Jinyan Zeng, a Chinese filmmaker, blogger, activist, and scholar, has been named 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.

“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.

Zeng has spent more than a decade and a half fighting for people with HIV-AIDS, women facing discrimination, factory workers suffering exploitation, a natural environment threatened by pollution, and political dissidents experiencing repression. This work sometimes upsets the Chinese party-state, which at different times has detained and surveilled her.

In 2006 Zeng made her first documentary, Prisoners in Freedom City, about 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. 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 still others to make “confessions” on state television. Zeng is cofounder of the Chinese Independent Documentary Lab in Hong Kong and the leading curator of an independent Chinese film series.

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.

During the fall, when Zeng will be in Maine, she looks forward to editing footage for a new documentary on the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” in Hong Kong. And she is eager to talk with Colby faculty, staff, and students who are curious about China, film, and human rights. Zeng arrives in Waterville in August.