China’s 60th Anniversary national day – timelapse and slow motion – 7D and 5DmkII from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Watch this video. What do you think? Fantastic hey. Amazing effects, beautifully shot, great use of lenses.

Didn’t you wish you were there? No need, Dan Chung nailed it. Infact I would bet £50 his video is probably more exciting than the actual event, he’s certainly made every effort to make it look and feel as spectacular as possible. I’m not the only person who thought so. To date a staggering 2.1 million people have seen this video on Vimeo.

Then think again.

Think about what you are watching. Weapons of murder and oppression presented beautifully in slow motion, glamorized by the shallow depth of view of Chung’s cameras.

Think a bit deeper.

Could the Communist party’s ministry of propaganda have delivered anything better, could Chung have served up a visual feast that does anything more to gloss over the truth of the last 60 years of communist rule?

Here’s some context.

During Mao’s reign between 50-80 million people died unnecessarily, many of them murdered, millions more forced into slavery. That is the legacy of the communist party in China. Not the only legacy. There is much to be applauded but when you put a mass murderer on trial you don’t let them off because they paint pretty pictures in their spare time.

A truth, that in its full horror is hard to grasp, becomes unimaginable when we are fed a diet of propaganda and lies.

Maybe Chung wanted to get us thinking, it’s the argument he can always fall back on, but it’s a meaning that will be lost on the vast majority of viewers and one that serves Chung more than the families buried by this regime.

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  • what a pile of bollocks.
    don’t get me wrong – what Dan has managed to do with his camera is really slick, clever and looks great.
    but the whole ceremony sickens me.
    what is it with humans and their fetishisation (if that’s even a word) of military hardware…of KILLING machines. it makes me want to vom

    so there

  • last point:

    isn’t it a journalist’s job to think critically, and analytically? this is a communist party puff piece. it’s so self-congratulatory. it’s really quite nauseating.

    great lenses though.

  • I love to see mahoosive bombs in soft focus, makes me go all warm inside.
    Perhaps Dan could get a job with BAE systems..if anyone can make armaments look
    cuddly, It’s Dan. Thanks Dan!! I think I might go off and knit myself an ak-47 now.
    Knit one, perl one, maim one.

  • Hmmm… I think perhaps you’re being a little harsh on Dan Chung. I think the music was a poor choice and perhaps ambient sound would have been a better option, but overall it’s just a series of images… Without contextualisation you can interpret them whichever way you like. As it is, to me it seems more like a depiction of China’s growing assertiveness, which is hardly an inaccurate observation.

    • Question: Does this make fantastic Communist party propaganda?
      Answer: Yes
      Question: Did Chung set out with this in mind?
      Answer: No

  • That’s a bit too pat.

    Put in the context of the wider coverage that the Guardian gave the day, I think Chung’s piece comes with enough of the background for the audience to be able to understand the bigger picture. Granted, the piece on its own on Vimeo doesn’t come with that wider context, and we could get into some hifalutin theoretical discussion about whether the relevance of authorial intention to the interpretation of the work etc.

    But there’s a broader question here. If you want to convey the sense of self-confidence that appears to have grown amongst the Chinese elite in recent years – the elite for whom this procession was put on – how do you do it? Do you have sombre, ominous music and a grave commentary on Chinese history? Or do you report the event as at least some will have experienced it – as a celebration of their newfound success?

    To draw a parallel – you’ve previously criticised photographers who focus on the negatives of Africa, arguing that they don’t focus on what’s joyous and hopeful there. Like it or not, there are people in the world who are proud of their country’s military prowess and who don’t see anything shameful in such a display of power. Should journalists shut out that perspective entirely because they don’t agree with it?

    I don’t intend this as picking an argument or some such – I think it’s an interesting issue, this whole question of how to present somewhat alien viewpoints to those we ourselves bring to a story (with all our personal baggage).

    Take another example – how would you approach a Nashi rally?

    (And to reiterate again – I think that Chung’s piece, with the music that’s attached it, works best as a part of the wider Guardian coverage. With ambient sound maybe it would have worked in its own right).

