Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Michael Keane
Chapter 25: Commercial and digital transformation of Chinese television
Commercial television in China has evolved out of a geographically and administratively fragmented broadcasting system owned by various levels of government. At each stage of development the state has played a crucial role creating conditions for, and modulating the speed and boundaries of commercialization. In this way the television system commercialized in the 1980s and 1990s without letting go its core mandate, i.e. serving as the Chinese Communist Party’s (hereafter CCP) mouthpiece. The coexistence of two core directives – politics and profit – led to a dual identity. Television was meant to be a public institution (shiye) run as a business enterprise (qiye). This dual identity provided ideological legitimacy for commercial television while allowing stations to profit handsomely from a rapidly expanding national economy and consumer society. Meanwhile it also imposed a limit to how far commercialization could proceed. In the wake of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO ), the dual identity began to dissolve as a result of political, economic and technological forces. Chinese television has remained state-owned-and-regulated but it is no longer ‘a public institution run as a business.’ Then what does the new identity look like and how is it achieved? In this chapter I review the commercialization of Chinese television from the analytical standpoint of ‘dual identity.’ Two key cultural policies deserve special attention: (1) the ‘cultural system reform’ and (2) the ‘media convergence’ reforms within the ambitious state initiative called ‘Internet+.’
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