Chinese television between propaganda and entertainment: socialist traditions, marketisation and popular TV dramas, 1992–2017

2019-11-27T14:40:08Z (GMT) by Yingzi Wang
China's economic reforms and opening to the world since 1978 have profoundly changed the operation and function of Chinese television. Following the accelerated market reforms from 1992, the production of Chinese TV programmes has become increasingly driven by ratings and oriented towards popular entertainment. Within this context, this project examines how Chinese television has evolved over recent decades in response to wider political, economic and cultural changes in China, with a focus on prime-time television dramas broadcast between 1992 and 2017. It situates the analysis of TV dramas within the spectrum of two poles – propaganda and entertainment, aiming to explore how these TV programmes have continued to serve the propaganda imperatives of the Party-state, while at the same time responding to audience demands regarding entertainment.
In order to map the changes and continuities exemplified by Chinese TV dramas, this project has adopted a mixed-method approach. This approach includes a systematic quantitative analysis to delineate long-term trends, and four qualitative case studies to establish a more thorough understanding of the detailed transformation in Chinese television. The thesis demonstrates that while Chinese television has become increasingly driven by commercial values that prioritise audience interests and popular elements, television entertainment in China still needs to align with official ideological lines. In the meantime, varying degrees of political supervision have been identified from different levels of TV stations, and the Party-state has actively engaged in promoting its own agenda through Chinese television entertainment. These have shown an increasingly complex picture of socialist television in the new era.
In these ways, this project sheds light on the interplay between political propaganda and commercial trends within the Chinese television system over the past two decades and a half. It is intended to contribute to existing studies on the relationship between propaganda and popular entertainment, and to the analyses of propaganda in television drama. It would also facilitate a systematic understanding of socialist television contexts, bridging the east-west divide on the perceptions of contemporary socialist television culture.