Lydia Chen is an American filmmaker with lifelong interests in Chinese studies and art. As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1990s, she produced her first documentary, Inner Visions: Avant-Garde Art in China, a short video about Beijing artists in search of modernity. It premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival and won a Bronze Apple at the National Educational Video and Film Festival. After a career in other fields, Lydia Chen returned to filmmaking to revisit her main subjects—the artists, Beijing, and changing society—25 years later. Art in Smog is her first feature documentary.
Lydia Chen was born in Hong Kong, lived in Brazil briefly, and immigrated to the United States when she was five. Her family constantly moved during her childhood, following her father’s academic career from New Jersey to New York to Illinois. She first visited China in 1981, just after China opened its doors to the West. She lived in Beijing in the late 1980s and again in the late 1990s.
She received her B.A. in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College and her master’s degrees in journalism and Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She served as associate director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University (2003-08) and the executive director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University (2008-14) before launching this documentary project.