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The rise of the entrepreneur in Jia Zhangke’s Words of a Journey

Schultz, Corey (2018) The rise of the entrepreneur in Jia Zhangke’s Words of a Journey In, Kristensen, Lars and Mazierska, Ewa Hanna (eds.) Contemporary Cinema: Living under Capitalism, Searching for Socialism. Routledge pp. 91-104.

Record type: Book Section


This chapter examines this figure as is it found in an internet-based series of advertisements titled Words of a Journey (语路, 2011), produced by the Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke for the whiskey manufacturer Johnnie Walker. This series is part of the company’s larger marketing campaign designed to ‘speak to China’s aspirational consumers’, and is based on market research that indicated ‘A man was judged a success not by where he was, but where he was going’ (Brook 2008). In the series, the interviewees narrate stories of success through adversity, and stress their determination, independence and self-improvement. These advertisements focus on the positive aspects of economic reforms rather than its failures, which are examined at length in many of Jia’s other works, such as Still Life (2006) and A Touch of Sin (2013). Words of a Journey emphasises that economic liberalism has brought the freedom to follow one’s dreams and gain personal fulfillment through work, and thus promotes neoliberalism in order to solve the problems of neoliberalism. The entrepreneur figure is therefore championed as one who can alleviate the negative effects of economic reforms (such as the growing gap between the rich and the poor), but, unlike its worker-peasant-soldier predecessors who worked together to build the socialist state, the entrepreneur is not a socialist figure but a capitalist one, who uses neoliberal notions of independence and self-sufficiency to solve these problems. This figure evokes the larger neoliberal discourses being promoted by the state, and is thus indicative of a discursive turn towards neoliberalism and supportive of the aforementioned ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. In this discursive shift, the responsibilities of the state have been lessened; instead, capitalism has been evoked to solve the problems of capitalism, which positions the individual as being responsible for solving social problems and contributing to the overall good.

Using theories on entrepreneurship, self-development, and governmentality, I examine their narrations of success and their representation as heroic and daring entrepreneurs who have ‘made it’ in the Reform era market economy. I argue that the entrepreneurs are being advanced as inspirational and moralistic class models, and that their platitudes emphasise success through independence, hard work, and sacrifice, thus celebrating China’s neoliberalism. Such declarations confirm the morality of their actions, and also connect to the history of moral discourses surrounding the Chinese class figures, by producing a new neoliberal model class figure for the Reform era ‘with Chinese characteristics’. I argue that their narratives not only convey individual success stories, but are part of larger discourses that are currently being promoted in China, including the concept of suzhi (quality / self-improvement) and ‘Harmonious Society’. Finally, I connect this to the ideal of the ‘Chinese Dream’ that has been advanced by the Chinese government, which advocates that everyone is benefiting from Reform; for example, as stated by Cai Mingzhao (2013), Minister of the State Council Information Office, ‘The Chinese Dream in essence means the dream of the people who live in our great country at this great time to have the opportunity to enjoy a successful life, the opportunity to realize one’s dream, and the opportunity to grow and progress together with the country’ (Anon. 2013a).

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Accepted/In Press date: 31 January 2017
Published date: 2018
Organisations: Film


Local EPrints ID: 406431
PURE UUID: f3f210fc-6679-49f2-891b-0979fea97da2
ORCID for Corey Schultz: ORCID iD

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Date deposited: 10 Mar 2017 10:47
Last modified: 03 Nov 2017 17:30

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Author: Corey Schultz ORCID iD
Editor: Lars Kristensen
Editor: Ewa Hanna Mazierska

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