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Performance, Documentary, and the Transmission of Memories of the Great Leap Famine in the Folk Memory Project

Judith Pernin
p. 17-26


Independent documentary film projects dealing with history have recently multiplied in China. While all seek to shed new light on personal experiences of the Mao era, they vary greatly in form, method, and scale. Launched in 2010 by Wu Wenguang at the Caochangdi Workstation, a space devoted to contemporary dance and documentary film, the Folk Memory Project aims at producing various textual and visual records of the historical experience of rural populations, especially during the Great Leap famine. Of special interest are the 20 documentaries of the Folk Memory Project’s film section – a body of works constantly growing following yearly returns by filmmakers to their “home” villages. These films are characterised by a performative aspect that is rare in other Chinese documentaries on similar topics. This contribution examines this body of documentaries and the role of performance and performativity in the recording of collective memory of the famine.

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Electronic reference

Judith Pernin, « Performance, Documentary, and the Transmission of Memories of the Great Leap Famine in the Folk Memory Project », China Perspectives [Online], 2014/4 | 2014, Online since 01 January 2017, connection on 23 May 2017. URL :

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About the author

Judith Pernin

Judith Pernin is a postdoctoral researcher at the CEFC working on Chinese documentary film, affiliated with the Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent (CNRS). She defended her PhD dissertation, entitled “Independent practices of documentary film in China (1990-2010),” in November 2012 at the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris).CEFC, 20/F Wanchai Central Building, 89 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong (

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