This comprehensive ethnographic film ventures into the vast of Western China as depicted in the eternal photographs of Zhuang Xueben (1909–1984) — one of the most important Chinese visual anthropologists of his age — whose photographs and travel reports have helped shift Chinese public understanding of tribal societies.
In the 1930s, Zhuang Xueben left Shanghai to explore the blank lands along the western border of China, territories left off of maps and shrouded in mystery. At the time, photography in China was practiced exclusively in the studio. As a pioneer of visual anthropology, Zhuang broadly and deeply documented a range of peoples and cultures that might otherwise have been lost to history.
However, during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Zhuang’s work was nearly erased from cultural memory and forgotten. It took nearly forty years for his anthropological treasures to be re-discovered with the adoration they deserve, largely thanks to the dutiful efforts of Zhuang’s son.
Blank Lands explores this singular body of work, which has proven essential to China’s anthropological knowledge, and also revisits many of the same distant territories, peoples, and cultures, as they exist in the present day.