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Big Waves, Great Earthquakes Screening No. 1 – China’s First Environmental Film – Big Tree County, featuring an introduction by Iza Ding

March 19 @ 6:00 pm 8:15 pm

Introduction: Iza Ding, Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University
Moderator: Sam Maclean, Communications Manager, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

The screening will be followed by a Zoom Q&A with filmmaker Hao Zhiqiang.

The Fairbank Center’s Big Waves, Great Earthquakes screening series presents its first film, China’s First Environmental Film – Big Tree County (1992).

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.

Filmmaker Hao Zhiqiang has said that he wants to capture “the soul of the Chinese people” with his work. His first two films do this by showing how larger forces (the wind-like momentum of history and a town that cut down the giant tree it was named after) can render society helpless to change. Wind (1988) is the first independently produced animated film ever made in China; it  meditates on the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, and how it shaped the social and political attitudes of many artists and intellectuals in the late 1980s. Big Tree County (1992) may well be China’s first environmental film: While working at CCTV in the early ‘90s, Hao was inspired by a newspaper article describing a sulfur-iron mining town to haul his station’s equipment hundreds of miles to the border of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou provinces and film a village whose “Big Tree” had been chopped down decades earlier to build the pollution-spewing, labor-exploiting sulfur-iron mine that came to define the town. This modest but rigorous example of “direct cinema” documentary registers a forceful sociopolitical activism and an uncommon concern for environmental issues.

Iza Ding is Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. Her research explores modernity and its discontents, especially in areas related to the environment, climate change, bureaucracy, populism, nationalism, morality, political memory, and ideology. Her recent publications include The Performative State: Public Scrutiny and Environmental Governance in China (Cornell University Press 2022), and articles in World PoliticsComparative Political StudiesDemocratizationStudies in Comparative International DevelopmentJournal of Environmental Economics and Management, and China Quarterly. She is working on a book-length monograph on the global historical waves of environmentalism. She received her Ph.D in Government from Harvard University and her BA in Political Science and Russian and Eastern European Studies from the University of Michigan.

Wind directed by Hao Zhiqiang. China, 1988, animated, 7 min.
Big Tree County directed by Hao Zhiqiang. China, 1992, documentary, 42 min.


March 19
6:00 pm – 8:15 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


CGIS South S020, Belfer Case Study Room

1730 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States

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