's Locarno Film Festival.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2019