Willing Collaborators: Foreign Partners in Chinese Media

Willing Collaborators: Foreign Partners in Chinese Media


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Now in paperback, this volume examines this phenomenon, looking at examples from film, documentary, television, animation and games.

In recent years, many media producers, screenwriters, technicians and investors from the Asia-Pacific region have been attracted to projects in the People's Republic of China. The Chinese state’s willingness to consider collaboration with foreign partners is a major factor that is enticing and supporting a range of new ventures. Projects, often with a lighter commercial entertainment feel, compared with the propaganda-oriented content of the past, are multiplying. With this surge in production and the availability of resources and locations, creative talent is moving to the Mainland from South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781786604248
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 04/06/2018
Series: Media, Culture and Communication in Asia-Pacific Societies Series
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 6.27(w) x 9.13(h) x 1.01(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Michael Keane is Professor of Chinese Media and Cultural Studies at Curtin University. He is Program Leader of the Digital China Lab. His key research interests are the digital transformation in China; East Asian cultural and media policy; and creative industries and cultural export strategies in China and East Asia. He is editor of the Handbook of China’s Cultural and Creative Industries (2016), and author of China’s Television Industry (2015), Creative Industries in China: Art, Design and Media (2013), and China’s New Creative Clusters: Governance, Human Capital and Regional Investment (2011).

Brian Yecies is Associate Professor in Communication and Media at the University of Wollongong, where he researches on film, digital media, creative industries, innovation ecosystems, and cultural policy. He is the author of Korea’s Occupied Cinemas, 1893-1948 (2011), The Changing Face of Korean Cinema, 1960-2015 (2016), and South Korea's Immersive Webtooniverse and the New Media Revolution (Rowman and Littlefield International, forthcoming) – co-authored with Ae-Gyung Shim. He is also a chief investigator on two Australian Research Council Discovery Projects: Digital China: From Cultural Presence to Innovative Nation (2017-2019), and Mobile Korean Webtoons: Creative Innovation in a New Digital Economy (2018-2020).

Terry Flew is Professor of Communications and Creative Industries, and a Chief Investigator with the Digital Media Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of The Creative Industries, Culture and Policy (2012), Global Creative Industries (2013), New Media: An Introduction (Oxford, 2014), Understanding Global Media (Palgrave, 2018) and co-author of Media Economics (2015). In 2019-20, he was President of the International Communication Association.

Read an Excerpt


The New International Division of Cultural Labor, Global Media Studies, and the Cultural Rise of China

Terry Flew

One of the recurring questions in studies of globalization is the weighting that should be given to internal and external factors in shaping the destiny of nation-states, and framing global development. The development of the media industries in China from the early 2000s to the present provides an important case study for consideration of such questions. China's rapid economic growth and development since the "reform and opening up" policies from 1978 onward has been based upon openness to trade and investment, access to global markets, and the utilization of Western technology and expertise accessed from around the world. With its huge workforce, strong internal governance through the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and global networks enabled by the Chinese diaspora worldwide, China proved to be ideally placed for the boom in outsourcing, offshoring, and global production that accompanied the transformations in transportation, communication, and computing technology that drove the rapid formation of global production networks in manufacturing from the 1980s onward.

Whereas the Chinese Communist Party under Mao looked inward, promoting self-reliance and resistance to the "foreign imperialists," the CCP leadership since 1978 has been strongly focused upon engagement with the rest of the world. This has been reinforced under President Xi Jinping's leadership. In his address to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2017, Xi described the global economy as "the big ocean that you cannot escape from" and referred to opposition to globalization as a stance that "runs counter to the historical trend." Xi's speech was seen as an important advocacy of openness to global economic forces, at a time when the 2016 election of Donald Trump as US president on an "America First" program and the UK's Brexit referendum result in the same year promoted the view that globalization had run its historical course and we were entering an era of competing nationalisms and economic protectionism.