    • Matt I agree with you on one hand but ‘I think Chung’s piece comes with enough of the background for the audience to be able to understand the bigger picture.’

      What background?

      I, along with two million other people, saw this video on Vimeo, where there was no context. Actually I really loved the video, it was only afterwards I started to actually question what I was looking at. This is Tienanmen square after all.

      ‘Like it or not, there are people in the world who are proud of their country’s military prowess and who don’t see anything shameful in such a display of power. Should journalists shut out that perspective entirely because they don’t agree with it?’

      Of course not. A decent journalist asks critical questions and seeks meaningful responses. They look out on the world with a skeptical eye.

      This is Chung’s vision of the event and his perspective. He has altered the images dramatically, plus slapped music over the top. This is neither documentary nor journalism, its a distortion of the event, albeit a beautiful one.

      Interesting that you should bring up a Nazi rally. There are clear siliarities between Chung’s approach and that of Leni Reifenstahal, one of the great female film directors of all time, but whose reputation was tarnished by the work she did for Hitler. Leni’s defense was “I did not know what was going on. I did not know anything about those things.” Unfortunately Chung can’t present such a defense.

      I ask you again. Taken out of context, as Chung presented it on Vimeo, is this video not offensive to the millions who died at the hands of this regime?

      By the way if Chung had cut this with the images of the tanks that ran over the students protesting in Tienanmen square, then yes this would have been one hell of piece of thoughtful film making.

  • Try giving some context next time you launch a flame war.

    http://www.vimeo.com/6804984 – “Killing people was easy then, if you said anything reactionary they’d kill you” – from the same series as the parade video.




    • Exactly Dan, you nailed it, zero context for the 2 million people that watched your video on Vimeo.

      Interestingly from the links you’ve sent us, nativity wasn’t one of the reasons you presented the work in this way, and out of any wider context. So why was it?

  • The first Vimeo video IS presented in context alongside the other and linked at the end of the parade video too, with 47,000 people going on to watch it. I would have done the same for the Tiananmen videos but as they contain Reuters footage I don’t have the rights to put them on Vimeo. On the Guardian they can all been seen as intended linked and in series. Vimeo is not a journalistic outlet for the Guardian anyway, I just stick videos I like there for other creative types to look at because the Guardian has no HD playback, so flame me just because a couple of million people looked at it, would you have cared one jot if it only had ten views?

    On top of that if a report on a live event or story from China needs full context in the video itself, when any similar event in the West does not, then frankly you are imposing a huge double standard. For instance I don’t see the need to explain former British war atrocities in a news report covering the Trooping the colour or the cenotaph wreath laying. This does not mean you are hiding anything or performing some great bit of PR for Her Majesty’s Government. In fact did you really criticise the BBC’s coverage of the opening of the Olympics games in Beijing for not mentioning the cultural revolution or political prisioners? Journalism is sometimes about righting wrongs and at other times just about showing an live event as it happens and letting people make their own minds up. The context is there if you want to find it, but you do not need to rub people’s faces in it.

    To suggest that the 2 million mostly Chinese viewers who watched this video had no idea of the context or the past history of the Communist party or indeed the current political climate in which they live, then I think you are deluded. Chinese are very aware of the past and most still have great pride in their country and events like this and the Olympics. It seems you have a very strange and perhaps outdated view of China, not uncommon in the West, but inaccurate none the less.


  • I’m not going to speak for Dan, as he’s spoken for himself – but the videos on the Guardian website that he linked to were what I was referring to when I said the piece had enough context, taken with the wider coverage that the Guardian gave the day. I did note that on its own, the Vimeo piece didn’t have the same contextualisation. Dan’s explained why that is.

    On a point of accuracy, I didn’t refer to the Nazis – I referred to the Nashi movement, which (accurately or not) has explicitly positioned itself as anti-Nazi. It’s a very ambiguous, deeply nationalistic and quite popular (in its day at least, it seems to be fading now) Russian youth movement. Here’s Wikipedia on it – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nashi_%28youth_movement%29

    It’s precisely the fact that it’s ambiguous that made me think it was a useful example.

