“Ten thousand waves takes us to the shore
Home will arrive under our feet”
—Wang Ping, The Great Summons


Isaac Julien’s Ten Thousand Waves is an immersive, nine-screen video installation that interweaves three stories linking China’s ancient past and the present. The first story is inspired by the Morecambe Bay tragedy of 2004, in which 23 Chinese immigrant workers were drowned while gathering cockles at the seashore in England. The second is the Chinese legend of the ancient sea goddess Mazu, protector of fishermen and sailors, who is said to guide shipwrecked sailors safely to shore. The third is set in 1930s Shanghai and explores the 1934 silent film The Goddess (1934), one of the best known films of China’s cinematic golden age, which portrays the tragic life of a woman who became a prostitute in order to support herself and her son. Shot mostly in China, Ten Thousand Waves features well-known actresses Maggie Cheung and Zhao Tao, video artist Yang Fudong, poet Wang Ping, and venerable Chinese calligrapher Gong Fagen.

With rich imagery that soars between the cold northwest coast of England, the buzzing rush hour of Shanghai, and the lush landscape of bamboo forest and stony mountains, Ten Thousand Waves represents a new form of filmic storytelling, as the three stories unfold across multiple screens.


Read an interview with Isaac Julien on CURRENTS, the ICA blog.