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Zha Jianying captures in this book the ferment - intellectual, artistic and commercial - of China's post-Tiananmen urban culture industry. She presents a lively mix of reportage, personal revelation, personality profile and ethnographic insight centered on pop culture events and trends in the People's Republic. Through her focus on creators and consumers, _China Pop_ illustrates people who have "...shed their old skins and picked up new lives." (p. 7).
China's developing pop culture industry is media-driven; like its Western counterparts, the industry spans TV, movies, literature, journalism, music, art and more. Zha looks at a hugely successful TV melodrama, Yearnings, and traces how the show was conceived, written and produced (chapter 2). She lays out repercussions the show had on its writers' and producers' lives and careers and its effect on China's TV industry. In "The Whopper" (chapter 5), she shows how money and business combine to corrupt journalists; corruption is so severe, she thinks, that "...most of what the Chinese read in the paper or see on television as 'news' these days is little more than paid advertising." (p. 117). She tackles developments in the movies by contrasting the career trajectories, personalities and works of Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, China's leading directors in the 1990s (chapter 7). Chen directed the 1993 Cannes winner Farewell My Concubine; Zhang is perhaps known best in the west for his Red Sorghum (1987). Zha explores the sensation over author Jia Pingwa's ribald novel The Abandoned Capital (1993), and describes how readers, critics and state censors responded to it (chapter 6). (Beijing banned the book in 1994 only after sales cooled, pp. 127-8). Her account of the CIM Company, an investment outfit that "...is the first major Hong Kong company that has stepped into the tricky waters of joint venture media and cultural productions with China." (p. 165), is a tutorial on doing business in China as well as a close look at marketing hot pop performers. Chan Koon-Chung, a former avant-garde Hong Kong publisher who for a time was the CIM point man in Beijing, makes a telling comment: "Both economically and culturally, China looks similar to the Hong Kong of the seventies_so I can see clearly where the market is heading, where China is going to end up. We know exactly what to do and what will work. It's a huge market and this is an exciting time to be here" (p. 171).
Zha's book succeeds on several fronts. It is an artfully written commentary on changes sweeping China's media. The nation is developing a culture of mass consumerism, and the media market and propagate this culture. _China Pop_ documents this. Second, Zha ties her observations and interviews together using a keen sense of what being an urban, hip Chinese in post-Tiananmen China means. Her viewpoint moves adroitly between insider (native Chinese) and outsider (overseas Chinese or huaqiao); the book can be read as an ethnography minus overt theorizing. _China Pop_ is well worth reading as an accessible, intelligent commentary on urban cultural change in the People's Republic.China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture Overview
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