TV China: A Reader on New Media

TV China: A Reader on New Media


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If radio and film were the emblematic media of the Maoist era, television has rapidly established itself as the medium of the "marketized" China and in the diaspora. In less than two decades, television has become the dominant medium across the Chinese cultural world. TV China is the first anthology in English on this phenomenon. Covering the People's Republic, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Chinese diaspora, these 12 original essays introduce and analyze the Chinese television industry, its programming, the policies shaping it, and its audiences.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253220264
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 01/28/2009
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 3 Months

About the Author

Ying Zhu is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies in the Department of Media Culture, City University of New York, Staten Island.

Chris Berry is Professor of Film and Television Studies in the Department of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Read an Excerpt

TV China

By Ying Zhu, Chris Berry

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2009 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35257-6


Toward Television Regionalization in Greater China and Beyond


The patterns in which television products are internationalized have drawn unfailing interest from scholars, researchers, and policymakers over the last few decades. This interest is due to the important ideological influence that television is assumed to have in identity politics. One major approach to transborder television is derived from the theory of media imperialism, which stresses the asymmetrical relationship between the Western centers and the peripheries of the East and the homogenization of culture (Schiller 1969; Boyd-Barrett 1977, 1998). Underlying this critical stance is the perception that cultural sovereignty and cultural diversity are at risk. Since the 1980s, studies have called for reconsideration of media imperialism because of the rediscovery of the nation-state, the audience's active reception of televisual texts, and the elaboration of more sophisticated patterns of television interactions across borders (e.g., C.-C. Lee 1980; Straubhaar 1991; Sinclair, Jacka, and Cunningham 1996; Barker 1997).

Although globalization is an elusive concept (Hamelink 1999; Held and McGrew 2002), it is central to contemporary discourse on world media and culture (Richards and French 2000; Barker 1997; Tomlinson 1999). The surge in such discourse has renewed interest in the role of the nation-state and the issue of cultural homogenization in this age of globalized communication. To both critical theorists and theorists of globalization, the nation-state is susceptible to the influence of transnational agencies and is rapidly losing its relevancy as communication technologies transcend national boundaries and overcome distance (Golding 1994; Waters 1995; Wriston 1992; Held and McGrew 2002). At the same time, the proliferation of Hollywood products in the cultural market has led some researchers to lament the standardization of culture, resulting in what one characterizes as "the unification of the world under the signs of Mickey Mouse and Bruce Willis" (Gitlin 2002: 21).

Is there a role for the nation-state as television becomes more globalized? Will this globalization result in the homogenization of television culture? Informed by these two general questions, this study attempts to illustrate, through the formation of the Greater China television market, how the nation-state is all but dead and how regionalization should be brought in to make up for the deficiencies of the globalization perspective in accounting for the patterns of transborder television. It also aims to provide an account of how the Greater China television market is being formed. I will examine the strategies and processes that the major players adopt in exploiting this regional market. I will also go beyond Greater China to examine how television programs from its important neighbors Japan and South Korea are affecting regional dynamics. And I will discuss the implications of the resulting patterns for our understanding of television regionalization and globalization.

The Centrality of the China Market

The term "Greater China" may be interpreted in several ways, ranging from the political or economic integration of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China to cultural exchanges among people of Chinese descent around the world (Harding 1993). This essay regards Greater China as "the economic, political and cultural space defined by the interactions among its three primary constituent parts — Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China" (J. Chan 1996: 126). Although Hong Kong was reunified in 1997 with China, which also claims Taiwan as an integral part, the three regions represent different political, economic, and cultural systems. I will therefore treat their television configurations separately. Television that spans the regional boundaries can be considered as transborder or transnational, depending on the ownership of a television player.

Among the three constituents of Greater China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are by themselves marginal markets to transnational television corporations because of their small sizes. Hong Kong is a city with 7 million people, and Taiwan is a region populated by about 24 million, about 75 percent of whom live in urban areas. However, because of their general affluence, these two places do not completely escape the eyes of transnational players. To the transnational players, any extended market can only add to their revenue by allowing them to recycle what they have already produced. But mainland China is the market they covet. Indeed, the China market is also what the broadcasters of Hong Kong and Taiwan crave.

The China market owes its appeal to its large size; China's population is four times that of the United States and one-fifth of the whole of humanity. The populations of many of its provinces match, and sometimes surpass, those of large countries in Western Europe. Given that China is still a developing country with the majority of the population living in rural areas, the economic value of the China television market should not be equated with the population size. What is of value to the transnational and cross-border advertisers is primarily the urban population. The television market potential of China is uneven, with the greatest potential located in the big cities in the coastal region.

