George S. Semsel, PhD.

American Film Scholar
Documentary Filmmaker
Professor Emeritus School of Film, Ohio University


“Missing Home is the story of Beijing hutongs told through the close and personal experiences of a director raised in these disappearing neighborhoods. Through her unique perspectives she [Zhang Weimin] explores the effects of modernization on individual lives in urban China. Here is a film that would well serve as graphic illustration of Yi-Fu Tuan’s classic, Space and Place.

The strength of Missing Home lies within the range of people depicted: the couple who minded the public telephone, the ash collector, the family celebrating the New Year with a traditional meal. These are the people who move the film away from nostalgia for place into a broader consideration of the human condition. Through their stories, given with precise, telling cinematography, Zhang is able to keep the personal and the objective in a close, revealing relationship. It is in the finer details that each of us creates the space that we call home. Most telling is the young man collecting streets signs from hutongs now demolished. This is the central metaphor of Zhang’s film. How much has been lost, I ask, and what, if anything, has been gained? As a filmmaker myself, I found myself musing on how I would have filmed this scene, but my musings are of no consequence. I thought it somewhat underplayed, perhaps rightly so. No matter. When you look at this film, think well upon this passage.

The underlying irony that Zhang Weimin recognizes is the fervent desire of China, which has long and rightly celebrated its outstanding history, to show the world that it is now a modern, sophisticated nation. To celebrate its modernity, as represented by the Beijing Olympics, China destroys the very things, its people in their neighborhoods, that made the country the remarkable and unique place that it is. Missing Home is a film of quality. It deserve to be widely seen.”