At the same time, China has always engaged with globalization on its own terms, particularly in its media industries. Accession into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 brought only very limited changes in the degree of openness for foreign investors and content providers. Distribution quotas for imported Hollywood films have more than doubled but remain significant, while there is limited access to foreign broadcast television outside of hotel rooms and places with high concentrations of foreigners, despite the proliferation of Pan-Asian satellite TV throughout the rest of the region. The Google search engine and YouTube remain largely blocked within China, as are Western social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. While alternative Chinese internet and social media platforms have developed, and Chinese media themselves make use of platforms such as YouTube and Facebook for international promotion, there remains a sense in which the Chinese internet is something of a "walled garden," strongly regulated within China, and with limited take-up outside of the Chinese diaspora.

While the reform and development of the cultural and creative industries and cultural markets has been a priority in China since 2000, with a particular emphasis upon how to link their development to that of the information and digital technology industries, the results have been uneven. They have exhibited elements of what Zhang Xiaoming, an expert on cultural industries at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), referred to as a "limited open market ... characterized by the coexistence of shortages and excess":

On the one hand, limited market openness leads to excessive investment and competition in the open market and inadequate investment in markets that are not open, resulting in inefficient supply. On the other hand, imperfect market mechanisms result in a large number of unsuccessful investments. The most discussed area is the lack of original content, which is attributed to limited market openness and unproductive government support.

There have been a diverse range of responses within China to the challenges of what is known as the "cultural trade deficit" and the relevance of the media industries to addressing that deficit. One example has been the use of controls over market entry by foreigners in order to develop local enterprises that address a similar demand. The BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) and other Chinese digital media companies all benefited to a significant degree in their early development from the blocking of comparable service providers such as Google, YouTube, and Facebook. Strategic partnerships and coproductions have been particularly important in the film industry, while in television, there has often been a copying of Western formats, The New International Division of Cultural Labor whether through the "cloning" of successful elements or formal franchising arrangements. There has also been the more general phenomenon of Chinese culture "going global," which has been strongly promoted since the late 2000s and combines economic and trade policy objectives with cultural diplomacy and "soft power" strategies.

What we find in China are a very active and diverse array of policy and industry responses to the challenge of shifting its position in global cultural markets and international cultural trade. At the same time, the question of how such policies sit within the field of global media studies presents an interesting challenge. Drawing upon the three paradigms of global media studies discussed in Flew5 — modernization theories, globalization theories, and critical political economy — none provide a fully satisfactory approach.

While modernization discourses were important in China in the 1980s and 1990s, what has occurred in China is not modernization as it is used in the canonical texts of development communication. Modernization strategies in China are as much about establishing the Chinese nation as a major economic, political, and cultural power as they are about the reform of domestic institutions. Critical political economy has generated important insights into the development of what Yu Hong has termed "digital capitalism" in China, but the Chinese case requires a rethinking of the relatively stable core-periphery metaphors that have underpinned dependency models, and that see China as essentially a supplier of cheap labor and a giant consumer market to the West. While the rise of China is clearly closely connected to economic globalization, it is at the same time difficult to sustain the claim that globalization has weakened the Chinese nation-state, or that it has undermined a sense of coherent national identity within China.


One of the most significant conceptual innovations in critical political economy approaches to global media is the New International Division of Cultural Labor (NICL). The "first generation" of critical global media theorists connected the rise of the global media and entertainment industries to US dominance in the global political economy and to cultural domination and cultural imperialism, drawing upon theories of the capitalist world-system. Drawing on these traditions, but with a stronger focus on labor and production than on media content and ideology, Miller et al. proposed that a new international division of cultural labor (NICL) has been taking shape with regard to global media production, with a division of jobs between a controlling "core" and a low-wage periphery. This means that most of the world's creative workers are engaged in competition with each other, as governments worldwide — at local, state, and national levels — offer very generous incentives to attract footloose media-related investment capital in the context of growing concentration of ownership and control of the world's media industries.

A key feature of the contemporary global media landscape is the rise of global production networks, and increased international competition among nation-states, and cities and regions within nation-states, for media production activity. In their analysis of the political economy of "Global Hollywood," Miller et al. drew upon the work of the German economists Fröbel, Heinrichs, and Kreye on the New International Division of Labour (NIDL). Fröbel et al. observed that since the 1970s multinational corporations had been investing in industrial production in developing countries, primarily to take advantage of lower wages, with the flip side being the closure of factories and "de-industrialization" in the advanced industrial economies of Europe and North America.

