Now recognized as one of the most prominent filmmakers working in China, Wang Bing first came to the attention of the global film community with Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks, a nine-hour-long documentary undertaken over four years (1999–2003), an epic in both spirit and scale. He has since built a portfolio of a dozen feature-length films spanning documentary and fiction, as well as video and photographic works.
Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks bears witness to an era of tumultuous change in China by recording the gradual decline of Shenyang’s industrial Tiexi district. From this point of departure, Wang explores the very heart of contemporary Chinese society. This, like every work of his, is a narrative that privileges historical depth and breadth, taking for its subject those caught, carried along, or abandoned by the unremitting tide of change. They are all hostages to history.
Wang has been developing alternative, image-based narratives that run counter to mainstream discourses on present-day China. These methods express his historical awareness as well as his political attitude but do not diminish the films’ profound emotional texture. This texture, interwoven within a grand historical consciousness, forms Wang’s film aesthetics.
Born in 1967 in Shaanxi Province, northwest China, Wang remembers the social and political upheavals of the late twentieth century. He had a hard childhood, marked by the death of his father when he was fourteen years old. He dropped out of school and started work, shouldering the responsibility of raising the family. When his sister graduated from college, he enrolled at Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, where he took a course on photography. It was around this time that he chanced upon Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics (1818–29), which might have contributed to what he has acknowledged is the “conservatism” of his aesthetic approach.
Yet this classical sensibility, extended into the contemporary situation, has been transformed into a modernized aesthetic impulse. Wang Bing, by capitalizing on the democratizing possibilities of digital filmmaking, pushes the boundaries of documentary language. And this breakthrough of the limits of documentary as a genre redefines and expands its relationship with film. The passage of time only confirms his filmmaking’s import.