Social and visual anthropologist




A film about rapid urbanization in China, from the perspective of a rural family making a home in the city of Wuhan. 

In contemporary China, cities are growing fast with large-scale investments in urban housing to accommodate rural-urban migration. For people from rural areas, buying a house in the city has become an important symbol of success. Yet, the houses they can afford are often located in city outskirts with few labor opportunities. Therefore many are unable to stay long-term in their newly acquired house, and instead furnish and store it for the future. This film is about such a house. It is empty most of the year, but the owners consider it home.


Empty Home was made by Sanderien Verstappen and Willy Sier in the city of Wuhan in 2016, based on Sier's PhD research at the University of Amsterdam. It premiered in December 2016 at the VU Ethnographic Film Festival in Amsterdam, and was published in The Guardian as part of their 'Other China Week', an online series of articles on rapid urbanization in China. For further reflections, see the IIAS Newsletter.


Screenings at festivals & public events

February 14, 2019. Anthro Screening Room, University of Amsterdam.
January 9, 2019. ArtEZ Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Zwolle. Screening for arts students as part of a workshop in ethnographic research methods, by Willy Sier.
April 12, 2018. IIAS Lunch Lecture: Making a home in urbanising China. Public screening with lecture and discussion, organised by the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden.
May 9, 2017. Cityscapes: Home and urbanisation. Public screening with discussion at Framing Asia, organized bythe KITLV, IIAS, Anthropology department and Studium Generale of University Leiden.
December 7, 2016. Premiere at the VU Ethnographic Film Festival, Amsterdam.

Screenings in university courses

April 20, 2017. Course 'Perceptions of Asia', coordinated by Tina Harris. Bachelor elective course, University of Amsterdam.
April 12, 2017. Course 'Methoden en technieken 1', coordinated by Danny de Vries. Bachelor Anthropology, University of Amsterdam.
December, 2016. Course 'Schrijfpracticum', coordinated by Vincent de Rooij. Bachelor Anthropology, University of Amsterdam


'Empty Home: House ownership in rapidly urbanising China', in the IIAS Newsletter (80), summer 2018.
'Wuhan, Hubei: ‘My parents bought this flat only as an investment’, in The Guardian as part of their 'Other China Week, in 'I'm very sceptical: residents of China's growing cities discuss life amid change', March 24, 2017.