This 96-minute documentary presents a multidimensional overview of China’s special brand of capitalism, consumerism, and economic growth since 1978. In three well-structured sections, director Jessica Kingdon covers the levels of the capitalist structure: from factory workers, through aspiring middle-class entrepreneurs, to the newly wealthy elites and those serving them.

She begins with portraits of the large number of low-paid workers in factories doing repetitive dead-end jobs. Recruiters on the streets pitch their businesses by promising that they can sit while at work. Many other blue-collar jobs require long hours of standing.

Promoters of China as the World’s Factory, the Engine of the World’s Economy, and the Twenty-First Century Superpower have placed large electronic signs designed to motivate workers with slogans such as “Sense of Worth,” “Chinese Dream.” and “Work Hard. And All Wishes Come True.”

A water park in China

Attaining the Chinese Dream of success requires lots of hard inner and outer work such as a two-day workshop offered by the Star Boss Entrepreneurial Camp where the goal is to “Monetize Your Personal Brand.” As is the case all around the world, getting rich through the social media is the aim of millions of middle-class people. The use of livestreaming and selfies is all part of the game of winning more customers.

The variety of jobs and work situations is amazing. Here are just a few: a garment factory, a sex doll company, a business that makes pill bottles, a leading cosmetics enterprise, a flight attendant training program, a butler academy, a bodyguard school, a phone manufacturing company, a pen company, and many more.

Factory making sex dolls in China

No wonder many business experts point out that nearly everyone in the world has at least one item with the label “Made in China.”

Ascension can be described as an “observational documentary.” It encourages viewers to really pay attention to what they are witnessing. Although a few people depicted comment on their work, the film has no interviews, narration, or analysis. Yet it hits the mark by giving a fascinating look at contemporary China through its immensely creative cinematography by Kingdom and Nathan Truesdell and its innovative music by Dan Deacon.