Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Michael Keane
Chapter 19: The urban-rural divide in China’s cultural industries: the case of Chinese radio
During most of Mao-era China (1949–76), newspaper readership was limited to political and educated elites. Television was still in its developmental stage. The dominant mass medium, radio broadcasting, was firmly under the control of the Chinese Communist Party and part of the hierarchically and bureaucratically organized national propaganda system (Liu 1975). During this time radio played a key role in the mission of building a socialist society, a society that aimed to eliminate inequalities between rich and poor, and between urban and rural Chinese. After the implementation of economic reforms from the late 1970s, the state gradually began applying a system of marketization to the broadcasting sector. Among the first Mainland Chinese radio stations to change their approach was Guangdong People’s Radio, which had to compete with the more entertaining and less preachy style of the Hong Kong-based channels that local audiences could receive from just across the border. The launch of Pearl River Economic Radio in 1986, which mirrored the style of its Hong Kong counterparts, including well-known personalities, talk back, economic news and pop music, was a great success and led to many other local radio channels across China following suit (Chan 1994). Due to massively reduced funding from the state, broadcasters at all levels were reshaped to operate as part of a state-owned but market-funded system.
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