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Big Waves, Great Earthquakes Screening No. 2 – Skirting Censorship in Tibet: No. 16. Barkhor South Street, featuring an introduction by Janet Gyatso and remarks from Lobsang Sangay

April 19 @ 6:00 pm 8:30 pm

Introduction: Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Harvard Divinity School
Programmer: Sam Maclean, Communications Manager, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

Update: Post-screening discussion with Lobsang Sangay, former Sikyong (President) of the Central Tibetan Administration, Senior Visiting Fellow, East Asian Legal Studies, Harvard Law School.

Big Waves, Great Earthquakes explores the largely unseen early history of independent film in China, beginning in the late 1980s. Wu Wenguang — who’s usually credited as China’s first independent filmmaker — has likened the emotions of this era to a “big wave”; Wu’s contemporary, Wen Pulin, was working independently even earlier, documenting the avant-garde arts scene in Beijing with his legendary, but never-completed, film The Great Earthquake. This screening series will unearth films long-suppressed by Chinese authorities in order to rewrite the narrative of modern film history in China.

The first of three documentaries that Duan Jinchuan shot in Tibet in 1995, No 16. Barkhor South Street takes obvious cues from American documentary giant Frederick Wiseman in both its focus on the innerworkings of an institution (the Barkhor Neighborhood Committee, a Communist Party-directed office in Lhasa that conducts community mediation and encourages Party registration) and in its “direct cinema” style. The film offers us a rare glimpse inside a government office of the People’s Republic. Police recruits native to Lhasa are seen in classrooms learning modern Chinese history, a sequence with parallels to the ‘re-education’ of Uyghurs in Xinjiang today. Various meetings are held to stress, with unconvincing congeniality, the paramount importance of active opposition to separatism—especially as the Committee (and Lhasa at large) prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Duan demonstrates a complete understanding of the complex social dynamics in front of his camera, whether it’s the demand for assimilation from the residents, as measured against the rigorous approval-requirements for anyone to join the Party, or the overwhelmed feelings of officials as they struggle to apply modern legal rationale to familial conflicts clearly rooted in immovable, indigenous Buddhist traditions.

Professor Janet Gyatso (珍妮·嘉措) is a specialist in Buddhist studies with concentration on Tibetan and South Asian cultural and intellectual history. Her books include Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary; In the Mirror of Memory: Reflections on Mindfulness and Remembrance in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism; and Women of Tibet. She has recently completed a new book, Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet (Columbia University Press, 2015), which focuses upon alternative early modernities and the conjunctions and disjunctures between religious and scientific epistemologies in Tibetan medicine in the sixteenth–eighteenth centuries. She has also been writing on sex and gender in Buddhist monasticism, and on the current female ordination movement in Buddhism. Previous topics of her scholarship have included visionary revelation in Buddhism; lineage, memory, and authorship; the philosophy of experience; and autobiographical writing in Tibet. 

No. 16 Barkhor South Street directed by Duan Jinchuan. China, 1996, documentary, 96 min.


April 19
6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium (S010)

1730 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States

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