The use of Citizens Documentary in Chinese Civil Rights Movements
Village officials sold village land without disclosing records and accounting details, resulting in vigorous campaigns among the villagers. With the help from the lawyers, journalists, and scholars, villagers go against and denounce the officials. In 2005, the Taishi incident in Panyu, Guangdong, became one of the famous cases of the Chinese Civil Rights Movement. Ai Xiaoming’s documentary, "Taishi" recorded the event. Lawyers were beaten, villagers were arrested, and the whole village was enveloped in an atmosphere of terror. The last scene of the documentary showed filmmaker being beaten in containment by a group of unidentified gangs. In horror, with her car door broken, she called for help. The producer then added the following subtitle: "During the shooting process, I found that many agencies have video cameras, I think the villagers should have a video camera of their own.”
Along with China's development into an economic society, issues on human rights violation from the repressive political system have increasingly aroused a feeling of resentment and resistance among the people. Post-totalitarian political system can no longer meet people's growing awareness of rights and their quest for freedom and democracy. The phenomenon can be seen as one of the principal contradictions in today’s Chinese society. Under this context, the Chinese Civil Rights Movement came into being. The internet has not only significantly increased the speed and widespread penetration for civil movements, but also changed their nature, from text to photographs, from images to videos, from traditional media to citizen journalists, from one-way flow of information to interaction. This process meets with the development pattern for communications and of social movements, while Documentary plays a highly visible role in the Chinese Citizen Campaigns.
I have been involved in some civil rights cases as a human rights lawyer, which left me with a very strong feeling, that is, China has no independent judiciary system, nor does it has an independent media. Therefore, the only hope lies on a few means, including the use of unofficial media to spread the truth, and to resorting to public opinion and moral strength. Obviously, the intuitive nature of Documentary, with images and characters, is most straightforward for people to understand, sympathize, and to achieve powerful impact. Documentary can sometimes amplify the voices of those involved, develop the progress of the event itself, and even become the most critical turning point of a public event.
One kind of Documentary is the direct record of a particular case or event, such as Ai Weiwei's work, "Mom Ti Hua". It recorded all the experiences Ai Weiwei, as a court witnesses, encountered in Chengdu right before the Tan Zuoren trial. The release of "Mom Ti Hua” aroused a large number of views and spreads on the network, making it an enormous contribution to the attention and mobilization for the Tan Zuoren case. Even after introducing the documentary, "civil investigation" which talked about Tan Zuoren and other volunteers’ investigation of the Sichuan earthquake, Professor Ai Xiaoming moved on to launch the “Why Are the Flowers So Red", which recorded Ai Weiwei's investigation work after the earthquake and the making of “Mom Ti Hua”.
The Yang Jia case that happened before the Olympics had caused a great shock to the people, especially among Internet users in China. The impact was no less than the Sun Zhigang case in 2003. "An unsocial person" revealed all the truth of the Yang Jia case that was unknown to the outside world. Yang Jia case to Ai Weiwei was just like the Taishi Village case to Ai Xiaoming: both contributed to a certain change in two important public intellectuals one from the south and the other from the north. They both make use of their own actions and documentary works to become prominent figures in the Chinese Civil Rights Movement.
Ai Weiwei's "Good Life" is the story of Feng zhenghu’s difficult experience of fighting for the right to go home. Feng Zhenghu waited for 92 days in the Narita Airport in Japan before he could go home, making him a legendary figure of the Civil Rights Movement. Visitors from Shanghai went to rescue, weaving flags to support, twitter users showed concern and gave long-term support. Finally, Feng Zhenghu could return home. The incident greatly encouraged the strength among the citizens in their difficult struggles for civil rights. In 2006 and 2007, Professor Ai Xiaoming took great risk to complete two documentaries, the "Central Chronicle" and the "Loving care”. They captured the suffering villagers with HIV in Henan and Hebei Province and their struggles in the hard process of appealing their cases. Ai Xiaoming said, "Every time I film I will eventually fall into direct conflict with the local government." The local government named her as the "reactionary professor" and forbid villagers from interviewed by her. In addition, her work, "The train bound for home" illustrates the story of migrant workers returning home from Guangdong for the Spring Festival, while "the NPC legislation" focuses on the lives of local based activists. These works have also documented the formation and effort of civil society organizations at grassroots level, while the works are themselves part of this effort.
Independent film maker, Ho Yang's "Hanging photo door” talks about how human rights lawyers, Tang ji Tian and Liu Wei were suspended by the Beijing Bureau of Justice for their licenses. His another documentary, "Emergency shelter” narrates the persecution of human rights lawyer Ni Yulan. During the process for helping those evicted from home, Ni was beaten to cripple, followed by falsely accusation of "Crime of Interference" for assaulting police officer. She was sentenced for 2 years. Her house was demolished in an act of retaliatory when she was released, forcing her to stay on street and set up tent in the "emergency shelter" corner of the XinHuang Temple Park. Facing the camera, she calmly told her suffering of brutal abuses and tortures over the years. Although, in Documentary's approach, too much narrative and too little scene change will affect visual appearance, the story of Ni itself is powerful enough to make up for the deficiency. The case of Ni Yulan was reported some years ago but did not cause too much attention until the release of Ho Yang's documentary. The documentary has taken the case to transmit through the internet, twitter, weibo, where thousands of people forwarded the story, making it a common concern among the public. The guard, Xiao Wei, and the others that involved in the prosecution of Ni Yulan were then strongly condemned by netizens. Many people also sent donations and goods to the "emergency shelter" to show support for Ni. During the "616" Dragon Boat Festival, netizens organized a Summer night party to show solidarity in supporting Ni Yulan. Police then detained Ni to the police station. The netizens set up tents outside the police station to stage protest. On June 27, the "Southern People Weekly" reported the case of Ni Yulan and the protest of the ‘crowd’ outside the police station. The report further encouraged the situation of the case of Ni Yulan. Undoubtedly, Documentary has played a crucial role in all the civil actions around this event.
Another type of Documentary is the direct involvement and recording in civil actions. One example is the vigorous civil actions during the "Fujian three users case". In June/July 2009, due to uploading relevant videos of the "Yan Xiaoling case" on the internet, Fan Yanqiong, Yu Jing Yu, and Wu Huaying were accused of Libel. They were then detent, charged and convicted. The incident caused continuous concerns and strong protests among the netizens. There were several spectator operations before and after the trial, sentencing and the imprisonment. Every time, people used hand-held DV, mobile phones, cameras or professional video cameras to record. Together, they simultaneously transmitted the sound and images to twitter, microblogging and other social networking sites. Some of them combined materials online and offline to produce documentaries later on, so that whether the detail of the site condition, or the causes and effects of the case, were fully presented to the public. The documentary, "Let the citizens and justice shine brighter than the sun" recorded the situation before the court case on “3•19”. The large numbers of crowds speculating, their enthusiasm and orderly organization on the judgment-day on "4 • 16" was itself worthy to write about. The “Fujian three users case” was different from the Waste Incineration field incident in Panyu, or the Xiamen PX case. The protests among netizens in the “Fujian three users case” were not directly related to their own interests. Rather, it was about their shared and apparent political demands for freedom of speech. There are different versions of the "4 • 16" documentary spreading on the net, including a fragrance version, a revised version, and the Xiao-fan version. While Ho Yang’s full footage version of the case is still in the process of production.