popular culture, mass culture

popular culture, mass culture
(tongsu wenhua, dazhong wenhua)
Social concept
Tongsu wenhua (popular culture) emerged in the late 1970s, developed in the 1980s, and was transformed in the 1990s, when it came to include commercialized and industrialized ‘mass culture’. From 1979 through the mid 1980s, tongsu wenhua was shaped by Hong Kong and Taiwan-style (popular) culture (Gangtai liuxing wenhua), particularly film and music (see Kong-Tai style). A high ‘culture fever’ (wenhua re) in the mid 1980s created an ‘elite culture’ (jingying wenhua), which promoted ‘enlightenment’ and critiqued traditional Chinese culture. Differing from this elite culture, tongsu wenhua included tabloid newspapers, mass-circulation monthlies, cartoon books, pop music and martial arts films and martial arts fiction. Since 1992, when Deng Xiaoping delivered his Southern Excursion Talks (see Southern Excursion Talks (Deng Xiaoping, 1992)), tongsu wenhua has been gradually transformed into a commercialized mass culture, or ‘consumer culture’ (xiaofei wenhua). The transformation has blurred the boundaries between the ‘high’ and the ‘low’, between the elite and the masses, between official (state) and non-official (society), and between cultural and commodity production.
The recent development of ‘popular culture’ can be traced back to past revolutionary practices. The Chinese Communist Party had incorporated many elements of regional, folk and traditional culture into an official popular culture. Mao Zedong’s ‘Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Literature and Art’ in May 1942 institutionalized the concept of the ‘people’ (renmin). Since then, cultural production has aimed at ‘serving the people’, a departure from the goal of the revolutionary intellectuals who were based in the major cities (Shanghai and Beijing) during the 1920s. However, during the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife) played an important role in guiding the development of revolutionary popular culture. As a former film star in Shanghai who never liked folksong or folk music, regarding it as naive, vulgar and low, she openly voiced her contempt for kitschy folk plays. Jiang believed in the blending of Peking opera (Jingju) with Western orchestral music and mixing folk dance with Western ballet. As a result of her influence, ethnic and folk entertainment was never a focus in the official discourse of cultural production during the Cultural Revolution. Instead, ‘model plays’ (Yangbanxi), focusing on the representation of heroic characters, dominated the cultural scene (see Xiqu). The representation of such models (i.e. workers, peasants and soldiers) as the basis of cultural production continued until the 1980s when state-run cultural institutions began to seriously consider consumer reception of their products.
Since the late 1980s, cultural production has begun to reject the hero or model principle to focus on the stories of ‘ordinary folks’ (laobaixing). Some successful examples include Wang Shuo’s novels, Ai Jing’s songs, CCTV (Chinese Central Television)’s programme Living Space (Shenghuo gongjian) and Feng Xiaogang’s television series and New Year’s movies. As the representation of the ordinary person becomes the norm in the popular culture industry, tongsu wenhua is no longer the topdown revolutionary ‘culture of the masses’ (qunzhong wenhua), but a commercial ‘mass culture’ (dazhong wenhua) from below.
Cheng, Fong-ching (2001). The Popular Culture Movement of the 1980s’. In Gloria Davies (ed.), Voicing Concerns: Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 71–86.
Chen, Fong-ching and Jin, Guantao (1997). From Youthful Manuscripts to River Elegy: The Chinese Popular Cultural Movement and Political Transformation, 1979–1989. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press.
Dai, Jinhua (1999). ‘Invisible Writing: The Politics of Chinese Mass Culture in the 1990s’. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 11.2 (Spring): 31–60.
Huang, Huilin (ed.) (1999). Dangdai Zhongguo dazhong wenhua yanjiu [Studies on Mass Culture in Contemporary China]. Beijing: Beijing shifan daxue.
Kaikonen, Marja (1995). ‘From Knights to Nudes: Chinese Popular Literature since Mao’. Stockholm Journal of East Asian Studies 5:85–110.
——(1999). ‘Stories and Legends: China’s Largest Contemporary Popular Literature Journals’. In Michel Hockx (ed.), The Literary Field of Twentieth Century China. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 134–60.
Link, Perry, Madsen, Richard and Pickowicz, Paul G. (1989). Unofficial China: Popular Culture and Thought in the People’s Republic. Boulder: Westview Press.
——(2002). Popular China: Unofficial Culture in a Globalizing Society. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Liu, Kang (2000). ‘Popular Culture and Culture of the Masses in Contemporary China’. In Zhang Xudong and Arif Dirlik (eds), Post-modernism and China. Durham: Duke University Press, 123–44.
Lu, Sheldon (2002). ‘Popular Culture: Toward an Historical and Dialectical Method’. In idem (ed.), China, Transnational Visuality, Global Postmodernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 185–212.
Wang, Jing (2001). The State Question in Chinese Popular Cultural Studies’. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 2.1:35–52.
Wu, Dingbo and Murphy, Patrick (eds) (1994). Handbook of Chinese Popular Culture. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Zha, Jianying (1995). China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers are Transforming a Culture. New York: The New Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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