China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
“History” is a top selling and longstanding product in China, coming in all sorts of wrappings and sizes. One of these varieties is the historical documentary, which received special attention a decade ago with the hype around the documentary series The Rise of the Great Powers (2006), which discussed the reasons for the rise of certain nations since 1500 AD. This series’ popularity engendered similar productions attempting to ride the documentary wave and to reflect directly on China’s own potential to rise in the present. Feature films with historical topics have long been popular with consumers, often concentrating on one historical figure or a specific event to render history more accessible on an individual level and offer viewers possibilities for identification. In contrast, the documentary format is usually considered less “popular” and more “elitist” since it appears to appeal more to reason than emotions. Patriotism, however, is closely connected to emotions. The hype thus provokes the question as to the potential of the documentary format to be “used” (de Certeau) to further patriotism in China by referring to history, be it Chinese or non-Chinese history, and exploiting the genre’s specificities such as assumed “objectivity” and “scientific character.” It is also important to explore how this relates to the official ideological framework and narrative of China’s history and future into which Chinese citizens have been socialized through history classes in school and public discourse in society at large, and how “uses” by the consumers may diversify the producers’ agendas.