Moving Figures: Class Feelings in the Films of Jia Zhangke

Schultz, Corey Haley Kai Nelson. 2015. Moving Figures: Class Feelings in the Films of Jia Zhangke. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis analyzes the representation of and affects associated with the five class figures of worker, peasant, soldier, intellectual, and entrepreneur in the films of the Chinese director Jia Zhangke. They are the descendents of the five main Confucian class figures, and have also been socially, politically, and culturally significant throughout China’s modern history. The questions that guide this analysis include: How are these figures represented? How do their representations and cinematic tropes operate in the films? What feelings do they evoke? To answer these questions, I engage with scholarship in Chinese sociology and visual culture, Raymond Williams’s concept of “structures of feeling,” and theories on film phenomenology and affect. I examine Jia’s entire oeuvre (1994-2013), including his shorts, documentaries, narrative films, and advertisements.

In the core chapters, I examine each figure’s socio-historical and cultural contexts, its representation in the films, and the cinematic tropes and feelings that are associated with it. I argue that the Maoist figures are in decline and will soon disappear, while the “new” class figures of intellectual and entrepreneur survive and thrive in the Reform era. Regarding cinematic tropes, I analyze the moving portraits, interviews, and constructions of memory for the figure of the worker; for the peasant, I focus on the POV shot, observation, and the gaze; for the soldier, I discuss the figure’s “absent presence” and its degraded appearance in simulacra; for the intellectual, I examine the voice, the pseudomonologue, and the observatory and exploratory lenses; and for the entrepreneur, I explore the close-up, speed, and film as advertisement. Finally, I examine how these figures produce what Raymond Williams describes as “structures of feeling,” and how these various feelings transition over time – from anxiety over the threat of Reform, to decrying its negative effects, to welcoming its opportunities, to finally demanding solutions to the problems it has caused.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

Access restricted due to presence of 3rd party copyrighted works. Physical copy can be accessed in person from Goldsmiths Library


Jia Zhangke, Chinese film, film phenomenology, emotion and film, affect and film, Chinese visual culture, class figures

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 August 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Nov 2015 11:35

Last Modified:

12 Sep 2022 11:10


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