Groundbreaking China documentaries being released

March 24, 2016

China has arrived at a crossroads, and the one-fifth of humanity who live there struggle with China’s present, its future and the meaning of its past. On May 4, 2015, Cornell’s Program on Ethics and Public Life (EPL) began releasing a groundbreaking series of online documentaries showcasing the diverse, sometimes clashing views of leading China scholars on “Where Is China Headed?” All videos in the series will be freely accessible at and on YouTube.

The releases include “Tiananmen 1989 in Depth,” a documentary featuring a unique audio recording made in Tiananmen Square during the crackdown of June 3-4, 1989. The documentary includes extensive footage of the whole course of the protests, along with analyses of their causes and significance. Preview audiences have found the detailed, accurate record of these formative events deeply moving; one Chinese student wrote, “It made me cry, and it made me envy the students, too.”

In another of the May 4 releases, “Demystifying China’s Governance,” Cornell’s Andrew Mertha describes how China’s vast, fragmented yet centralized apparatus works. In two videos from the “Judging China’s Governance” group, leading scholars from Cornell, Harvard, UCLA and Middlebury defend their diverse assessments of one-party rule and of what some regard as the seeds of grassroots democracy in China today – what others see as sources of corruption.

The series will continue in June with videos on China’s economic rise and economic crossroads, the 2014 Yue Yuen strike, and contrasting views of the prospects and value of the one-party system, featuring leading U.S. and Chinese academics, including Justin Yifu Lin, former World Bank chief economist.

“By the end of summer we plan to release a powerful documentary, ‘The Two Worlds of Mr. Chen,’ from footage shot for us of a migrant worker in Beijing and in a Henan village, including interviews with villagers who have witnessed the course of Chinese history since Mao’s era,” says Richard Miller, director of EPL. “The film highlights the situation of migrant workers in Chinese cities and of the people left behind in the villages, revealing the central problem behind poverty in China today.”

The “Where Is China Headed?” project receives support from an Online Innovation grant from Cornell University and from the Riger-Potash Family Fund. More information is available at

This article originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.