China’s 1978 reform opened the door of a formerly repressive and isolated society. The ensuing loosening of state control and influx of new information induced waves of crazes in urban areas, especially in the 1980s. The crazes can be categorized into three types: socioeconomic crazes, high culture crazes and popular culture crazes. Socioeconomic crazes were a result of people’s reactions to the sudden emergence of new economic and political freedoms after the reform. Both the high culture craze and the popular culture craze resulted from a sudden influx of new information from the West and a rediscovery of China’s past. High culture crazes can be further divided into three subtypes: Western culture crazes, (Chinese) culture criticism crazes and traditional Chinese culture crazes. The first two subtypes are two sides of the same coin. While the culture criticism crazes saw Chinese culture as a major hurdle to modernization, the Western culture crazes looked to the West for solutions.
The frequent crazes have created great uncertainties for urban life. Culture crazes introduced new values and ways of life incompatible with the prevailing orthodoxy, while socioeconomic crazes often turned past winners into losers. Thus, although crazes came into being under the impetus for change, they also brought great pain to both those inside and those outside of them.
Crazes have been a vital part in China’s sociopolitical life since the reform. For example, the 1989 pro-democracy movement was induced in part by the culture crazes of the mid 1980s, and Li Hongzhi’s Falun gong was a product of the Qigong craze (a traditional Chinese culture craze; see Qigong (history)). While the 1989 Movement is arguably one of the largest rebellions in Chinese history, Falun gong is currently a big headache for the Chinese regime.
Major social fevers in urban China during the 1980s
1 Socio-economic fevers
(a) Study fever and diploma fever: arose because early reform policies emphasized the role of intellectuals in economic reform and greatly elevated the political status of intellectuals.
(b) Political career fever (Congzheng re): arose due to massive recruitment of state cadres among university graduates during the early 1980s, and diminished as state offices became saturated by the mid 1980s.
(c) Business fever: arose with the opportunities created by the market-oriented reform, and peaked in 1988, when some intellectuals and students, many in a protesting mood, got involved in commercial ventures.
(d) Going abroad fever: students and some young urban workers tried any means to work abroad in order to have a better life and career and to escape from Chinese realities. Peaked in the late 1980s when the opportunities to go abroad increased and the reform was in crisis.
(e) Special Economic Zones (SEZs) fever: massive numbers of people flooded the SEZs looking for better opportunities. The most infamous such fever was in Hainan in the late 1980s, when hundreds of thousands moved to this newly founded island province and SEZ.
2 High culture fevers
(a) Sartre, Nietszche and Freud fevers: a series of social fevers found Chinese intellectuals and students searching for meaning in the wake of the decline of Marxism.
(b) Religion fever: in cities, mainly the fever for Christianity. People looked for alternative faiths after Marxism, although many followed just out of pro-Western curiosity.
(c) Culture fever: culture criticism started in the mid 1980s and peaked in 1988 with the TV series Heshang (River Elegy) and the earth citizenship discussion. The central idea was that Chinese culture should be held responsible for the failed development and tragedies of Mao’s era.
(d) Searching-for-roots fever (Xungen re); roots-searching literature (see Scar literature; Scar art), New Confucianism, Yijing and Qigong fevers: most of these fevers were apolitical. They marked the revival of Chinese culture after the death of Mao and were led by intellectuals absorbed by features of traditional Chinese culture.
3 Popular culture fevers
(a) The Hong Kong/Taiwan pop song fever: during the early 1980s, Hong Kong and Taiwan songs flooded the mainland. The state initially tried to resist but eventually acquiesced (see Kong-Tai style).
(b) Jeans fever, brand-name dress fever, make-up fever: Western and Hong Kong—style dress and ideas of beauty dominated Chinese cities and coastal areas during and after these and other similar fevers.
(c) Western food and holiday fevers: eating Western food and celebrating Western holidays such as Christmas became very popular from the mid 1980s, especially among students (see fast food (Western); holidays (Western)).
(d) Pop and movie star fever: Since the late 1980s, fans of movie stars and pop singers have acted more and more like their Western counterparts.
(e) Mahjong fever: mahjong fever represented the revival of many traditional recreational activites, rituals and superstitions.
(Adapted from Zhao Dingxin 2001:44–5)
Wang, Jing (1996). High Culture Fever. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Zhao, Dingxin (2001). The Power of Tiananmen: State-Society Relations and the 1989 Beijing Student Movement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ch. 2.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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