The Gaze of “Chaos”: Temporal-Spatial Migration and Power Dynamics in a Globalizing Post-Socialist China

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The thesis approaches the positionality of visuality within third-world cinema by examining the case of transnational documentary filmmaking. In past decades, China’s post-socialist transformation has altered not only its local conditions but also transcended the national and cultural borders. Such shift can be significantly captured by the perspective of Chinese documentary since the 1990s. Produced outside of the state-owned studios and exhibited on international film festivals and online platforms, Chinese documentary is a transnational cinematic production from the very beginning. Current research illustrates its positionality of “minor cinema” as resistance to China’s mainstream cinema, but this binary term oversimplifies the uneven tensions of the state power, transnational forces, and the shifting aesthetic paradigms that constitute the spectrum of documentary in a globalizing post-socialist China.

This research undertakes a critical reading of Zhou Hao’s documentary practice. Unlike many of his counterparts’ “on-the-spot” realism, Zhou proposes the conception of “hundun”(混沌), literally meaning chaos and disorder, to represent the ambiguous reality of China in his transnational documentary. As hundun replaces the “real” as the aesthetic paradigm of filmmaking, one might further ask about how the conception of hundun appeared and functioned in Zhou’s film, its political and historical implications in both domestic and transnational contexts, as well as its potential of theoretical and practical intervention.

Through discussing Zhou’s three representative works Houjie Township(2002), The Cop Shop(2010), and The Chinese Mayor(2015) , I will argue that Zhou’s documentary practice opens up a space of hundun in terms of ambiguity, heterogeneity, and dynamism, where the dialectics between migration in a temporal sense and power dynamics in a spatial sense reflect both the local circumstance and China’s post-socialist transformation as a whole. Furthermore, regarding the exhibition, distribution, and circulation of documentary as a connective and global media, the representation of hundun prompts us to reflect on Félix Guattari's conception of “Chaosmosis”, which is “at the junction of the finite and infinite, at this point of negotiation between complexity and chaos.” By engaging theories of visuality, cultural anthropology, and migration studies, I will further ask about how the gaze of chaos(hundun) within visuality is productive in challenging the totalizing understandings of China, thus envisioning an alternative approach to reframing locality within globally mediated networks and power order.






Zhang, Wenxian (2020). The Gaze of “Chaos”: Temporal-Spatial Migration and Power Dynamics in a Globalizing Post-Socialist China. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from


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