WHY PARTY MEDIA BACKFIRE? Television as the Agent of Social Changes in post-Mao China — a case study of the Chinese TV series “River Elegy”




The great advancement of television medium in post-Mao China has had a profound impact on social changes within mainland society. As a potent cultural forum, television is the electronic amplification of social contradiction. Its rapid development has fostered cultural pluralism and contributed to the decline of the Party cultural monopoly. While it has reflected social changes, television itself in post Mao China has also become the agent of social changes in a direction that is beyond the control of the dictatorship and towards the process of social democratization. Ironically, the Party’s media have increasingly backfired. The case of the Chinese TV series “River Elegy” in the late 1980s of China, illustrates this trend to a great ex tent, and thus highlights the plight of the Party media institution.

But, how can television do so? What is the relationship between television performance and culture development? How is the phenomenon of cultural production in Soviet model system formed and maintained? And what is its material base? What, coupled with the operation of the social system, is the relationship between cultural production and the Party’s political management (i.e the Party cultural hegemony)? How, after a decade and half of Deng’s reform program, the cultural performance has been changed in the post-Mao China? And finally, and probably more importantly, why the tightening controlled Party’s media have increasingly backfired?

In this paper, therefore, I will examine and discuss these issues. In part One, I attempt to establish a theoretical framework by examining some key lineaments of the nature of cultural production on the one hand, and the role of the mass media (i.e. in this case, mainly television) on the other. Within that framework, part Two is the case study of the Chinese TV series “River Elegy” that focuses on television performance in the context of social transformation in post-Mao China. Finally, by making an inquiry into the institutional problems and changes, I employ institutional analysis to explore the underlying contradictions of post-Mao communist media behaviour and institutional crisis.