Jiaying Sim

  • PhD candidate

Film & Television Studies

email: j.sim.1@research.gla.ac.uk


Research title

Affective and Sensorial Cinematic Productions of Transnational Chinese Bodies

Summary of research

My project begins with a simple premise: There is no such thing as an essential Chinese body. I contend that these bodies are affectively produced and circulated in different ways. I attend to one manifestation of this, via cinema. Cinema here refers to the different areas of film production, distribution, exhibition, performance, and spectatorship that interact and counteract to generate affective and sensorial processes. 

This thesis regards the body—or bodies involved—in Chinese cinemas by tracing the affectivescapes produced through assemblages of bodyscapes that traverse in spite of representational modes of organisations that forcibly reduce and limit what the body can mean or do. It seeks to present an embodied web of (dis)connected, heterogeneous affective transformations that tracks the dynamic intensities and forces encapsulating and emerging through the bodies beyond materiality. Ethnicity and race must not be overlooked, especially when racial and ethnic differences are still exploited as biocultural or biopolitical currency to advance specific agendas based on the stratification and hierarchizing of arbitrary visual appearances. This is not to say that there are racial and ethnic essentialisms. Instead, through the exploration of these Chinese films, it becomes clear just how vulnerable the body is to shifting molar forces and discourses that threaten to lay themselves upon its materiality. While the body-as-image is constantly threatened by the imposition of social normativity, the materiality of the actual body embodies a potentiality to express virtual forces that write within and without these larger discourses. It follows that by beginning from the body, a dynamic theory of cinema that reflects the specificities of each singular film--and its relationality to the different bodies involved--may emerge. At the same time, a theory of the body and affectivity may emerge through this approach towards cinema. 

My argument is informed by various interdisciplinary scholarship that include embodied active spectatorship, theories of affect and corporeality, discourses of transnationalism and globalisation, postcolonial and cultural studies, as well as film-philosophy. My research synthesises these materials to present an argument that moves away from debates about the authenticity of cultural representation, or exhaustive and naturalised definitions of Chinese culture. The films discussed are produced from the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hollywood, and could be said to feature bodies before the screen that express visual markers of Chinese ethnicity. However, each case study demonstrates varying propensities where screen-audience-cinema bodies function affectively to disrupt the ease of which we may organise these films based on a fixed, pre-existing ethnic Chinese body. As such, the body/bodies in these films are never complete nor static in constructions, nor do they express an inherent sense of meaning. Instead, it is most effectively considered as a sum of its functions, and what the body can do (within and without cinema). This is especially relevant considering how the ethnic Chinese body in question constantly struggles to escape doctrines that are easily imposed upon its appearance as essential definitions of what the body means. This dissertation highlights how the body, especially through the medium of cinema, responds most freely and creatively by becoming an affective body-without-organs. Rather than to attend to my case studies immediately through either a solely cultural, national, transnational, or other representational lens that dictate what the body should mean in hierarchical, structured and fixed dimensions, thinking from the body reveal unorganised, free-floating forces that produce and are produced through different forms of embodiment in relation to Chinese cinemas.



  • Sim, Jiaying. "Embodiment, Curation, Exhibition: Report on Douglas Gordon’s Pretty much every film and video work from about 1992 until now. (Television, Video, Installation)" Screen Bodies, Vol 1.1 (2015) [Forthcoming]
  • Sim, Jiaying. "The Embodiment of Eros: Making Sense of Wong Kar-wai’s ‘The Hand". Transnational Chinese Cinema: Corporeality, Desire, and Ethics. Dec 2014. 
  • 'Southeast Asian Independent Cinema' in The Singapore Review of Books. (November 12, 2013). Review of Tilman Baumgärtel’s Southeast Asian Independent Cinema: Essays Documents, Interviews (2012)
  • 2015: Research Support Award (University of Glasgow, UK)
  • 2015: Conference Travel Grant (Open University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
  • 2014: Principal's Early Career Mobility Fund, funded research visit to Hong Kong University and Hong Kong Film Archive in 2015. (University of Glasgow)
  • 2012: Nanyang Technological University Overseas Conference/Travel Fund (Singapore)
  • 2011-2013: Nanyang Technological University Research Scholarship, £13,000 awarded for full-time post-graduate studies in Master of Arts (English Literature)
  • 'Digitally Remastered Cinematic Bodies in Li Han Hsiang’s Yellow Plum Opera Films'. Hong Kong: Research Institute for Digital Culture and Humanities (RIDCH) Conference on Digital Humanities 2015 & Conference on Digital Culture 2015. Dec 17-18, 2015
  • 'Making Sense of Wong Kar-Wai’s The Hand'. Singapore: Nanyang Technological University—Transcultural Imaginaries: Making New, Making Strange. June 14-17, 2013.
  • 'Smelling Out Another Cinema'. Cluj-Napoca, Romania: Sapientia University—The Cinema of Sensations. May 25-27, 2012.
  • Graduate Teacher Assistant:  "Looking, Listening, Reading", Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow. (Sep-Dec, 2014; Sep-Dec 2015)
  • Graduate Teacher Assistant: "Singapore Literature and Culture" English Division, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological  University, Singapore. (Jan-May, 2013)
  • Graduate Teacher Assistant: "Approaches to English Literature" English Division, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological  University, Singapore. (Aug-Dec, 2012)
  • Assistant Editor, Screen Bodies (Berghann Journals)
  • 2015: Guest Speaker at Hong Kong University's Speaker Series
  • 2015: Visiting Guest Lecturer at City University of Hong Kong.