This article argues that contemporary independent documentary filmmaking in China has been used as a tool by Chinese citizens to intervene in the public sphere and to provoke social change. I therefore propose to look at the phenomenon of Chinese video activism under the umbrella of alternative media. In particular, I take into consideration the "rhizomatic" media approach, which focuses on the interaction of alternative media with authority, the market and civil society. The case studies I present consist of several documentary projects completed between 2004 and 2010 that opened up spaces of dialogue between filmmakers and local authority, mass media and civil society. The paper claims that documentary films have an impact on audiences, whose members are consequently motivated to engage in discussion and action. I argue that activist video-making in China is reshaping the identity of urban citizens: through filmmaking, urban citizens claim their right to access information and demonstrate their will to participate and intervene in social issues. © 2014 Asian Studies Association of Australia.