Independent documentaries on the Mao era (1992-2015)

Over the past 25 years, many Chinese independent filmmakers have made documentaries about the history of the Mao era. Using personal memories as primary materials, they are shedding light on times and topics that are vaguely, inaccurately or insufficiently narrated in the official history. The following table is an attempt to list these independent documentaries and identify the historical periods they mainly address. Hyperlinks to excerpts, trailers or full versions of these films are provided when available.

Although this list does not claim exhaustivity, it is the first attempt to systematically document what has emerged as a specific sub-genre of independent film in China. The selected works all address past experiences of the protagonists, shedding light on the daily life during the Mao era. However, some of the historical content of these films extends well beyond this period, for instance by relating events preceding the founding of the PRC with the period in scrutiny ; other times, the past is revisited in order to explain the historical causes of contemporary issues.

Judith Pernin


FilmmakerOriginal titleInternational titleYearMin.DescriptionHyperlinksHistorical period
SWYC (The Structure, Wave,Youth, Cinema Experimental Group) 結構、浪潮、青年、電影實驗小組Wo Biye le 我畢業了I Graduated!199264A collection of interviews of student gathered right after the Tiananmen movement.Tiananmen movement
Wu Wenguang 吳文光1966 nian, Wo de Hongweibing Shidai 1966 年, 我的紅衛兵時代1966, My Time As A Red Guard19921655 former Red guards from diverse backgrounds tell Wu Wenguang about their youth. They share their memories and personal archives, as well as their current view on the movement.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cj_zlFuYb6sCultural Revolution
Ai Xiaoming 艾曉明, Hu Jie 胡杰Wei Geming Huahua 為革命畫畫Painting For The Revolution200556Hu Jie and Ai Xiaoming go to Hu County in Shaanxi province to interview painters, critics and professors on the transformation of folk art into political art around 1958.Great Leap Forward, Cultural revolution
Hu Jie 胡杰Xunzhao Lin Zhao De Linghun 尋找林昭的靈魂Looking For Lin Zhao’s Soul200590An investigation on Lin Zhao, a young communist writer who took part in the Hundred Flower movement and was later punished during the anti-rightist campaign. She spent many years in prison where she kept writing critical texts and poems using her own blood, and was killed by a firing squad in 1968.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLoGhCjFhbkAnti-rightist movement; Cultural revolution
Shu Haolun 舒浩侖Xiangchou 鄉愁Nostalgia200570Dazhongli, a Shanghai traditional neighbourhood is also where filmmaker Shu Haolun grew up. Facing imminent urbanisation plans, the area is likely to change. This prompted the filmmaker to capture Dazhongli's unique atmosphere and record the memories of some of the oldest inhabitants.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ih9ghZhUN5U
Zhang Ke 張珂Qingchun muyuan 青春墓園Youth Cemetery200523Zhang Ke films a Chongqing cemetery where numerous young people were buried during the Cultural Revolution.Cultural Revolution
Zhong Jian 種鍵Try to remember?200560Filmmaker Zhong Jian takes his mother Liu Zhi on a trip back to the village where she spent her chilhood during the cultural revolution.Cultural revolution; Down to the Countryside movement
Lin Xin 林鑫San Li Dong 三里洞San Li Dong2006172Filmmaker Lin Xin is the son of Shanghai workers who decided to relocate into the Chinese heartland to take part in major development projects iin the 1950s. He films the grim environment of the San Li Dong charcoal mine and interviews the remaining workers.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfzBn8EsmtcGreat Leap forward
Hu Jie 胡杰, Ai Xiaoming 艾曉明Hongse Meishu 紅色美術Red Art200770A companion to Painting for the Revolution, Red art explores the art of propaganda poster during the Cultural revolution, and features interviews with major artists, critics, and former Red guards.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Y-zkroPGkCultural revolution
Wang Bing 王兵He Fengming 和鳳鳴Fengming, A Chinese Memoir2007186In this filmic memoir, former Rightist He Fengming remembers her struggles during the various political campaigns implemented after 1949, and describes her lengthy stay in a labor camp.http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNjQ4NjU1ODg0.htmlHundred Flowers; Anti-rightist movement
Xu Xing 徐星Wo de Wenge biannianshi 我的文革编年史A Chronical of my Cultural Revolution200780A film about the impact of the Cultural revolution on the population of rural Dongbei.Cultural Revolution
Zhang Min 張民Wo zhe yi beizi 我這一輩子My Whole Life2007100Zhang Min interviews two retired village cadres from Inner Mongolia. They recall their past and comment on their official job.http://www.yunfest.org/yunfest09/special/08.htmLand reform
Huang Wenhai 黃文海Women 我們We2008102We focuses on various dissenting voices within China, and bridges the gap between today's injustices and their causes in the past.