The value of the China television market is supported by the high rate at which China's economy has been growing since the early 1990s. At the initial stage of Chinese development, transnational advertising was effective only in making brand names known to the public, who, however, had no real purchasing power. Mass consumption became a major urban lifestyle in the metropolitan areas in China in the early 2000s. While the per capita incomes in these areas are meager by Western standards, they allow some Chinese to acquire not just television sets and washing machines but cellular phones, automobiles, and even private apartments. The urban affluent choose their clothing not just to keep warm but also to show their status and identity. Traveling in and outside the country has become a favorite pastime for many people during weekends and vacations. All these consumption trends have rendered television advertising a formidable business that has been growing at a double-digit rate in the last decade (Huang and Green 2000). What attracts the transnational television players is not necessarily the current value of the China market but its potential. It is therefore strategic for transnational players to secure their position in China, even before it fully opens up. An analysis of Greater China television must grant mainland China a central place.

Television Systems in Greater China

The television systems of the three constituent parts of Greater China are as different as their political configurations. Hong Kong was a British colony that was transformed into a Special Administrative Region of China, and it retains autonomy under the scheme of "one country, two systems." Taiwan, a political rival of the Chinese Communist Party for more than half a century, is a new democracy ruled by the Democratic Progressive Party at the time of writing, which ousted the Kuomintang Party in 2000. Mainland China is a socialist nation that is trying to modernize itself through economic reforms and an open-door policy.

Table 1.1 highlights the differences among the television systems in their ownership, policy toward transborder television, audience characteristics, and exports. Television in Hong Kong operates primarily within a market structure whose parameters are set by government regulators (Chan, Ma, and So 1997; So, Chan, and Lee 2000). Unlike regulatory regimes in many other parts of the world, the licensing conditions under which broadcast television was introduced to Hong Kong did not require a certain amount of local content. While the government has set some limits on the publication of pornographic and politically sensitive materials, government interference in mediated content is minimal in practice. Without an explicit and elaborate cultural policy, Hong Kong is virtually a free port in information; the flow of media in and out is scarcely controlled. Consequently, Hong Kong television has to face competition from the world.

Hong Kong has one of the world's largest libraries of Chinese television programs and is an important regional exporter of audiovisual products (To and Lau 1995). Hong Kong television productions have proved to be very popular in overseas Chinese markets, being distributed through videos, cable and satellite television, piracy, and spillover (in the Guangdong area). The major markets include Taiwan, China, Southeast Asian countries, and Chinese overseas communities in North America and Europe. Hong Kong television first made its name in Taiwan, and later, in the 1980s, became popular in China. Hong Kong television programs owe their competitive edge in China and Taiwan to their higher production quality and quick tempo, their inclusion of well-known stars, and their depiction of modern living. However, with the novelty of Hong Kong television waning and domestic products offering increasing competition, only a few television programs from Hong Kong can draw the crowds in China and Taiwan that they once did.

Taiwan has a long history of authoritarian rule that ended as the Kuomintang (KMT), the ruling party, embarked on a liberalization and democratization program in 1987 (Chen 2002). However, television in Taiwan is very susceptible to the influence of the KMT, the military, the government, and the currently ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Control goes with ownership: the board directors and managers of each station have been appointed by people who are closely affiliated with the interested parties. Although these free-to-air broadcasters are controlled one way or the other by political interests, they are run as profitable enterprises, resulting in a commercial model that has grown out of oligopolistic competition and a government-business alliance (C.-C. Lee 1980). To weaken the media base of the KMT, Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian in 2004 launched a policy to depoliticize the media sector by requiring political parties or organizations to stop managing television stations. This policy was successfully implemented in 2006, and it is expected to make the market the most important factor in shaping the development of Taiwanese television. As important as the terrestrial broadcasters in Taiwan are the country's cable networks, which enjoy a penetration rate of more than 76 percent and offer more than 90 channels (Chen 2002).

With the gradual opening of the China market and the penetration of satellite television from Hong Kong, Taiwanese broadcasters are developing a more acute sense of international marketing (J. Chan 1996). Taiwanese television dramas, including martial arts stories, period dramas, romances, and contemporary serials, are very popular in China. Taiwanese dramas are characterized by their emphasis on traditional values and virtues such as fidelity, loyalty, thrift, and the like, and this emphasis seems to resonate strongly with the audience in China. Taiwan began exporting television to Hong Kong in 1971. In more recent years, mainland China has become a more important market for Taiwan, and after the early 1990s, Taiwanese programs began to enjoy some revived interest in Hong Kong.

