In the 1930s, the photographer ZHUANG Xueben leaves Shanghai to explore the Blank Lands of China, absent from geographic maps and filled with an air of mystery. In particular, the Blank Lands were the remote regions of the western borders, which in the collective imagination were inhabited by “barbarian cannibals”. Thus, ZHUANG was a pioneer of visual anthropology, at a time when photography in China was practised exclusively in studio.
His works represent a real human and artistic journey into completely unknown lands and reveals unexpected truths about these people. However, in the 1960s his work was erased by the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and was soon after forgotten. Only after forty years, thanks to his son, these precious treasures of photography and anthropology managed to occupy the respectable place they are worth.
This documentary is a journey into the unknown lands explored by ZHUANG Xueben, through his pictures and his travel journal, which was recently found. But it is a present journey as well, in those same lands, which will allow us to see which distinctive features of these people once considered as cannibals have remained unchanged and which ones have changed. Through interviews to members of his family, photographers and through historical reconstructions, we are able to better know this audacious photographer who was forgotten for a long time.