Zhang Dali 張大力Xunzhao 79 Yue Zhan Xiaoshi De Lao Bing / Wo De 1979 尋找79越戰消逝的老兵/ 我的1979Looking For The Lost Veterans Of 1979 / My 19792008180Zhang Dali explores the memorial dedicated to Vietnem war soldiers in Guangxi province and tries to find people willing to talk about this forgotten episode of Chinese history.Vietnam war
Hu Jie 胡杰Guoying dong feng nongchang 國營東風農場The East Wind State Farm2009104After being labelled Rightists, 200 people from Yunnan province ended up in the The "East Wind State Farm" where they spent most of the next 20 years.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgUuyo32Bi8Anti-rightist movement
Peng Xiaolian 彭小蓮, Louisa Wei 魏時煜Hong Ri Fengbao 紅日風暴Storm Under The Sun2009137Filmmakers Peng Xiaolian and Louisa Wei revisit the persecution of intellectuals and writers during the Mao era, focusing on the Hu Feng case.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1R3I8HxqJE&noredirect=1May 4th movement, Anti-Hu Feng campaign, Cultural Revolution
Zhang Ming 章明Liu shi 60602009184Wang Kang, a Chongqing intellectual born in 1949, remembers his past and gives his personal version of the history of the PRC.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDMBMLRWnfI&list=PL1xmVbigZck2vTF2mmoNhByuIzj6l6Qmf&index=5
Xu Xin 徐辛Kelamayi 克拉瑪依Karamay2010356An in-depth investigation of the death of young students trapped in a fire in an oil town in Xinjiang, 1994.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkO0oobweGA
Gu Tao 顾桃, Zhou Yu 周宇Shen Yi 神翳The Eclipse of the Gods / The Opaque God201192Guan Kouni is a shaman from the Eluochun minority born in 1935. She tell us about her religious practice and her life as the group gradually abandoned shamanism and nomadism in the 1950s.Great Leap Forward
Hu Jie 胡杰Wo de muqin Wang Peiying 我的母親王佩英My Mother Wang Peiying201170Zhang Kexin, daughter of "counter-revolutionnary" Wang Peiying, retraces her mother's life through interviews and archival documents.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr3TJKk2wHsGreat Leap Forward, Cultural revolution
Ma Zhandong 馬占东Haishiwan 海石湾Hai shi wan201152The Third Front movement described by sons of wokers who relocated in Gansu.Third Front movement
Qiu Jiongjiong 邱炯炯Xuantang xianhua lu 萱堂閑話錄My Mother's Rhapsody2011106Qiu Jiongjiong's grandmother recalls her past in a very personal and vivid way.
Wang Yunlong 王雲龍Zhanyou 戰友Comrades in arms201190In 2009, retired members of the Kunming National defense art group gather together.
Wang Yunlong 王雲龍, Han Yi 韓翊Huan Bu Qinfu yi meili 還卜琴父以美麗To Justify Bu Qinfu201192This film revisits the case of Bu Qinfu, an actress who criticised the government during the Cultural revolution.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ponVnP1Y-O0Cultural Revolution
Xu Tong 徐童Lao Tang tou 老唐頭Shattered2011100In front of Xu Tong's camera, a retired railroad worker called Tang Xixin recalls his life.
