Collection Pilot

About the Project

Duke University Libraries has received a $40,000 grant from the Council on East Asian Libraries of the Association for Asian Studies to support the processing of the Memory Project archives. The grant comes from the Innovation Grants for East Asian Librarians program, inaugurated in 2015 with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

During the two-year project, set to begin in July 2015, staff will arrange and describe this extensive collection of more than 1,000 interviews to significantly enhance the preliminary description and to normalize the various video formats for access and preservation. Subsequent to the grant, the library will develop a digital collection providing a robust discovery and display experience for researchers using the collection.

As a pilot, fifty segments from the project are available via the Memory Project collection guide along with Chinese transcripts of the films. More material from the collection will be available in 2016-2017.

History of the Project

Chinese Documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang launched the Memory Project in 2010 to collect oral histories from survivors of the Great Famine (1958-1961) in rural China. Wu’s studio in suburban Beijing, Caochangdi Station, is the home for this project. Since 2010, several young filmmakers have joined the project. They have been to 246 villages in 20 provinces and interviewed more than 1,220 elderly villagers. The Memory Project aims to shine light on one of modern China’s most traumatic episodes, the Great Famine of 1958-1961. The project also covers Great Leap Forward of 1958-1960, Land Reform and Collectivization of 1949-1953, the Four Cleanups Movement in 1964 and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. The amateur filmmakers from Wu’s studio discovered their family histories and identities in the process of interviewing the villagers, reconciling the official history taught in schools with each family’s true experiences. The project keeps a blog at, including weekly updates, diaries by filmmakers, notes taken in the interviews and announcements of events. The project thus records memory of China’s past and creates a legacy of its own.

Wu Wenguang and three young filmmakers were invited to Duke in October 2012 to a film screening of the Memory Project. During his visit, Wenguang chose Duke’s Rubenstein Library as a repository for the raw footage of the project. Wu envisions Duke University Libraries as a safe home for these interviews to be preserved and processed into a digital collection for researchers worldwide to access. In the summer of 2013, Wu donated the first batch of about 1,150 interviews to Duke’s Rubenstein Library. The library invited Wu and three young filmmakers to come to Duke in fall 2014 for a two-week residency to assist with the organization and description of the films. This work will be instrumental in the creation of a pilot digital collection that will showcase a selection of the films online.

Wu Wenguang 吴文光

Wu was born in 1956 in Yunan, China. He is known internationally as one of the founding figures of Chinese independent documentary. His film Bumming in Beijing (1990) featured a large amount of handheld camerawork and unscripted interviews. This was a stark contrast to Chinese documentaries produced previously, which were generally carefully planned and controlled. Here’s a list of his works:

  • Bumming in Beijing (1990)
  • 1966, My Time in the Red Guards (1993)
  • At Home in the World (1995)
  • Jiang Hu, Life on the Road (1999)
  • Dance with Farm Workers (2002)
  • Fuck Cinema (2005)
  • Seen and Heard (2008)
  • Bare Your Stuff (2010)
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