Miller et al. use the NICL concept to argue that the Hollywood majors have been engineering a new global distribution of production processes that maximizes their won profits by playing off nation-states and groups of workers against each other. Hollywood has long operated as a global system in terms of its markets, but the current phase of global production is seen as redistributing media work globally. In such a strategy, they argue, "MNCs [multinational corporations] can discipline both labor and the state, such that the latter is reluctant to impose new taxes, constraints or pro-worker policies in the face of possible declining investment." This is similar to the process envisaged by the NIDL theorists that MNCs would exploit the opportunities provided by low-wage labor in developing nations, using advances in transport and communications technologies, various tax incentives, and fewer regulations to trigger a global "race to the bottom" in labor and environmental standards.

The economic rise of China is of course central to the NIDL story, and economic policy in China since the early 2000s has revolved in critical ways around the question of whether the nation can move from export-led industrialization based on abundant labor and low wages to a more sustainable model based around innovative local industries, Chinese companies becoming "global brands," and the rising domestic spending power of the growing middle class. But this has largely been a debate about the future of manufacturing industries, although the importance of innovation in the cultural, information technology, and service sectors is also acknowledged. The Made in China 2025 strategy, announced in April 2016, aims to both comprehensively upgrade traditional manufacturing industries and develop innovative merging industries, drawing upon the German experience in particular around how to more effectively harness information technology to advanced manufacturing.

By contrast, the NICL thesis raises the question of whether, just as China came to be known as the "world's factory," it may be set to become the world's audiovisual production stage. Miller and Kraidy make this argument when they propose that, insofar as China has changed the global system, it has been the manner in which it "has been moved effortlessly into the center of Hollywood's overseas sales as its reserve army of productive labor becomes matched by a reserve army of audience labor." In other words, China's incorporation into Global Hollywood through coproductions and its rising share of global audiences essentially strengthens the global media system under US hegemony, rather than challenging it.

What is missing from such an analysis is consideration of the active agency and policy innovation of the Chinese state. Whether it be through the "creative clusters" boom of the 2000s, the strategies for culture and the creative industries developed at local and regional levels, or the strategy of "going out" in order to promote Chinese soft power, there has been considerable policy activism to promote Chinese culture globally, and to make Chinese media and creative industries significant global players. As I will note below, some of these approaches have not necessarily worked. But the ambition to invest in culture and to understand media and culture as something that shapes and reshapes the global political-economic order remains a constant of Chinese statecraft from the early 2000s onward.


One familiar route for Chinese media producers in generating compelling content has been that of "glocalization," or the adaptation of global brands or formats for local consumption. China has long been a site for glocalization, defined by Robertson and White as the requirement that "in order to produce goods for a market of diverse consumers, it is necessary for any producer, large or small, to adapt his/her product in some way to particular features of the envisaged set of consumers." As the world's largest consumer market, China has been a haven for Western multinationals, but they have generally found that their global brands need to be adapted for the local context: the menu at a McDonald's or KFC not only differs in China as compared to the United States, but also in one part of China as compared to another. In a similar way, such glocalization or cultural adaptation has been taking place around television formats. Programs such as Survivor, I Am a Singer, and The Voice have been adapted from their original forms for Chinese consumption, and the slight modification of well-established historical formats and entertainment genres is very much a staple of Chinese television. The rise of shanzhai culture, where innovative copies of famous global brands and products were developed in China, pointed to a tradition of innovation within a regime of copying that indicates just how proximate the global and the local are in Chinese popular culture and consumption.

At one level, glocalization challenges the assumption that global media culture involves cultural homogenization. The development of such glocal strategies points to the limits of understanding globalization as a simple process of cultural homogenization, since there are clearly processes of local cultural adaptation taking place around global products and global media and cultural texts. At the same time, the fact that global media companies have such confidence that their global brands can be adapted to multiple local markets can be read as a sign of their power in those markets, particularly when they can work effectively with local partners. Given that one of the objectives for China in reversing its media cultural trade deficit is to achieve cultural influence around the world commensurate with its rising status as an economic power, the perception that the Chinese are copiers rather than innovators in media, as in other fields, runs against such national aspirations.

