Un/bounding the Great Wall–Sino-Japanese Documentary Media Connections in the Long 1980s

Visiting Scholar Talks

Mar 8, 2024 | 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Ma Ran | Associate Professor, Japan-in-Asia Cultural Studies Program & Screen Studies Program, Nagoya University, Japan; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24


Jie Li | Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies

Spanning the late 1970s and early 1990s, a series of coproduced documentaries featuring Japanese entities in consistent partnership with China Central Television (CCTV), have emerged. Emblematic of the Sino-Japanese “techno-friendship,” these projects launched spectacular trans-China voyages undertaken by transnational film and television teams along the routes and territories across the Silk Road, the Yangtze River, and the Yellow River. They arguably constitute an epistemological-technological nexus, enabling CCTV crews to explore “what could be documentary(-making)” through/out the location shooting, and simultaneously allowing Japanese teams to gain privileged access to locations and infrastructural networks, thereby constructing their multilayered Sino-fantasy, underpinned by a documentary epistephilia toward Chinese histories, cultural heritages, and post-Cultural Revolution conditions of the PRC.

This talk highlights the Great Wall project in this line-up, encompassing CCTV’s Wang Changcheng (Odyssey of the Great Wall) and Tokyo Broadcasting System Television (TBS)’s Banri no chōjō (the Great Wall); both aired in 1991. I contemplate this project’s dis/continuation of the techno-friendship mode. CCTV and TBS have used their journeys along the Great Wall territories to work through disparate landscape-affective assemblages while negotiating East Asian (post-)Cold War geopolitics. While Banri no chōjō’s Sino-fantasy is drastically reterritorialized by its studio-staged reportage on the Tiananmen Incident, Wang Changcheng reinvents a self-scrutinizing gaze upon “China” in the aftermath of Tian’anmen, innovatively realigning the political aesthetics of documentary (jilupian).