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Three Ecologies Embodied: Body, Environment and Capitalism in Chinese Coal Mining Documentaries – Abstract for “Documentary and the Environment” conference, University of Surrey 2012.

2012 July 24

(; see also program in previous post. )

Over the last century, oil has become a major source of energy around the world. As certain critics have noted, one of the related cultural implications is that the demand for oil has restructured the reality of our contemporary sociopolitical imaginary. While a majority of the world has gradually abandoned coal as a primary energy source, China continues to rely heavily on coal. Thus, coal mines remain a major industry in China, along with the related social issues that continue to threaten the national economy, the environment, and workers’ lives.

Recently, scholars have also proposed that modern humans should no longer be considered homo sapiens but rather homo colossus—beings who are equipped with a voracious desire for technology, and who require considerably more resources and space than pre-colossal humans. However, the portrayal of human bodies in Chinese independent documentaries on the coal mining industry displays a reality that is the direct opposite of homo colossus. In these documentaries, naked, animalistic bodies crawl like ants through the visceral underground mines and devastated environments above the ground.

In the documentaries, the human body is never projected as being merely the physical existence of a human being. It is always represented as being an embodiment of the living conditions and desires of the coal miners, their working environment, the ecological surroundings, and the economic and social relations at work at every level of society and the nation. This paper sets forth to investigate three related ecologies: material (environment), technological (human labour and mining machine), and social (the delocalized and deterritorialized capitalist power) through the representation of the bodies of coal miners in Chinese independent documentaries.

TAM Yee-lok, City University of Hong Kong.

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