Reclaiming Authority: The Narrative Politics of Lost Privilege in Contemporary China

  • Jennifer Hubbert


Meng Jinghui’s 2002 film, Chicken Poets, is a movie about Ouyang Yunfei, a thirty-something year old poet who has lost his voice in China’s consumer society. Although Ouyang has published a book of poetry, it is not widely read, and the revelation of his occupation to security officers at the beginning of the film meets with derision and laughter. Finding himself suffering from a lack of remunerative employment and estrangement from his intellectual passion, Ouyang renounces his artistic mission and joins the latest business venture of a former college friend selling black chicken eggs, declaiming the worth of the product alongside laments over his inability to write “successful” poetry. Desperate to reclaim his intellectual voice, Ouyang enlists the aid of a magical compact disc that writes poetry for him, turning the artist into a money-generating celebrity whose face graces advertising billboards and television talk shows. However, such success arrives with a price. The Faustian bargain struck by Ouyang comes in the form of a “poetry” that is merely catchy televised, advertising ditties, accompanied by disco-dancing hipsters, reaping profits for large business conglomerates. In the end, technology and consumption ambush art, and Ouyang is left wondering about the place of poetry in the modern scheme of things. Mired in an existential dilemma on the nature of value, the intellectual is trumped by market mechanisms that determine individual worth.


Moral Authority Narrative Form Chinese Intellectual Personal Suffering National Crisis 
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© Reza Hasmath and Jennifer Hsu 2009

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  • Jennifer Hubbert

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