Gui Shuzhong 鬼叔中Luopan jing 羅盤經To Relive2012109This film focuses on the life of a Hakka Fengshui master who was accused of commiting counter-revolutionary crimes during the Cultural Revolution.Cultural Revolution
Liu Wei 劉偉Xisheng 犧牲The Sacrifice201262Memories of the Cultural revolution in Chongqing.Cultural Revolution
Shen Jie 沈潔Gui jie 鬼節Ghost festival201245Shen Jie's mother gives a vivid account of her life as a mother of 8 in the early days of the PRC, and during the famine.Great Famine
Xie Yihui 謝貽卉Youpai Li Shengzhao de ji'e baogao 右派李盛照的飢餓報告Rightist Li Shengzhao's hunger report201247Witnessing mass famine in 1961 in Sichuan, Li Shengzhao wrote a "report on hunger", which granted him the title of counter-revolutionnary and 18 years of jail.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWyRPQSPp8wGreat Famine, Anti-rightist movement, Great Leap Forward
Xu Xin 徐辛Daolu 道路Pathway2012113Pathway focuses on the memories of an army veteran who took part in anti-Japanese battles and and fought in the Liberation war, only to be labelled counter revolutionary in the 1950s.
Han Song 韩松Beida Wuyijiu 北大五一九Beida Wuyijiu2013173This film investigates the Hundred flowers movement in Peking University and its aftermath: the labelling of 715 students as Rightists.Hundred Flowers; Anti-rightist movement
Hu Jie 胡杰Xinghuo 星火Spark2013100In Spark, Hu Jie investigates an underground magazine published in 1961 by a group of students in Lanzhou who were trying to reveal the extent of the Great famine.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ody_7e1nTSYGreat Famine, Anti-rightist movement, Great Leap Forward
Hu Jie 胡杰Gelagu zhi shu 格拉古之書The Book of Gelagu201338This film focuses on Zhang Xianchi, a former Rightist who wrote an autobiography on his lengthy stay in Sichuan labour camps.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-dFLtgQstoAnti-rightist movement
Mao Chenyu 毛晨雨Yongyou, xin Zhongguo nongmin zhanzheng: xiucixue de zhengyi 擁有,新中國農民戰爭:修辭學的正義I Have What? Chinese Peasant War: The Rhetoric to Justice2013103Essay film on rural politics in China under Mao.Land Reform, Anti-rightist movement, Cultural revolution; Down to the Countryside movement
Meng Xiaowei 孟小為Xiongyali zhaoxiangji 匈牙利照相機The Camera of Socialist Country201356A 1950s Hungarian family camera gives an aging mother and her filmmaker son the occasion to revisit the past.Land Reform, Anti-rightist movement, Cultural revolution
Wang Yunlong 王雲龍Daiyanren 代言人The Spokesman201369Filmmaker Wang Yunlong was one of the first to reveal the story of Duan Peidong, a Yunnan peasant and former prisoner turned self-taught local historian. Many years after shooting a TV documentary about him, the filmmaker visits him once again only to witness that his newly gained celebrity has left him with a tendency to rewrite history for his own benefit.
Xie Yihui 謝貽卉Dabao xiao laojiao 大堡小勞教Juvenile Laborers Confined in Dabao2013104Xie Yihui follows former journalist Zeng Boyan to a Reeducation Through Labor camp in Sichuan, to disclose the treatment of minors during the Gret Leap forward.http://m.liveleak.com/view?i=cb0_1367457012&selected_view_mode=mobileGreat Famine, Anti-rightist movement, Great Leap Forward
Xu Xing 徐星Zuixing zhaiyao 罪行摘要Zuixing zhaiyao2013120After stumbing on more than twenty files of Zhejiang counter-revolutionary "criminals" judged and sentenced to jail during the Cultural revolution, Xu Xing decides to set out and look for these people in their home province.Cultural Revolution
Saipulla Mutallip Heishan: Yaoyuan de cunzhuang 黑山︰遙遠的村莊Qarangghu Tagh: The Villages Afar201490A rare exploration of the local history of a remote village in Southern Xinjiang.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKw5_iK_uZA
Zhu Rikun Dang'an 檔案The Dossier2014128Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser reads her official file and recalls her youth, retracing her evolution from an obedient Red student to a committed writer.
Cao Diao 曹雕He Zhang Laoshi zuo pengyou 和張老師做朋友Making friends with Mr. Zhang201565For Mr. Zhang, the Mao era remains a unparalleled time of achievements and he dedicates his life and free time to celebrate the late leader.
Gao Zipeng 高子鹏, Wu Meng 吴梦Shanghai Qingnian 上海青年Shanghai Youth2015480An in-depth exploration of the life and times of Shanghai Educated Youth, especially those who were sent to Xinjiang, unveiling their past and current struggles.Down to the countryside movement