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'My' Self on Camera

First Person Documentary Practice in an Individualising China

Kiki Tianqi Yu

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An exploration of first person narrative documentary in China’s post-Mao era

‘My’ Self on Camera is the first book to explore first person narrative documentary in China’s post-Mao era. Since the emergence of the individual as an ever more important social figure in China, this mode of independent filmmaking and cultural practice has become increasingly significant. Combining the approach of cultural ethnography, interviews, and textual analysis of selected films, this study examines the motivations, key aesthetic features and ethical tensions of presenting the self on camera, as well as the socio-political, cultural and technical conditions surrounding its practice. This book problematises how the sense of self and subjectivities are understood in contemporary China, and provides illuminating new insights on the changing notion of the individual through cinema.


List of Figures
List of Main Terms with Chinese Translations
List of Names with Chinese Character Translations

Introduction: Action, Amateurness and the Changing Sense of the Individual Self
1.  Female First Person Documentary Practice: Negotiating Gendered Expectations
2.  Amateurness and an Inward Gaze at Home
3.  Nostalgia toward Laojia: Old Home as an Imagined Past
4.  First Person Action Documentary Practice: Longing for a More Politicised Space
5.  The Problematic Public Self: Ethics, Camera and Language in Contestable Minjian Public Spaces
6.  Camera Activism: Provocative Documentation, First Person Confrontation and Collective Force
7.  Whose Self on Camera? Motives, Mistrust, Disputed Authenticities
8.  From Fragile First Person Documentary Practice to Popular Online First Person Live Streaming Broadcast – Zhibo: Changing Intentions, Changing Individual Selves


About the Author

Kiki Tianqi Yu is a filmmaker, scholar, and film curator. Her work includes feature documentary film China’s van Goghs (2016), and edited volume China’s iGeneration (2014). She is Lecturer in Film Practice at Queen Mary University of London.


With exhilarating brio, My 'Self' on Camera counters Eurocentric first person documentary. It locates Chinese "I" cinemas within the Post Mao period, decollectivization, and marketization. A stirring account of little known films, it insists the Chinese "I" is multiple, conflicted, and relational, traversing between public and private, home and human rights.

- Patricia R. Zimmermann, Ithaca College

Understanding first person filmmaking in China as always already political, this study breaks new ground in considering the particularities of this personal form of filmmaking as it emerges in the late 20th Century China. With in-depth case studies written by a scholar who is also a filmmaker, this study is a welcome reassessment of the predominantly western-oriented scholarship on subjective/autobiographical/first person film. Tianqi Yu’s book is a major contribution to the field.

- Alisa Lebow, University of Sussex

This exciting book reveals that China’s first-person documentary boom takes individualism not as a retreat from but rather as the route to social and political engagement.

- Chris Berry, King's College London

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