This essay argues that the work of Chinese film director Jia Zhangke constitutes an important commentary on the relationship between globalization, humanness, and China. It begins with a discussion of Jia's relationship to international art-house and documentary realism, focusing on the development of historical ironies in Jia's early works, including Xiao Wu (1997), Platform (2000), and Unknown Pleasures (2002), finally reaching Jia's best-known work, 2004's The World. The essay then detours through an eighteenth-century cosmological debate on the meaning of Chinese philosophy for Christian theology—among the key figures of which are Nicholas Malbranche, Gottfried Leibniz, and Baruch Spinoza—in order to contextualize Jia's work, and the larger conversations about globalization and China, within a longer historical frame. The essay then returns to The World, where, in an analysis especially focused on the film's sound design, it argues that the film shows us a significant shift in the formal location of Jia's representation of the relation between history and the everyday in the Chinese context. Along the way, the essay assumes that the worldly register in which these arguments take place describes and includes, as a kind of phenomenological unconscious, a compelling and usually unstated idea of the human: that the (political, economic, or mimetic) cosmos of a work—any work—is the imaginative correlate of a distribution of humanness across the field of all bodies and thus an ideological marker of recognition, power, and communication.

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