Review of Ascension (2021) directed by Jessica Kingdon.
Firstly, the prospect of an American documentary about China arouses too much speculation; additionally, it draws one’s interest to know how the director juxtaposes Chinese ideology with the American counterpart. Ascension by Jessica Kingdon is solely about China, and how China ascended into the top echelons of the world economy. One could even argue that this perfectly reflects the Chinese spirit that has propelled them to the top of the world power structure. Kingdon precisely shows how the Chinese model’s planned economic system supervises everything from producing a plastic vial cap to sex dolls.
The film begins with scenes from rural China, where unemployment and hardship are common. The camera soon shifts to urban areas, which glimmer in the viewer’s eyes with the amount of prosperity and modernity that can match any western country. From day to night, people can be seen working in large manufacturing plants producing what the World needs. Everything is well-ordered and organized. In another scene, women workers can be seen engaged in making sex dolls. In a film with few dialogues, these female employees talk about their bodies while making the smallest adjustments to dolls for their ultra-rich male customers. Every single Chinese product and service can be divided into two categories: those for the ‘ascension’ of the Chinese economy and those for the rest of the world. For example, there is an agency called ‘International Etiquette Training,’ which prepares Chinese people to present themselves in front of an international audience. When a trainee asks why he feels awkward hugging during international business meetings, a trainer at one of these centres says to hug with your shoulders because it’s normal outside of ‘our’ culture to hug a female. Kingdon also does not forget to point out that the Chinese model, like any other social structure, allows the top elite to enjoy ultra-privileged lifestyles while leaving a large population of working-class people to invest their energy and time in the production of goods and services. Moreover, Ascension as a whole could be possibly inferred as an indication of the fact that be it the Chinese dream or the American dream, both don’t take into consideration of the feminist and ecological questions along with the loss of humanity.
Ascension comes at a crucial juncture in the geopolitical situation when the US is attempting to cut China off from the supply chain. The US chose the cheap labour that was available in China to rely on production for their consumer economy at the onset of neoliberalism, coupled with China’s transition to a market economy. But now that the fourth industrial revolution has ripened and there are fewer jobs, the US is attempting to move the production base back to America. This transition has also been influenced by additional elements such as COVID, the Russia-Ukraine War, and other geopolitical power struggles. Therefore, a documentary about the production scenario garners a lot of scholarly interest.
China has tamed itself to the throne of the World Economy using all strict discipline and a spirit to position itself at the top of the world power structure. A significant portion of Chinese goods is produced for the global market. It has tamed itself to adapt to this global market demand by maintaining order and uniformity among its people. It would not be incorrect to draw parallels with Chaplin’s masterpiece ‘Modern Times’ when people are engaged endlessly in mechanical production and their aspiring dreams to climb up the social ladder. Jessica Kingdon’s filmmaking is unique in that she does not offer any critique of these systems, instead leaving it up to the audience to take their stand with a pinch of the obvious American bias.
Jacob Joshy completed his BTech from College of Engineering Trivandrum and currently works at a consulting firm. In addition to his field of work, he is passionate about economics, politics and history. A wannabe writer, Jacob loves to spend his free time reading books and watching movies.