    Anyway – to respond to your Riefenstahl reference – erm, they’re worlds apart.

    Plus I think juxtaposing images of the military parade with images of the Tianenmen demonstrations in the same video would have been stultifyingly obvious, heavy-handed and not particularly illuminating. Having the different videos allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions and weigh up the historical analogies themselves. But that’s my personal opinion.

    • Matt,

      thanks for correcting me.

      I agree that the Guardian website provides balance. The problem with Vimeo is that it can be embedded into any context. Dan has exercised no editorial control on where the video goes.

      And of course its how you use the images that matter. Not sure its always illumination that we need, just sometimes reminding.

    • ‘Anyway – to respond to your Riefenstahl reference – erm, they’re worlds apart’

      Have you seen this work Matt. Not sure how anyone watching the two video’s could say that they are worlds apart?


      • matt

        Sorry, but Dan Chung’s relatively short piece on the parade, taken in conjunction with his more critical interview pieces (which he linked to above), is indeed a world apart from a 2-hour celebration of Nazism called ‘Triumph of the Will’.

        Of course, you can cherry-pick as many one-minute clips of soldiers marching as you like and observe that yes, there is a similarity in that there are shots of soldiers marching – but in my opinion it’s pretty damned disingenuous.

        In a bid to find some common ground, I’d suggest that you had a good point in suggesting that mulitmedia presentations that are part of a series can be misinterpreted if they are packaged in a way that allows them to be taken out of context. But I rather think that the way you’ve approached this has been overly emotional, somewhat reactionary and downright insulting to Dan Chung, which has rather obscured any more constructive point you were making.

        • Come on Matt, don’t invent stuff, duckrabbit never mentioned ‘Triumph of the Will’, that’s come right out of your head.

          Riefenstahl is only famous because first and foremost she was a brilliant film maker. There was lots of propagandists making films during the war who are long forgotten, but Riefenstahl is remembered because like Dan, she was so original in the way that she filmed stuff. (I’ve never suggested that Dan set out to make propaganda, just that his film can be read that way)

          And by the way, yeah its so reprehensible that people like duckrabbit get a bit emotional when remembering the history of the Chinese communist party. I mean for christ’s sake duckrabbit it’s 20 years since the Tianneman Square protests, which ended up, according to NATO, in eight thousand people being killed across China. Get over it.

          You’ve gone from stating ‘you’re being a little harsh on Dan Chung’ to your ‘downright insulting Dan Chung’ in the space of a couple of comments. I wonder what the world would be like where people are frightened to express and defend an opinion … no place comes to mind.

          • matt

            Sorry, but what precisely were you referencing about Riefenstahl then? Her Olympics piece? Again, you’re being disingenuous.

            You started getting insulting by comparing him to Riefenstahl, and insinuating that perhaps his background had something to do with his editorial choices – both of which sounded at the time like trying to score points in an argument rather than engaging in constructive debate. That’s my opinion though, I don’t know how he feels about it.

            And now you’re trying to make out that by suggesting that you’ve perhaps been unfair I’m somehow suggesting that we should all forget about the history of Chinese communism – which, to use your turn of phrase, has come right out of your head. I’ve suggested no such thing – only that, in my opinion, you’re drawing a very flimsy parallel in a deliberately provocative way.

            And of course, there’s nothing in my words which should suggest that you shouldn’t express your opinion – and by the same token, there’s nothing to suggest that I can’t take issue with your opinion. Suggesting that I’m somehow channeling censorship and repression by disagreeing with you is… well, just a bit childish really.

            Anyway, this debate clearly isn’t going to lead anywhere, given you’re clearly more concerned with petty point-scoring an argument than with having a discussion about the difficulties of covering politically sensitive subjects.

  • Just realised the last Guardian link above is rights expired as it uses Reuters footage which we only bought for 30 day usage (its expensive). I think if you were to watch it you might think differently about our China coverage. Email me and I can send you link with password.


  • @Matt

    Honestly Matt, you’ve lost me a bit.

