Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Michael Keane
Chapter 18: Chinese documentary: towards commercialization
Documentary has played an important role in nation building in China. Nowadays, however, the role of documentary is changing, as are its practitioners and investors. While retaining its role as a vehicle of state propaganda, documentary makers are embracing new formats and seeking out audiences in keeping with the challenges of ‘cultural system reform’ (wenhua tizhi gaige) on the one hand, and ‘going out’ (zou chuqu) on the other. As a cultural industry sector that has largely underachieved in comparison with international counterparts, the challenge now is for documentary makers to seize the moment. If we accept John Grierson’s definition of documentary as ‘creative treatment of actuality’ (Izod and Kilborn 1998: 427), China is one of the biggest documentary producers worldwide, generating between 7,000 and 10,000 hours annually for television alone (He et al. 2014: 6). These figures include traditional documentary formats as well as reality shows and travel documentaries. Television remains the most prolific producer of documentary. At the same time there is a noticeable decrease in film formats and an increase across digital media platforms.
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