Performing the Chinese nation : the politics of identity in China Central Television's music-entertainment programs

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This thesis analyses how the Chinese nation is being constructed in music-entertainment performances on China Central Television (CCTV). Taking the perspective that all entertainment has ideological implications, this study argues that programming on China’s monopoly, national-level, party-state network offers a vital site for examining the politics of Chinese identity in contemporary times. It uses the music-entertainment genre to examine how ethnic and national boundaries are being drawn, and the cultural and political tensions that underlie contemporary conversations on ‘who the Chinese are’. Three main frames of Chinese nationalism are highlighted: a multi-ethnic Chinese frame consisting of 56 nationalities residing within China; a Greater Chinese frame that extends beyond the borders of mainland China to include Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas Chinese; and a global Chinese frame constructed through emphasizing foreigners’ attraction to China and assimilation of Chinese cultural practices. The study argues that the three privileged frames attempt to produce images of unity and harmony amongst all Chinese and support for China by Chinese living outside the mainland and by foreigners. Such notions of national harmony, unity and stability, delivered to the Chinese people via the party-state media, are used to achieve ongoing support for the Chinese Communist Party as it seeks to continue to lead the Chinese nation well into the future, both domestically and on a global level. A fine-grained textual approach to analysis is used to examine how musical, visual and linguistic modes interact to create interpretable messages about Chinese national and cultural identity for both domestic and global CCTV audiences. The study argues that the different modes interact in ways that offer a spectrum of reading positions. At one end, visuals, language and music reinforce each other to form relatively ‘hardened’ reading positions, where messages of a solid, unified, state-centred national identity are foregrounded. At the other end of the spectrum, the audio-visual modes ‘undermine’ each other to create ‘soft’ boundaries around the ‘Chinese’ nation, allowing the party-state to present itself as more cosmopolitan and outward-looking. The programs reveal a tension between the desire to construct China as strong and unified, with a solid, self-assured national identity, and as nation-state that is open to change as it engages with non-mainstream cultures domestically, and with other cultures around the world. While the global debate over China’s rising status is often marked by fears of monolithic party-state control, this study argues for a more nuanced understanding of state nationalism whereby China’s own party-state propaganda machinery is projecting an image that is oscillating in its own imagination of who the Chinese are, and how China should position itself in a global context.
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