Jia Zhangke’s neoliberal China: the commodification and dissipation of the proletarian in The World/Shijie (2004)
Keith B. WAGNER
Abstract This article explores the under-theorized subject of migrant labor and its precarious socio-economic position envisaged by Jia Zhangke in his The World/Shijie (2004). As discussions of this film have largely been reduced to broad brush assertions in their handling of developmental adjustments—mainly, the country’s entry into the WTO in 2001 and the reality of globalization—the specificities and formulae that mark Beijing’s continuous and unfettered modernization projects under neoliberalization, are largely left untreated, leaving the study of labor incomplete. I will argue that The World transforms the concerns of the marginalized into a dialectical process by challenging the local imagery and celebrated urbanization in Beijing (commodification), while at the same time the workers in Jia’s film embrace new found consumption (dissipation). The other aim of this paper will be to view new forms of Chinese identity/suzhi that “marks a sense and sensibility of the self’s value in the market economy” (Yan 2003). Put another way, consumptive habits are indicative of a new neoliberal identity that I argue complicates how Chinese service and industrial workers view themselves in post-social Beijing and what is fictionalized in The World.
Keywords: neoliberalism, Chinese cinema, Jia Zhangke, suzhi, proletarian, commodification, dissipation, Beijing
Keith B. Wagner is an Assistant Professor of film studies in the Graduate School of Film and Digital Media at Hongik University in Seoul, Korea. He is the co-editor of Neoliberalism and Global Cinema: Capital, Culture and Marxist Critique (Routledge 2011) and China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for the Twenty-First Century (Bloomsbury 2014). He is currently completing a manuscript titled Allegories of Dispossession: Neoliberalism and Proletarian World Cinema and editing another collection of essays on Hollywood and Financial Crises. Before taking up his post at Hongik, he taught at London South Bank University and completed his M.Phil degree at the University of Cambridge and his PhD at King’s College London.