Jinyan Zeng named 2017 Oak Institute fellow

Jinyan Zeng, a Chinese filmmaker, blogger, activist, and scholar, is on campus as the 2017 Oak Human Rights Fellow at Colby. This is the first time in its nearly 20-year history that the Oak Institute for Human Rights has selected someone from the People’s Republic of China as their fellow. Zeng gave her first public talk on September 13 in Ostrove Auditorium, during which she spoke about the power of love and creativity in the struggle for liberation. The event was packed with eager students, faculty, and staff who were appreciative of Zeng’s subject matter and approach. “I am so glad someone is at Colby to expose us to these issues,” said Lindsay Wong ’19.

Zeng has worked for over a decade and a half in China, fighting for the civil rights of HIV-AIDS patients and political dissidents. She also protests against gender based discrimination, factory worker exploitation, and environmental pollution.

Challenging the authority of the communist party-state, Zeng’s work led to her detention and surveillance, the subject of her first documentary in 2006, Prisoners in Freedom City, which recounted her experience living under house arrest in Beijing.

Her most recent film, We the Workers , had its world premier at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January 2017 and will be screened at Colby on October 8. During the production of that film, the Chinese party-state detained several of the featured labor activists, placed a few of them under house arrest, and forced others to make “confessions” on state television.

In 2017, Zeng earned a Ph.D. from the University of Hong Kong, where she studied film, gender, and cyber-activism. Her dissertation focused on the work of Ai Xiaoming, a feminist professor of literature and a documentary filmmaker in China. Zeng is cofounder of the Chinese Independent Documentary Lab in Hong Kong and the leading curator of an independent Chinese film series.

During the semester, Zeng looks forward to editing footage for a new documentary on the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” in Hong Kong. She is eager to talk with Colby faculty, staff, and students who are curious about China, film, and human rights. She will be working with a number of different departments, from Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies to Cinema Studies, collaborating and interacting with students and professors as much as possible.

“We are thrilled to bring Jinyan Zeng to Colby,” said Walter Hatch, director of the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights. “She has an amazing set of skills—academic intelligence, artistic creativity, and profound courage. The fellowship will give her a chance to recharge and will give us a chance to learn more about the human rights situation in China.”

The Oak Institute, he said, will use this opportunity to highlight the powerful role of documentary film in advancing the cause of human rights. The institute will also be hosting a Human Rights Film Series throughout the fall semester, entitled “Resistance and Repression”. It will feature movies focused on domestic issues like the Ferguson protests, such as Whose Streets?, and also on international struggles like the Free Brazil Movement, such as #Resistance. The series will also screen a Colby professor and alumni collabortive film project, The Maribor Uprisings.