Cannibalising the Chinese 'watching mass': Documenting and analysing the evolution of Chinese televisual terms of address from the 'watching mass' to 'snack food'

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Like other media, Chinese television has evolved to become too sophisticated to be identifiable simply as a party mouthpiece (Sun 1996; Shoesmith 1998). Nonetheless, it is anything but a free or independent medium and continues to be under the strict political and ideological control of the Chinese Communist Party. What distinguishes it from its past is that it not only propagates and controls audiences but also educates, entertains, informs and unites them in a manner endorsed by the Party. More than two decades of sustained economic development and apparent political and social stability, as well as the need to combat foreign and hostile media signals, have also given the Party the confidence and justification to openly use the medium for its own purposes. It is in this sense that we would like to assert that Chinese television, especially Chinese Central Television (CCT), aspires to be an empire that permeates every temporal and spatial aspect of people's life. Given this new configuration, different academic viewpoints can be taken to study Chinese television to generate different knowledge about it. Yong Zhong, one of the co-authors of this article, has continuously positioned himself critically in relation to the propaganda aspect of Chinese television in a range of research projects. One of the projects, completed recently, investigated how, under the current strict political and ideological control, individual elements in Chinese television were being ingeniously creative in order to survive and challenge the status quo and how they in turn impacted on the medium and the population. An example of such ingenious attempts was the surprise success of Super Girly Voice, an American Idol-like reality show, staged and screened by Hunan Satellite Television (HST) in 2005. The show was successful in many respects, including beating CCTV in ratings in spite of the latter's criticism and suppression, drawing over 150,000 contestants and the largest audiences in the history of Chinese television and generating at least US$1 billion in revenues (CSSA 2005). In the words of Keane, Fung and Moran (2006) the show was so successful that it 'demonstrated the need for China Central Television to reassert its authority in popular programming'. To us as academic media watchers it also apparently and successfully reshaped the relationship between Chinese television and viewers, partially as a result of the new terms of address invented in its process. In this article we will present findings of a project that studied these terms of address.
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Zhong, Yong
Wang, Qianting
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