    ‘You started getting insulting by … insinuating that perhaps his background had something to do with his editorial choices.’

    I’ve never met Dan. I know zero about the guy apart from the fact he makes some great videos , he shoots for the Guardian and he’s based in China, so how could I insinuate that his ‘background’ has something to do with his editorial choices? Hand on heart, and I honestly don’t want to make this a theme, but that is you reading far too much into what has been written.

    Beyond that I’d like to thank you for your comments. duckrabbitblog isn’t a place where we doff the cap. Journalists love to give it out but rarely are happy when their work is deconstructed in the same way they deconstruct others. As we say ‘sparks may fly’.

    I’ll leave you with a thought. Since Dan’s video is embeddable, which means essentially it can be used anywhere, anytime, for any purpose, with any text; how would you feel if you found the video on a website under the banner ‘The Triumph of Mao’? And if you didn’t know who had made it, would it have been unreasonable to draw parallels with other nationalistic films that centered on the tools of war?

    I think we both know the answer, but I could be wrong. duckrabbit often is.

    • matt

      Then why did you even bring up his ‘nativity’ (to use your odd choice of word) as a potential influence on his decision-making, if not to insinuate that it had? It’s the classic ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ style of question, which any journalist who’s been round the block more than once knows how to leave hanging in the air.

      Christ, your faux-naif affectation gets incredibly grating. I seem to remember pointing out that I didn’t think the piece worked that well as a stand-alone item, largely because of the music dubbed over it – I initially responded to point out it was part of a series, and that the larger series wasn’t propagandistic. We probably would have agreed quite quickly were it not for the fact you appear to have got it into your head that being needlessly and abrasively provocative is somehow the same as being radical and unorthodox. It’s been rather like talking to one the SWPers who used to hang around student unions convinced that anyone who disagreed with them was a crypto-fascist. “Doffing the cap” indeed. Grief.

  • Thanks again Matt:

    You say:

    ‘why did you even bring up his ‘nativity’ (to use your odd choice of word) as a potential influence on his decision-making, if not to insinuate that it had.’

    but I said

    ‘nativity WASN’T one of the reasons you presented the work in this way, and out of any wider context.’

    By the way are you ever in Birmingham. I’ll buy you a beer and show you my SWP badge collection and you can teach me some new words.

    On a more serious note, I invite you to put your thoughts down in a proper post on duckrabbitblog. I promise it will go up unedited.

  • The main issue for me is how viewing the video made me feel about the situation. I saw the video on here, embedded with no context.
    I found myself enjoying the piece, due to Dan’s skills and techniques, but then felt very uncomfortable due to the subject matter. Hopefully that was Dan’s intention. I would have liked to have read an explanation of his reasons for shooting the piece like he did on his blog, rather than kit speak…I am aware that Dan’s blog is essentially about kit and technique, but I feel possibly the focus on kit and technique has taken over this piece. I fully understand the need to give interesting, different visual content whatever the medium ,to engage the viewer, but I think some subjects must be treated a little more seriously. Sure, there have been world press winning pics which featured tilt shift etc etc, but the subjects were always insignificant ( thinking David Burnett’s sport pics) or the daft toy soldier pics from last year shot by I can’t remember who, and never of hard news subjects, iirc. It is a tricky balance. I don’t in any way want to attack Dan, who is a consumate professional, but I do suggest that context is all. I missed the wider context by viewing the piece here initially. I think that is something we all must consider when building these pieces.
    There is also the issue for me of where the line is in relation to manipulating video/time lapse etc images of journalistic subject matter…,hard news in fact in this situation. Again here it is muddied by the fact that no content was changed…just represented in a very manipulated, beautiful way. Because I don’t know where the line is, I don’t know if Dan has crossed it – and if he did it won’t have been deliberate – but all I know is that I feel uncomfortable enjoying such a visual treat when the subject is so bloody terrifying.

  • David you’ve articulated my exact feeling on watching the piece on here and on vimeo much more articulately than i ever could

  • and yes i like the word ‘articulate’ and its derivatives

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

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