It is hard to find a name for your own column. Unofficial History of Feilin draws on the title of a Chinese classic novel, Unofficial History of Rulin. I imagine that my writing in this column will not be about profound theories, but mainly informal academic essays. So I hope its name reflects that. Rulin in Chinese means scholars’ circle. It refers to Confucian scholars who study the Chinese classics. The replacement of “Rulin” with “Feilin” is easy to understand within the Chinese context but might need some explanations in a foreign context. Feilin is a Chinese translation of film, and unofficial history of Feilin means an informal historical narrative about film.
Among British writers, I am fond of the essays of Charles Lamb and W. Somerset Maugham. I remembered that one of Maugham’s travel books is called On A Chinese Screen. Screen can also refer to movie screen. Hence, I would like to use this name, which is a pun, as the English name of my column.
Unofficial history is also known as an alternative account of history. I have always liked this name. In ancient times, it referred to individualised and unofficial accounts of history by authors who did not hold an official position in the court. In China, unofficial history has unique cultural significance and profound historical connotations. I curated an independent film exhibition in 2012 titled “Growing Wildly”. Chinese independent films have such wilderness – growing outside the official discourse, just like unofficial history in historical writing. Their narratives have constructed truth and memories in their own ways whilst deconstructing official narratives. But it is not an easy task, and difficult to judge too, especially in a cultural atmosphere of relativism. Here, I just hope to record the traces of my thoughts about Chinese independent cinema as thoroughly as possible, and record some of the people and events that I have encountered over the past two decades.
Please also see Wang Xiaolu’s Critic’s Collection.
I have expressed more than once that it is most important for those independent films, especially documentaries, to complete their production and circulation in China. Of course, this is said with an open mind, not in the narrow sense that it cannot be seen by others. It belongs, as experience, to all humanity.
My writing has decreased a lot in the past two years. And the articles that I have written are mostly about factual examination and tend to be objective in nature. Of course even in this area I write less. But for my column, it seems that I can be more subjective in my own ideas. This requires a kind of confidence in myself. But I have been questioning my own writing, even getting bored with it, for quite some time now, because the set of values that once underpinned it has slowly been lost.
Chinese independent films should not be considered as the marginal and the minority. They are not the supplement to the mainstream, but the bearer of fundamental human values, that is, facing the world and one’s self honestly and faithfully.