5 April, 2014
Socio-Economics on Two Wheels
Karl Marx once said “The more the division of labor and the application of machinery extend, the more does competition extend among the workers.” Marx is widely recognized for being the most notorious communist in history, as he spent the majority of his life living within the “red” curtain. His ideas of economics in relation to social class have become staples in the consideration and analysis of potential growth and economic evolution within a country. One of the best examples of this type of evolution is a country who like Marx, is notable for the color “red,” that is of course the country of China. China in contemporary terms is considered to be level with America, if not superior, in terms of both economic manufacturing and production. But China was not always as financially adept as it is now presently considered; the decisive boom came in the form of basic modernization that was represented in both industrialization and monetary competition. China’s economic revolution is sought and exemplified in clarity in the films China: A Century of Revolution and Beijing Bicycle. Both films clearly demonstrate China’s revolutionary transition from antiquation to modernization in terms of economics, social class, and ultimately opportunity.
Looking at China in its infancy, the country took several significant steps in becoming the powerhouse it is recognized as today. The most transformative of these stages was the introduction of industrialization and a capitalistic framework. China: A Century of Revolution carefully documented the economic revolution of the country. Spotlighting the grandness of the city’s skyscrapers and how the citizens swarmed to venture in what capitalism had to offer them. The documentary displayed this particular financially driven change in the people and the country itself. The country life of China which once was a respected institution had begun to be overshadowed and undervalued with the booming skylines and big businesses. Randy Martin further discusses this type of global shift in his piece “Where Did the Future Go.” Martin states: “One shift lies in how finance asks people to imagine their future or more specifically to see the future as already at hand.” Martin here details how finance plays a role in how society not only thinks, but acts. To not think of possible dire financial implications, but to believe the “future” had already been provided. As exemplified in the country’s people transitioning from agriculture to a more lucrative and popular lifestyle.
Where China: A Century of Revolution tirelessly documents China’s economic timeline, the film Beijing Bicycle takes a more symbolic approach to the transcendental socio-economical phase in the country’s history. Beijing Bicycle and its director Xiaoshuai Wang place the viewer smack dab in the middle of the period in a clever fashion, as the viewer is in the same disoriented psychological state as the film’s protagonist Guo. The character of Guo represents China’s country life, as he travels from his agriculture upbringings to the capital city to begin a job as a bicycle messenger. The film spares no time to display Guo’s reaction to the city life. The film’s cinematography captures Guo underneath the towering skylines, freezing the wonder on his face, and reviving it over and over again as he peddles across the screen. Guo reiterates the country’s new ideology when it comes to not only economics, but the role of social class as well. He does not only feel awkward within the luxurious landscape, but around its inhabitants as well. Guo’s brief interactions with other characters often lead to confrontation and social snafus. The majority of the time he chooses to remain silent, which does not reflect respect, but submission. It can be argued Guo’s country life upbringing has made him submissive to the “superior” city folk, whom he can never truly share a conversation or home. Guo’s ideology may be best exemplified in the altercation with the film’s other central character Jian. Guo suspects Jian for stealing his bicycle and in turn attempts to steal it back which leads into a chase, and ultimately altercation. When being cornered and intimated by Jian’s friends, Guo remains silent as if he is not able to comprehend the language in which they speak. They quickly insult him, his clothes, and his social worth. It is in this scene, does the film not only capture Guo’s displacement, but China’s distinct class division.
Opportunity truly is a powerful force. If Beijing Bicycle symbolizes China’s alteration to the path to economic endeavor, it also provides a bold statement in regards to the role of opportunity in relation to economic and social successes. Opportunity is most represented in the film in the form of the bicycle. The bicycle is symbolic for multiple purposes in the film. For one, it represents China’s industrialization, but socially symbolizes class worth. Throughout the film Guo and Jian compete for this token. When each of the young men is in possession of the bike, they capture the essence of opportunity. This results in their social good fortune and standing each of the men feel, which relates to their overall happiness. The role of the bicycle in the film is crucial to comprehending the character’s motivations. Their ultimate goal is to not only obtain social acceptance but become a symbol of it. The character’s motivation in the film once again returns to the idea of China’s introduction to modernistic social and economic competition. The natural human instinct is the cutthroat business agenda, to get the job, to get the girl, and obliterate who stands in one’s way. Beiing Bicycle is able to capture and display all of these themes solely through the use of its central characters and a singular bicycle. Ultimately, China and other countries like it will face their moment in history where a path is taken, and its people will gradually have to adapt to that path, whether it is on two feet or two wheels.
China’s road to economic dominance was taken through monumental moments. These moments were not as drastic as wars, or revolt, but of a simple introduction to monetary competition and social upholding. Both China: A Century of Revolution and Beijing Bicycle exhibit these types of changes in their own methods. The documentary type of approach historically demonstrates how China has gotten to where it viably is today. Whereas Beijing Bicycle, takes a more poetic approach to unearth China’s metamorphosis. Using the bicycle as a symbol for multiple functionaries of Chinese socio-economic history, the film excels in painting a picture of individuals trapped in rotating door of the past and concededly the future. In the end, a country is made up of its people, and in turn the choices that country makes drastically alters not only the individual’s’ lives, but their inner and outward perception.
Beijing Bicycle. Dir. Wang Xiaoshuai. Perf. Lin Cui. Pyramide Productions, 2001. DVD.
China: A Century of Revolution. Dir. Sue Williams. Zeitgeist, 2002. DVD.
Martin, Randy. "Where Did The Future Go?" Logos Journal, 2006. Web. 10 May 2014.