|Title||Beyond totalitarian nostalgia: a critical urban reception study of historical drama on contemporary Chinese television|
From the mid-1990s a wave of dramatic serials featuring the legendary figures of China’s bygone dynasties has emerged in dramatic programming on Chinese primetime television. The commercialization of mass media and the rise of media consumerism in China since the early 1990s have fostered the emergence of these historical dramas on television. Set during the dynasty era, these television historical dramas have been at the forefront in articulating political and legal principles based on the Confucian-influenced traditional Chinese culture. Although media scholars have interpreted the popularity of the television historical dramas as a revival of Confucianism, virtually no empirical research has been done to explore how Chinese audiences relate their viewing experiences to the revival of Confucianism according to their own social and cultural conditions. This thesis presents a qualitative audience study of how the historical dramas are understood and socially and culturally valued in contemporary China, taking into account personal, social, historical and cultural issues that relate to viewers’ engagement with this television genre.
Between late September 2007 and early April 2008, the author carried out his fieldwork audience research in two urban settings in China, the city of Beijing and that of Changsha. 10 focus groups and 11 in-depth interviews were conducted involving more than 60 respondents from young adult and middle-aged audience groups. According to the author’s fieldwork data analysis, the ways that the Chinese audience engages with the historical drama are far more complex than generally thought; rather than insist on a literal interpretation of the drama text, the audience engages with the historical television drama in quite a divergent way due to his or her age, gender, life stage and socio-cultural status. Meanwhile, informed by the Grounded Theory, the author identified two text-based interpretive frameworks that are adopted by the respondents across all the focus groups and in-depth interviews in their understanding and evaluation of the historical drama text. These two interpretive frameworks include the framework of fact/fiction and that of ‘classic-ness’. To conclude, the author argues that the Chinese audience’s response to the historical drama goes beyond a literal, political sense of totalitarian nostalgia; it is characterised by an increasingly more liberal, diverse and indeed open-ended engagement with the historical drama text. Nevertheless, a critical re-evaluation of Maoist revolutionary classic literary works is manifested within that engagement process.