writing in water

Writing in Water 水書
2012, Beijing. Directed by Angela Zito 司徒安


What does it mean to take up calligraphy in a fast-moving world where people often no longer recall the stroke order of unusual words, but can look them up on cellphones? How does it feel being alone, together, spending long hours training your body to write while slowly mulling over your life with others? Writing in Water follows two generations of calligraphy teachers, Wang Tongxing and Liu Lanbo, 王童性 刘兰波through the eyes of an American who learned to write with them, in Tuanjiehu Park, Beijing, where they practice on the plaza everyday. We encounter directly the funny, philosophically inclined teachers and the community of students, people who have been retired, left behind by China’s get-rich quick reforms. We see them together in the park and alone at home. With their students they connect past to present, master to pupil, friend to friend, making a community, making Chinese characters that slowly materialize, and that last long after the water has evanesced into air.


In Mandarin, English subtitles, 42 min.


Written and directed by Angela Zito; Camera by Angela Zito, Yu Jun, Lisa Erdman; Edited by Angela Zito; Zhu Lin, Lili Chin, Yang Rui.


Writing in Water took shape over several years, beginning in 2006, when I met Wang Tongxin and his teacher Liu Lanbo and began studying with them in their neighborhood in western Beijing. It is part of an ongoing project of thinking about the production of new senses of self through cultural expressions in public spaces (see Dogs and People and the Stiletto Project). A slide show below gives some sense of the park, and you can link to an essay about the production of the film here.




Mar 25, 2014 RAK Bunn Museum, Shanghai. With Q&A.


Nov 21-23, 2013 Aperture Festival: Asia Pacific Ethnographic Documentary Festival,
Melbourne, Australia, Official Selection.


April 29, 2013 Harvard University, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Emergent Visions: New Independent Documentaries, Q&A


Feb 20, 2013 Princeton University, Religion and AnthropologyDepartments, Q&A


Feb 2, 2013 Duke University , Anthropology Department, Q&A


Dec 8-9, 2012 Rice University , Chao Center for Chinese Studies
The Ephemera Project: “Ephemera in Digital Media” with talk.


Nov 11-17, 2012 Society for Visual Anthropology Annual Festival
With The American Anthropology Association meetings in San Francisco, Q&A


Oct 31, 2012 Yale University, Institute for the Study of Sacred Music,
Co-sponsored by the Seminar on Sensory Cultures of Religion, Q&A


Nov 10-15, 2012 James Madison University, Institute for Visual Studies
As part of exhibition “The Art of Writing,” combined with a talk and residency.


Aug 18-28, 2012 9TH Annual Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF)
The 9th Beijing Independent Film Festival, held in the suburb of Songzhuang and screened both narrative and documentary films that year, combining the two genres into one festival. Chosen to screen out of competition.


Mar 6, 2012 Cinema Studies Wednesday Night Films, Tisch School of the Arts NYU
Preview screening, March 6, 2012


Feb 24-25, 2012 Haverford College
Forbidden No More…The New China in Ethnographic Film Film Festival and Conference



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