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24 City

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Shane Markowitz
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24 City

In the film 24 City, the theme of time (and its counterpart space) appear regularly - sometimes directly, other times in a more subtle manner. As we proceed through the different generations of people in and around the one-time factory grounds transformed into a modern apartment complex, we come to understand that any reflection of the past has become obstructed by the social, economic, and geographical barriers that are the hallmarks of a modern China on the move. The 24 City project, in fact, has not emerged out of thin air but is the product of the sacrifices - blood, sweat, and tears as the individual Jia uncovers - and strenuous labor that sustained the communist political project. Yet 24 City is not a place for these foot soldiers of the past. Rather than reaping the rewards of the economic development that they made possible, these individuals face a job market that doesn't recognize value in their skills. Those workers, paired with more recent globalization, set in motion a process that has also rendered them, in some cases, spatially and personally distant from their children. This is the type of familiar politics of concealment that is the heart of many phenomena (e.g. see Timothy Pachirat's 2011 scholarship on the slaughterhouse, Every 12 Seconds) with dangerous consequences. This veil, for one young individual, is only lifted on a rare visit to her mother's town. And with these encounters of the grinding work of previous generations - with this visibility of the past - there is at least some hope for the emergence of a type of reflective politics that can enable social justice to be plausible.

The film could be employed with students to guide them to think about generational change in an urban setting in China. What sacrifices did previous generations make and why? What values unite different generations? I'd also have my students complete comparative research of a site in their own city that has been repurposed and conduct interviews with different generations of residents to uncover the meaning of that particular place.