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China Daily Global / 2020-11 / 20 / Page014


By Xu Fan | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-11-20 00:00

Drawing inspiration from last year's hit documentary, director Wang Yu is back with a new focus exploring traditional Chinese culture and its impact on modern trends, Xu Fan reports.

To lead a life of seclusion as a monk, Hanshan bade farewell to his wife and children, and trekked more than 1,500 kilometers from the prosperous capital city of Chang'an-now known as Xi'an in Shaanxi province-to Tiantai Mountain in Zhejiang province during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

From then on, the man of mystery lived the rest of his life in a cave, pondering questions about Zen Buddhism and writing poems. Interestingly, Hanshan's poems are more popular overseas in the English-speaking world than domestically.

Chinese poet Liu Jun, better known by his pen name Xi Chuan, elaborates this lesser known story in the documentary Master Class. Alongside folk singer-songwriter Chen Li, the duo travel across the country to trace the origins of Tang Dynasty poetry, ranging from those penned by famous masters such as Li Bai and Wang Wei to underrated figures such as Hanshan.

Also a translator with profound knowledge of Western culture and literature, Liu says American writer Jack Kerouac's 1958 novel The Dharma Bums was dedicated to Hanshan. The novel has also influenced many famous people including Bob Dylan.

A Sino-US work coproduced by China Intercontinental Communication Center and Discovery Channel, the six-episode Master Class is now available on streaming site Tencent Video, scoring 7.8 points out of 10 on popular online review platform Douban.

Director Wang Yu says the documentary was inspired from last year's documentary hit It's Bread, It's Air, It's a Miracle, in which viewers were able to experience Japanese lifestyle and cultural legacies through the eyes of Liu, Chen and actor Xia Yu, traveling around Japan eating local food and interviewing craftspeople.

With Wang and his team looking for new ideas to attract more viewers, last year's production made them realize that a combined production of filming travels and interviews may help effectively visualize China's traditional culture and its impact on future generations.

After shooting the documentary in more than 10 Chinese cities in the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu and Yunnan as well as the Tibet autonomous region, Liu and the crew traveled to George Town in Malaysia to attend a literature festival, and followed artist Xu Bing to Jakarta in Indonesia to document his first solo exhibition in Southeast Asia.

The entire filming period lasted 65 days, giving Wang and his crew members new insights into some aspects of China's centuries-old culture. Viewers are able to have a deeper understanding of martial arts, landscape paintings, 24 solar terms, architecture and garden design through the series.

"Traditional culture is not something old and outdated," Wang says. "Instead, they have enduring charm to provide guidelines for modern lifestyles and artistic creations, and may also generate new fashion trends."

For instance, in the second episode about kung fu, Chinese American choreographer Franklin Yu follows action film star Frankie Chan to visit prestigious Wing Chun master Duncan Leung to seek inspiration for his dance works.

In the episode about the 24 solar terms, the relationship between the Chinese calendar and seasonal food is explored, with award-winning chef Su Qisheng going to Sichuan and Yunnan provinces to find the best seasonal ingredients to localize molecular gastronomy, a cooking style emerging from the West.

With bamboo shoots from Sichuan, black truffles and rushan (or milk fan) cheese from Yunnan, Su creates a dish shaped like a resting panda, fulfilling his wish to use a molecular gastronomy cooking technique to showcase the complex Chinese culture.

On another episode featuring landscape paintings, photographer Zhang Kechun treks to remote snowy mountains, using cameras and lighting to create epic photos which look like living landscape paintings.

The documentary has been aired in 40 countries and regions in Asia-Pacific on Discovery Channel, and will soon be aired in more regions overseas.


An episode of the new documentary, Master Class, features landscape paintings. Photographer Zhang Kechun treks to remote snowy mountains, using cameras and lighting to create photos, which look like living landscape paintings. CHINA DAILY



Award-winning chef Su Qisheng creates a dish shaped like a resting panda with bamboo shoots from Sichuan, black truffles and rushan (or milk fan) cheese from Yunnan. CHINA DAILY



Chinese poet Liu Jun (left), better known by his pen name Xi Chuan, and folk singer-songwriter Chen Li explore the influence of Tang Dynasty's poetry. CHINA DAILY



A Sino-US coproduction, the six-episode Master Class is available on streaming site Tencent Video. CHINA DAILY



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