Blank Lands: Searching for Zhuang Xueben
This vastly comprehensive ethnographic film ventures into the wilderness of Western China as depicted in the eternal photographs of Zhuang Xueben (庄学本; 1909–1984) - perhaps China's most important visual anthropologist of his age, who with his photographs and travel reports, had shifted public understanding of tribal societies once considered 'savage'.
In the 1930s, ZHUANG Xueben leaves Shanghai to explore the Blank Lands of China, alongside the western border; regions absent from geographic maps, shrouded in mystique and known merely by imaginatory tales of "Barbarian Cannibals".
Zhuang, a pioneer of visual anthropology at a time when photography in China was practiced exclusively in the studio, had contributed such an insightful and enticing body of work, thus deepening the anthropological understanding of tribal societies in ways relatable to the public opinion.
His works represent an unprecedented humanistic and artistic journey into completely unknown lands, one that had proven essential to China's anthropological body of knowledge. However, in the 1960s, Zhuang's work was erased by the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and was soon after forgotten. Only after forty years, thanks to his son, these precious treasures of visual anthropology managed to attain the adoration they deserve.
This documentary explores the Blank Lands and their people, not only through timeless photographs and recently discovered travel diaries, but also by visiting and capturing the same lands, inspired by the humanistic aura of their original chronologer, thus adding sociological elements to contemporary understanding of distant regions and distinct cultures of the Far East.
87 minutes, in English and Mandarin with English subtitles.