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196 11 Maid as Metaphor Dagongmei and a New Pathway to Chinese Transnational Capital Wanning Sun The World, Jia Zhangke’s poignantly titled and widely acclaimed film, is set on the rural outskirts of Beijing in a theme park studded with replicas of iconic global tourist destinations such as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the White House. There, visitors, many of whom are wide-eyed Chinese villagers visiting Beijing for the first time, vicariously experience the exotic West. To authenticate the experience , the theme park employs rural migrants to move around the theme park wearing exotic costumes. Visitors can also simulate transnational mobility by boarding a defunct airplane complete with a crew also played by rural migrants. During the day, these rural migrants perform transnational mobility, global modernity, and Western exotic; at night, they sleep in dark and dingy basements along train lines, speak with a thick Shanxi accent, and live out broken dreams. Also working in the theme park are Anna and her compatriots, migrant women from Russia, who are hired for their cheap labor and authenticity as Westerners . Xiao Tao, a migrant woman from Shanxi, befriends fellow worker Anna but remains ignorant of the unevenness of the global economy and Russia’s relative disadvantaged position in it. When Anna first comes to work in the theme park, Xiao Tao remarks,“How I envy you! You are free to go abroad.” Toward the end of the story, Xiao Tao is suitably shocked when, by chance, she discovers that Anna has become a prostitute since leaving the theme park. On the surface, Xiao Tao and Anna could be read as yet another embodiment of the gendered nature of transnational processes. After all, examples of the gendered nature of Chinese transnationalism abound, ranging from the mainland Chinese popular representation of hypermasculine entrepreneurs to the lived reality and mobilities of the “astronaut families” of Hong Kong.1 The circuit of transnational capital is inhabited not only by the movers and shakers but also by the invisible people in global cities and urban centers, which emerge as the nodal points of global trade and capital. The embodiment of the Occidental exotica articulated on and through the body of the Shanxi rural migrants and Russian labor migrants alike in a theme park outside Beijing poignantly point to the imbrication of the transnational within the translocal. Furthermore, the film underscores an often underexplored connection between transnational 197 Maid as Metaphor imagination and global mobility. The lives of the migrant workers demonstrate that mobility can be understood as both a material and a mental process, one predicated on the consumption of transnational images. Although the translocal is not defined by mobility, it is still shaped by a global imaginary and the representation of distant places. Transnational places and spaces feature prominently in the imagination of Chinese tourists and rural migrants alike, even though they lack the means to travel overseas.2 For them, transnationalism is often a vicarious experience, but their spatial imagination is nevertheless stimulated by representations of travel.3 Aihwa Ong and Donald Nonini, in their work on the cultural politics of Chinese transnationalism, define modern Chinese transnationalism as an “emerging global form” that “provides alternative visions in late capitalism to Western modernity and generates new and distinctive social arrangements, cultural discourses , practices, and subjectivities.”4 Hence, to understand the nature of Chinese transnationalism, we must pay attention to how global capitalist forces and local communities interact to produce, on one hand, specific versions of modernities and, on the other,“oppositional narratives of modernity expressed by subalterns divided along class, ethnic, and gender lines, who are marginalised or even suppressed and elided by the dominant constructions of modernity.”5 This, according to Ong and Nonini, would entail shifting the locus of investigation from the village to the travel itself. However, these “oppositional narratives of modernity” rarely exist in popular visual media. Despite Jia’s international reputation, his films command a small audience and cannot compete with commercial blockbusters. How do popular media and visual culture construct mobility, and what role does travel play in the formation of a range of subject positions? Despite widespread recognition that the visual media play a significant part in the forging of new identities,6 little sustained attention has been paid to the ways in which these “public allegories”7 shape the subject formation of both transnational elites and subaltern individuals . To start addressing these questions, one must consider the specific signifying practices (format, genre, metaphor, trope) engaged...


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