Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mainstream Culture Refocused

Mainstream Culture Refocused: Television Drama, Society, and the Production of Meaning in Reform-Era China

Copyright Date: 2010
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mainstream Culture Refocused
    Book Description:

    Serialized television drama (dianshiju), perhaps the most popular and influential cultural form in China over the past three decades, offers a wide and penetrating look at the tensions and contradictions of the post-revolutionary and pro-market period. Zhong Xueping’s timely new work draws attention to the multiple cultural and historical legacies that coexist and challenge each other within this dominant form of story telling. Although scholars tend to focus their attention on elite cultural trends and avant garde movements in literature and film, Zhong argues for recognizing the complexity of dianshiju’s melodramatic mode and its various subgenres, in effect "refocusing" mainstream Chinese culture. Mainstream Culture Refocused opens with an examination of television as a narrative motif in three contemporary Chinese art-house films. Zhong then turns her attention to dianshiju’s most important subgenres. "Emperor dramas" highlight the link between popular culture’s obsession with emperors and modern Chinese intellectuals’ preoccupation with issues of history and tradition and how they relate to modernity. In her exploration of the "anti-corruption" subgenre, Zhong considers three representative dramas, exploring their diverse plots and emphases. "Youth dramas’" rich array of representations reveal the numerous social, economic, cultural, and ideological issues surrounding the notion of youth and its changing meanings. The chapter on the "family-marriage" subgenre analyzes the ways in which women’s emotions are represented in relation to their desire for "happiness." Song lyrics from music composed for television dramas are considered as "popular poetics." Their sentiments range between nostalgia and uncertainty, mirroring the social contradictions of the reform era. The Epilogue returns to the relationship between intellectuals and the production of mainstream cultural meaning in the context of China’s post-revolutionary social, economic, and cultural transformation. Provocative and insightful, Mainstream Culture Refocused will appeal to scholars and students in studies of modern China generally and of contemporary Chinese media and popular culture specifically.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6066-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION Mainstream Culture Refocused: Toward an Understanding of Chinese Television Drama
    (pp. 1-27)

    It seems only yesterday that scholars of Chinese literature and culture were all in an uproar about the “second renaissance” of modern Chinese literature and the new generations of Chinese filmmakers who burst onto the cultural scene of the 1980s. Since the early 1990s, however, this cultural landscape has evolved, and literature and film no longer occupy the central position they held during the 1980s. Among other things, they have had to contend with television and other forms of commercialized mass media and the Internet for public attention. One of the major storytelling forms in China today exists on television...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Looking through the Negatives: Filmic-Televisual Intertextuality and Ideological Renegotiations
    (pp. 28-46)

    Television and film tend not to mesh in current established academic disciplines. The “disciplined” film-television divide in academia has effected more than just a disproportionate division of labor in the studies of these two cultural forms. It has also limited the role of the critic when it comes to analyzing, interpreting, and critiquing popular culture including television, which continues to be viewed as being too “extreme mainstream” to merit analysis and interpretation.¹ As indicated in the Introduction, recent publications on television culture in China in general and television drama in particular, by scholars mostly in media studies and some in...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Re-collecting “History” on Television: “Emperor Dramas,” National Identity, and the Question of Historical Consciousness
    (pp. 47-72)

    Emperors are back, on television. In the last two decades, television dramas about China’s dynastic emperors have periodically received widespread popular and critical attention. Although a relatively recent addition, “emperor drama” has become an important subcategory of “history drama” on television. Why emperors? In the West, scholarly attention to this phenomenon has just begun. Ying Zhu’s studies onThe Yongzheng Court(Yongzheng wangchao, 1998) (her translationYongzheng Dynasty), for example, situates the making of the drama within the context of contemporary China, recognizing it as “political discourse” in relation to the role of intellectuals.¹ In China, most critics have dismissed...

  7. CHAPTER THREE In Whose Name? “Anticorruption Dramas” and Their Ideological Implications
    (pp. 73-96)

    SinceHeavens Above(Cangtian zaishang) was aired in 1995, anticorruption drama has been one of the most popularly received television subgenres in China.¹ Between 1995 and 2005, anticorruption drama became a mainstay in programming on television channels at all levels, thereby periodically making corruption a publicly aired social problem on television.² Since corruption has plagued the reform era in China and is generally believed to have gone from bad to worse, especially since the early 1990s, the popularity of such dramas is easy to understand. Jeffrey Kinkley’s recent study of the anticorruption or, in his words, “political novel” in “late...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Beyond Romance: “Youth Drama,” Social Change, and the Postrevolution Search for Idealism
    (pp. 97-122)

    Across the heavily advertised landscape of contemporary China, many of the billboards highlight “youth” (and femininity), demonstrating globalizing consumer capitalism’s conquest of yet another new frontier. In this new frontier, the desire economy has significantly changed what it means to be young in China. But questions about the relation of these changes in the youth culture to the larger context of modern Chinese history and the latest social transformation in China remain underexplored. “Youth” is a key social, cultural and political marker in modern Chinese history. Youth-oriented “visuality” at once manifests desire and ambition, but also anxiety, uncertainty, disappointment, despair,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Also beyond Romance: Women, Desire, and the Ideology of Happiness in “Family-Marriage Drama”
    (pp. 123-143)

    Nowhere in the post-Mao reform era has the rise of the idea and pursuit ofxingfu, or “happiness,” by women in China been better manifested than in popular culture representations of such themes as love, marriage, and family, including television drama. What does “happiness” mean in gender terms in the post-women’s-liberation age? Why is it assumed to be particularly important to women? How are we to understand the changing socioeconomic conditions and cultural values that direct (especially) women’s attention toward a search for personal “happiness” in such domains as love or heterosexual romance, marriage, and family? What is the relationship...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Listening to Popular Poetics: Watching Songs Composed for Television Dramas
    (pp. 144-161)

    This chapter switches gears to focus on a ubiquitous but little noticed phenomenon: songs—especially their lyrics—composed for television dramas. In an age when poetry reading has become a marginalized activity, popular songs, among them those composed for television dramas, have, for better or for worse, become (popular) poetics of the age.¹ Together with the exponential increase in the production of television dramas in the last three decades, the bulk of songs composed for them has also accumulated into a phenomenon of its own. Some of them have become part of the regular repertoire of popular music, often heard...

  11. Epilogue: Intellectuals, Mainstream Culture, and Social Transformation
    (pp. 162-164)

    In arguing in my Introduction for the need to focus on mainstream Chinese culture, I contended that mainstream culture is where discursive or ideological struggles take place. The previous chapters demonstrate more specifically what I mean in saying that various cultural and historical legacies inform such types of cultural production as the television drama and its representational mode. In television drama, different ideological positions and perspectives coexist, manifested, melodramatically, via representations of different ideas and competing values in response to social change and the tensions and problems that follow. This characteristic is shared by subgenres I am unable to include...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 165-192)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 193-196)
  14. Filmography
    (pp. 197-200)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-214)
  16. Index
    (pp. 215-220)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-222)