State-owned and party-controlled, television in China has nonetheless seen important changes in the last two decades, such as the relaxation of ideological control and regulation (Pan and Chan 2000; Huang and Green 2000; Wei 2000; Chang 2002). The cultural anti-foreignism that prevailed during the radical years has subsided, making way for the inflow of Western or capitalist ways of life. Before the reforms, the only foreign programs that were shown were imported from other socialist nations (Hong 1998). Today, both broadcast and cable stations are allowed to show programs originating from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, and other parts of the world, provided that they get political clearance from the government and do not exceed prescribed quotas (Liu 1993; J. Chan 1994a), especially during prime time.

In general, only certain television programs from China are popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong audiences find the Chinese programs dull and their ideological tone overbearing. Not until the late 1990s did Taiwan allow its television stations to broadcast programs from mainland China. Some of the period dramas proved to be rather popular with the Taiwanese audience. China became more aware of the importance of exporting its programs in the 1990s. CCTV, China's state broadcaster, established Channel 4 to broadcast programs over satellite for audiences in Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, the audience for these programs is insignificant.

Major Players

There are three types of television players in Greater China: (1) global players such as News Corporation and AOL Time Warner, which have significant television operations in many parts of the world; (2) regional players such as Phoenix TV, which focus primarily on regional broadcasting; and (3) national players such as China's CCTV and Hong Kong's Television Broadcasts, or TVB (HK-TVB), which treat regional broadcasting as an extension of their domestic operation. The global players may simply make their home programs available in Asia in general and Greater China in particular. CNN, the BBC, HBO, ESPN, MTV, and the Discovery Channel are the notable examples. The global players may also set up specific channels to target the whole of Greater China or its constituent parts. The Chinese Channel of News Corporation's STAR TV and AOL Time Warner's Chinese Entertainment TV are good examples of such channels. The national players form the basic fabric of regional broadcasting as they take part in program trades, joint productions, and local distribution. The more powerful of the national players, such as CCTV and HK-TVB, can set up custom-built channels for regional broadcasting, such as the former's Channel 4 and the latter's TVB8.

Table 1.2 describes some of the more important television players in Greater China. Although Hong Kong pales in market size, it stands out as the center of broadcasting in the region because of its geopolitical position, advanced communication infrastructure, and rule of law. Consequently, it has become the headquarters for quite a few transborder television operations.

Before I proceed to generalize the strategies and processes of transborder television in Greater China, I deem it necessary to give an example of each type of broadcaster (global, regional, and national).

News Corporation's STAR TV: A Global Player

STAR TV, a subsidiary of News Corporation, is the largest satellite broadcaster in Asia, and has been broadcasting forty services in eight languages to more than 300 million viewers in fifty-three countries from its Hong Kong base since 1991. Besides India, China is STAR TV's major target market. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation made an entry into China in 1996 by forming a transnational alliance, investing in Phoenix TV, STAR TV's joint venture with Liu Changle, a mainland Chinese with a military background (Otmazgin 2005: 499).

It did not take long for STAR TV to realize that its original idea of pan-Asian broadcasting was not feasible. It divided its services into northern and southern arenas in 1994, with China as the main target in the former and India as the main target in the latter. The immediate success of Zee TV, STAR TV's joint venture in India (broadcast in Hindi), further confirmed STAR TV's need to go local. As a result, STAR TV continually sought joint venture opportunities in the region. Reinforcing this effort is the success of Phoenix TV in China. After struggling for more than a decade, STAR TV is less a regional broadcaster and more a conglomeration of half a dozen local broadcasters slugging it out market by market (Hughes 1998: 6).


Excerpted from TV China by Ying Zhu, Chris Berry. Copyright © 2009 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction Ying Zhu and Chris Berry

Part 1. Institution
1. Toward Television Regionalization in Greater China and Beyond Joseph M. Chan
2. CCTV in the Reform Years: A New Model for China's Television? Junhao Hong, Yanmei Lü, and William Zou
3. Hong Kong Television: Same as It Ever Was? Karin Gwinn Wilkins

Part 2. Programming
4. Shanghai Television's Documentary Channel: Chinese Television as Public Space Chris Berry
5. Made in Taiwan: An Analysis of Meteor Garden as an East Asian Idol Drama Hsiu-Chuang Deppman
6. Ritual, Television, and State Ideology: Rereading CCTV's 2006 Spring Festival Gala Xinyu Lu

Part 3. Reception
7. Mediation Journalism in Chinese Television: Double-Time Narrations of SARS Haiqing Yu
8. Building a Chinese "Middle Class": Consumer Education and Identity Construction in Television Land Janice Hua Xu
9. Chinese Television Audience Research Tongdao Zhang

Part 4. Going Global
10. Hong Kong Television and the Making of New Diasporic Imaginaries Amy Lee
11. Globalizing Television: Chinese Satellite Television outside Greater China Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong
12. Transnational Circulation of Chinese-Language Television Dramas Ying Zhu

Appendix: Relevant Milestone Events in the Development of Chinese Television
List of Contributors

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