Moving figures: class and feeling in the films of Jia Zhangke

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


The past thirty-seven years of economic reforms have completely transformed Chinese society and have “remade” the nation. This period, know as the “Reform Era” (1979-present), has been a time of massive social and economic change, and has witnessed China’s transition from socialism to capitalism. This monograph focuses on how this period of change has been constructed in the films of Jia Zhangke through analyzing the five class figures of worker, peasant, soldier, intellectual, and entrepreneur that are found in his films. 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 examine how the figures’ specific representation and their associated cinematic tropes create what Raymond Williams terms “structures of feeling”– feelings that concretize around a particular time and place which are captured and evoked in art and culture. These structures of feeling are specific to each class figure, and also shift over time. I argue that Jia’s cinema should be understood not just as narratives that represent Chinese social transition and the director’s changing attitudes to them through characters of different social classes, but also as an effort to engage the audience’s emotional responses to those figures through representation, symbolism, and the affective experience of specific cinematic tropes. While making specific observations on Jia’s films, the book adds to the scholarship about the Reform era by considering how this period’s enormous transformations have been “felt,” and also opens up many new areas, not only in the existing body of literature about Chinese film, which has mainly taken a political or sociological approach, but also in the larger fields of Chinese visual culture, cultural studies, and the affective qualities of film
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages200
ISBN (Print) 9781474421614
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2018

Publication series

NameEdinburgh studies in East Asian film


  • Chinese visual culture
  • Chinese film
  • Chinese social classes
  • Class figures
  • Structures of Feeling
  • Chinese social transition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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