[Truncated abstract] This thesis examines the development of social-issue independent documentary films produced in China between 2004 and 2010. The analysis draws upon ethnographic research conducted in different Chinese cities during independent documentary film festivals and film workshops, through personal communication and interviews, and on material collected in libraries, bookstores, and, especially, online. I argue that documentary-making contributes to the creation of public spheres in which networks of production, distribution and consumption are integrated, and where different social and technological actors interact towards a common end. Independent documentary films in China are shot mainly by non-professionals. They generally depict normal people’s everyday lives, but with special attention to the ‘others’, that is, those who can be described as the ‘weaker’ or ‘disadvantaged’ social groups (ruoshi qunti) suffering more from the consequences rather than the benefits of China’s rapid industrialization and urbanization. In the last few years, independent documentaries in China began dealing with challenging topics such as governance in rural communities, the economic and social impacts of reform, and ‘social scandals’ detailing the underbelly of Chinese officialdom. This is all part and parcel of a more general growing sense of civil rights awareness and activity in many quarters. The social world of the documentaries is therefore an opportunity to examine, warts and all, a microcosm of ‘civil society’.