A more significant and influential framework in China has been that of soft power. Debates within China about how to make its cultural power in the world more commensurate with its status as a rising economic power have been pervasive since the early 1990s, with the work of Joseph Nye and other international political economists having high influence at the top levels of policy. Xi Jinping's call for China to strengthen its cultural soft power and to "extend the platform for overseas publicity, so as to make our culture known through international communication and dissemination" is the latest of many such statements by China's leaders. As Yu Hong has noted, the first wave of strategies to expand soft power in the 2000s involved heavy investment in China's media and cultural institutions going out, including CCTV, China Radio International, Xinhua News Agency, and China Daily, as well as the expansion of Confucius Institutes in universities around the world. However, this top-down, state-led approach has borne only limited fruit, due to the combination of suspicion of the ideological influence of the Chinese party-state and the lack of well-developed local distribution networks.

In the 2010s, there has been a lot more emphasis upon a more decentralized, market-driven approach that focuses on strategic partnerships with Western media giants. Critical to this have been US-China film coproductions, with Chinese investment capital aligning with Hollywood scriptwriters, actors, and other creatives to produce a series of high-budget cinema blockbusters with vastly differing degrees of "Chinese characteristics." Films such as Iron Man 3 (2013), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), Jurassic World (2015), Furious 7 (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), Warcraft (2016), and The Great Wall (2016) were coproductions — not always officially ratified — between the leading Hollywood studios and Chinese partners, and grossed high box office internationally, including in both the United States and China. For the Hollywood majors, coproductions offered the opportunity of access to the world's largest cinema market, even if it also meant dealing with the vagaries of script assessment by the SAPPRFT, and the possibility of films having problems with distribution into the Chinese domestic market, as occurred with Mission Impossible III in 2006 and Skyfall in 2012. From the Chinese perspective, access to Hollywood stars, creative talent, and distribution networks provides both economic benefits and access to the "soft skills" for which Hollywood is globally famous, while also enabling positive images of China to be incorporated into these popular films.


Excerpted from "Willing Collaborators"
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Copyright © 2018 Michael Keane, Brian Yecies, and Terry Flew.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments / Introduction: Willing Collaborators, the Long Game, Michael Keane / 1 The New International Division of Cultural Labor, Global Media Studies, and the Cultural Rise of China, Terry Flew / 2 Collaborators, Mediators, and Processes: Film Co-production in China, Weiying Peng / 3 The New Geography of the Global Blockbuster: Wanda Scales Up, Michael Curtin / 4 The Will to Power: The BAT in and Beyond China, Michael Keane and Chunmeizi Su / 5 Two-Systems Differential: Informal Media and Decolonization in Hong Kong, Darrell William Davis / 6 Hong Kong Cinema: Reconnecting Its Southeast Asian Heritage, Peichi Chung / 7 Producing Nuanced Chinese Fantasy: A Case Study of Stephen Chow's Box Office Hit Mermaid, Hongchi Shiau and Brian Yecies / 8 China–Japan Crossover Comics: Localization, Re-localization, and Export, Anthony Fung / 9 Dreaming of Webtoons in China and the Next Korean Wave, Brian Yecies / 10 Japanese Cultural Adaptation, Formats, and Remaking in East Asia, Seiko Yasumoto / 11 Regionalizing Reality: The Rise of East Asian Collaborations in Television Production, Ju Oak Kim / 12 Localizing Korean Reality Shows in China: The Practice of Production and Censorship, Arjen Nauta / 13 Cross-Straits Online Collaboration : Multiple Publics and Intractable Institutions, Elaine Jing Zhao / 14 Pan-Asian Celebrity and Manufacturing Women’s Desires on East Asian Screens Big and Small, Tania Lim / 15 Creative Migration: Talent and Celebrity Movements to the Chinese Mainland, Danjing Joy Zhang and Michael Keane / Bibliography / Index / About the Editors and Contributors

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