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Mainstream Culture Refocused

Television Drama, Society, and the Production of Meaning in Reform-Era China

Xueping Zhong

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The idea of writing a book on Chinese television drama began to take root in the year 2000, when a Chinese-television-related conference was held at Tufts University. I thank a former colleague, Wang Qingping, for proposing and organizing the conference. I would also like to thank my colleagues, especially Vida Johnson and Christiane Romero, of the Department of German, Russian, and ...

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Introduction: Mainstream Culture Refocused: Toward an Understanding of Chinese Television Drama

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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 ...

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Chapter One. Looking through the Negatives: Filmic-Televisual Intertextuality and Ideological Renegotiations

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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 ...

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Chapter Two. Re-collecting "History" on Television: "Emperor Dramas," National Identity, and the Question of Historical Consciousness

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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 ...

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Chapter Three. In Whose Name?: "Anticorruption Dramas" and Their Ideological Implications

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pp. 73-96

Since Heavens 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 ...

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Chapter Four. Beyond Romance: "Youth Drama," Social Change, and the Postrevolution Search for Idealism

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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 ...

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Chapter Five. Also beyond Romance: Women, Desire, and the Ideology of Happiness in "Family-Marriage Drama"

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pp. 123-143

Nowhere in the post-Mao reform era has the rise of the idea and pursuit of xingfu, 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 ...

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Chapter Six. Listening to Popular Poetics: Watching Songs Composed for Television Dramas

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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 ...

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Epilogue: Intellectuals, Mainstream Culture, and Social Transformation

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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 ...


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pp. 165-192


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pp. 193-196


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pp. 197-200


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pp. 201-214


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pp. 215-219

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860660
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834173

Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794925350
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mainstream Culture Refocused

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Subject Headings

  • Popular culture -- China.
  • Television plays, Chinese -- History and criticism.
  • Television -- Social aspects -- China.
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