Urban and Rural Encounters in Chinese Postsocialist Film and Media
Morrow, Katherine Janice
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This dissertation examines mainstream popular forms of nonfiction film and media in postsocialist Mainland China. I trace how these programs reflect and shape contemporary Chinese visions of reality—in particular, how these programs capture China’s rural-urban divide, and the way it shapes social structure, class, and identity within China. The primary areas of inquiry include nonfiction viewer address, the adaptation of foreign media forms, and the consumption of images of rural space by an implicitly urban viewer. These popular documentary and reality television shows use an essentialized vision of rural space to instruct viewers in proper social behavior and orientation. While new media offers rural users themselves an opportunity to participate in the creation of the rural imaginary, the videos these users create complicate but do not efface rural-urban divisions. Each chapter focuses on a different television program or new media platform, and the dissertation proceeds roughly chronologically from television documentary in the 2000s to contemporary mobile video sharing on Kwai. Chapter one considers how a China Central Television (CCTV) documentary update program rebroadcasted and updated documentaries from the 1990s, a period of upheaval in the representation of regular people on television. These updates depict reform era change through a developmental logic that leaves little space for the ambivalence and varied perspectives the original films represent. Chapter two focuses on a Hunan Satellite Television (HSTV) reality program, X-Change, which was loosely inspired by the UK reality program Wife Swap. The HSTV show, which depicts urban and rural youth swapping places to learn from each other’s lifestyle, reinforces a spatially determined understanding of social division. Chapter three looks at how predominantly urban-oriented dating shows (focusing on Jiangsu Satellite Television’s If You Are the One) assist viewers and contestants alike in navigating a mediatized reality and use data and expert commentary to rationalize romance. Chapter four focuses on Kwai (Kuaishou), a popular video sharing application that is associated with rural users, and argues that Kwai is structured as a social space that allows users to engage in alternative forms of visibility.