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

March 8 @ 11:30 am 1:00 pm

Speaker: Ma Ran, Associate Professor, Cultural Studies and Screen Studies, Nagoya University, Japan; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24

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

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. This talk highlights the Great Wall project, 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.

These projects arguably constitute an epistemological-technological nexus wherein the CCTV crews explore “what could be documentary(-making)” through/out the location shooting; leveraging the nexus, the Japanese teams gain privileged access to locations and infrastructural networks, enabling them to configure a multilayered Sino-fantasy, underpinned by documentary epistephilia toward Chinese histories, cultural heritages, and post-Cultural Revolution conditions of the PRC.

I contemplate the Great Wall 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 the Sino-fantasy of Banri no chōjō 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).


Harvard-Yenching Institute


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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