Rural Woman and Modernity in Globalizing China: Seeing Jia Zhangke's The World



In this article, I consider Jia Zhangke's 2004 film The World (shijie) as a tool for critical thinking about the challenges of modernity and globalization for internal migrants in contemporary China, especially young rural women working in Beijing, and the gender politics of their representation. A close reading of the film, juxtaposed with ethnographic studies on China's internal migration and rural women, demonstrates that The World's visual and narrative techniques provide valuable insight into the disjuncture between transnational imaginaries and local material conditions, which together contour migrants' experience of globalization. However, to effectively deliver its critique, The World relies upon a chauvinistic convention of using “rural woman” as a sign of social ills, rather than an agent of social change. I suggest that deconstructing the gendering of modernity and national identity by recognizing rural migrant women as agents of globalization can mitigate the dire message of  The World that, ultimately, rural woman and modernity are incompatible, as are, allegorically, China and globalization.