Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 30, 2009

24 City

Filed under: China,Film,workers — louisproyect @ 5:47 pm

Opening at the IFC Center in NY on June 5, “24 City” is the latest envelope-pushing movie by Jia Zhang-ke. Incorporating fictional elements, this documentary casts a cold and clinical eye on the new China and expresses nostalgia for the Maoist system symbolized by an actual state-owned munitions factory replete with “Iron rice bowl” support pillars. Named “Factory 240”, as an internal security code for the Chengdu Engine Group, it is about to be relocated in order to make room for an enormous real estate development geared to China’s rising professional classes and called “24 City”.

The movie consists of interviews with the actual workers, all male, middle-aged, and harboring sympathies for the Maoist system to one degree or another, as well as with three actresses who narrate experiences in line with the real workers. This device allows Zhang-ke to highlight certain themes crucial to the telling of this story.

His last film “Still Life” was a fictional work that examined the horrific impact of the Three Gorges Dam. “24 City” is more oblique. Like “Still Life”, it is unmistakably hostile to the rapid “advances” that have left the countryside immiserated and workers stripped of all the protections they once enjoyed under the admittedly repressive Maoist system but the interviewees focus on their private lives and their experiences as workers rather than reflect upon the changes sweeping China.

Like the pensioners in Soviet Russia who lived, fought and suffered through WWII, the Factory 24 workers have vivid recollections of their role in a revolutionary society. The oldest recalls working behind Red Army lines in the 1940s in order to keep the fighters armed. Younger workers talk about fulfilling their duty during the Korean War and Vietnam War.  For these workers, a job was more than a job. It was a way to defend their revolution and those of brother and sister workers.

Throughout the movie we are reminded of how the factory kept workers bonded together beyond the factory floor. One 40ish worker is seen shooting hoops at a factory basketball court. At the end of the movie the court is demolished in order to make way for new luxury apartments. We also see a group of women, real workers not actresses, rehearsing a “People’s” opera from the 1950s. China may have moved on but they have not. Toward the very end of the movie we see the entire workforce singing “The International”. It is in a word deeply inspiring.

In the press notes for “24 City”, Zhang-ke describes his goals:

The stories of these characters, both real and fictional, center on a state-owned factory which supplies the Air Force and other sectors of the military. The factory was founded 60 years ago, and was moved to Chengdu City 50 years ago. It has weathered all of the successive political movements under communist government. I’m not interested in chronicling this history as such, but rather in seeing how a century of experiments with Socialism has impacted on the fate of Chinese people. To understand the complexity of these social changes, we need to listen to the direct and in-depth testimonies of the people who lived through them.

And listen we should to their voices in this important documentary that opens on June 5th at the IFC center.


  1. “His last film “Still Life” was a fictional work that examined the horrific impact of the Three Gorges Jia Zhang-ke Dam.”


    Comment by anon — May 30, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I am still getting used to my new Macbook.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 30, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

  3. Very interesting indeed but I’m confused when Zhang-ke says: “I’m not interested in chronicling this history as such, but rather in seeing how a century of experiments with Socialism has impacted the fate of the Chinese people” ??? How does he calculate that the Chinese Revolution started a century ago I wonder?

    Another question: Does anyone know of any films that approximate this theme regarding the Russian Revolution? I’d be curious if anyone out there knows of any?

    Also, since the typo subject was broached another one appears near the end of the 1st paragraph where it seems the word “be” is ommitted — or you can leave out the “be” and drop the “d” at the end of the word “relocated”

    “…it is about to relocated in order to make…..”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 30, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

  4. From where might I obtain a copy of this film? I do not live in NY but I am a US resident.

    On a somewhat different note, I often find it difficult to obtain such films in the US. For example, previously I wanted to find a film called “Partition” (written by Tariq Ali & Ken McMullen. I found two vendors for this film: one called “Second Run”, which is based out of the UK, and another called “DaaVeeDee”, which seems to be US-based. But neither of these seem to have “24 City” in stock.

    So, my specific question is (a) where can I obtain “24 city”. Whilst my general question is (b) what other vendors sell such movies.

    I note that NetFlix has none of the above.


    Comment by epoliticus — May 31, 2009 @ 12:43 am

  5. This is a brand-new movie. It won’t be out in home video for a year at least.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 31, 2009 @ 1:13 am

  6. […] Proyect: 24 City Opening at the IFC Center in NY on June 5, “24 City” is the latest envelope-pushing movie by Jia Zhang-ke. (tags: China Film Proyect) […]

    Pingback by links for 2009-06-01 « epoliticus — June 1, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  7. […] See full review and clip at The Unrepentant Marxist […]

    Pingback by china study group » Blog Archive » Jia Zhangke’s ‘24 City’ Reviewed by The Unrepentant Marxist — June 1, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

  8. Louis

    I did not think that true marxists existed, but i guess they do. A couple questions:

    What you do for your job, and how much do you get paid?
    Instead of fighting up-river, why not just move to a marxist country? Wouldn’t you be happier?
    It seems that you are a conspiracy theorist as well as a marxist. Doesn’t that mean you recognize the US Government as sovereign? It was my understanding that most marxists did not believe, or follow, governments and economic systems in which they did not believe.

    Just curious.


    Comment by Jeff — July 9, 2009 @ 3:06 am

  9. Answers to jeff:

    1. I am a computer programmer. I make about 75,000 dollars a year but I really don’t keep track of this.

    2. Yes, I would definitely be happier in a Marxist country but I have a duty to remain in the U.S. and fight against injustice.

    3. I have never broken laws in opposing the US government, but of course the government has broken laws in opposing Marxist groups. The FBI tried to get me fired from my first programming job, for example.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 9, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

  10. Epoliticus,

    24 City is already streaming on netflix instant:


    It may not stay up for long, though.

    Comment by Darren — January 17, 2010 @ 8:57 am

  11. […] Life” (https://louisproyect.org/2008/01/17/still-life/) and 2009 documentary “24 City” (https://louisproyect.org/2009/05/30/24-city/), both of which are class-conscious indictments of inequality in China, both of which I have […]

    Pingback by A Touch of Sin | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — October 5, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

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