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  • Celebrity in China ed. by Louise Edwards, Elaine Jeffreys
  • Haiqing Yu (bio)
Louise Edwards and Elaine Jeffreys, editors. Celebrity in China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010. xii, 286 pp. Paperback HK$195.00/US$25.00, isbn 978-9-622-09088-0.

Celebrity in China is a groundbreaking volume on China’s celebrity culture, the first of such to explore the construction and consumption of celebrity culture in global China. It is a carefully edited volume with one carefully written introductory chapter, written by the two editors, and ten chapters, from eleven additional contributors, on the diverse nature of celebrity in China. The chapters are organized in such a way as to reflect both the changing celebrity culture and its diversified nature in the Chinese context. The editors have done an excellent job by paying attention to links among the diversified themes in the chapters, not only in their introductory chapter but also throughout the book in each chapter. As the whole, the edited volume highlights the heterogeneous nature of celebrity production and consumption in China: we see the lingering effect of state-sponsored exemplary socialist subjects, promoted by its ideological apparatuses and their latest reincarnation as the Chinese Communist Party publicity machinery (Edwards, Guo, Jeffreys, and Hood); we witness the existent celebrity-making machinery at work in the context of domestic and transnational consumerism and [End Page 442] identity politics, in collaboration with media and advertising industries (Farquhar, Schein, Davies and Davies, and Davies); we also recognize the emergent modes of celebrity construction embodied in the self-made or do-it-yourself celebrities and antiestablishment or rebel celebrities (Kong and Roberts).

The focus of the book is on domestic celebrities who are flourishing in contemporary China. It also pays attention to the impact of the cultural flow of regional and global celebrity culture on the local celebrity industry, and to interactions of the Party-state with the consumer market and the transnational Chinese/ethnic cultural sphere. The book integrates multidisciplinary approaches, ranging from literary studies, anthropology, cultural studies, gender studies, and film studies to political science, social economics, and media studies. Celebrity is understood in a loose and broad sense, as equivalent to renwu (figures), models, or exemplars. The kinds of celebrities mentioned and discussed in the book range from modern statesmen like Mao and his successors to imperial officials in bygone eras (Edwards and Jeffreys); from luminaries of the cultural and business mainstream to personages of humble and marginalized background (Jeffreys, Hood, Farquhar, Kong, Schein, Davies and Davies, Davies, and Roberts); and from state-sponsored heroes (Edwards and Guo) to self-made rebel stars (Kong and Roberts). In terms of specific genres of renwu, the book discusses role models, or exemplars, as celebrities (Edwards and Guo), reluctant celebrities (Davies), accidental celebrities (Jeffreys), “aid celebrity” (Hood), sexualized celebrity (Davies and Davies), flexible and transnational celebrity (Schein), celebrity of authenticity (Farquhar), and “goodies”/“badies” celebrities (Kong and Roberts).

The introductory chapter lays both historical and theoretical grounds for and draws together common themes in the subsequent ten chapters. It provides a solid ground and contextualization of the celebrity culture globally, its Chinese features, and its connections with China’s socialist legacy and its capitalist developmental path. The editors point out that China’s celebrity constructions are diverse, reflecting the parallel histories and historical influences that condition and define the developing celebrity culture in China. They argue for taking celebrity seriously, as it opens space for further discussion of Chinese cultural transformation in comparative contexts.

Chapters 2 and 3 (by Louise Edwards and Yingjie Guo, respectively) address the continued role of the state in promoting role model celebrities through its powerful media and publicity machinery to serve political purposes. These state-sponsored exemplary subjects—military celebrities including famous soldiers such as Lei Feng, Ouyang Hai, Wang Jie, and Xu Honggang, and generals such as Ye Aiqun; or model mothers selected from the Hundred Excellent Mothers and Ten Outstanding Mothers campaigns—are promoted by the powerful state propaganda machinery in an effort to instill the correct value system into the society. However, despite the increasingly sophisticated publicity machinery used to put in place [End Page 443] socialist and...