Power, Money, and Media: Communication Patterns and Bureaucratic Control in Cultural China

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This book addresses, as few books in English have, a broad range of topics pertaining to China's expanding media and telecommunications systems. American and Chinese experts in journalism, communication, government, and political science use fieldwork, including participant observations, surveys, and in-depth interviews conducted within media organizations, to provide richly detailed analyses of the issues and of the changing face of media in ...
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Overview


This book addresses, as few books in English have, a broad range of topics pertaining to China's expanding media and telecommunications systems. American and Chinese experts in journalism, communication, government, and political science use fieldwork, including participant observations, surveys, and in-depth interviews conducted within media organizations, to provide richly detailed analyses of the issues and of the changing face of media in China.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810117877
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Series: Media Topographies Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 378
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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Power, Money, and Media: Communication Patterns and Bureaucratic Control in Cultural China


By Jinquan Li

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2000 Jinquan Li
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0810117878

1

Chinese Communication

Prisms, Trajectories, and Modes of Understanding

Chin-Chuan Lee

With what nation will America have its most important bilateral relationship in the emerging post-Cold War world? As Zbigniew Brzezinski notes, it will be, "for good or bad," China. Every major financial investor in the world has complex investment strategies already under way in China, and virtually every major global-scale telecommunications and information technology investment is significantly linked to China. Yet despite constituting potentially the largest system in the world, China's expanding media and telecommunications remain little understood. China also remains unintegrated into global thinking about such issues as the globalization or fragmentation of culture, the transition to a global information society, the values and problems of establishing a free press, the rising importance of global electronic commerce, the nascent integration of domestic information networks into what we think of as a global Internet, and the protocommercial audience for popular-culture products. Indeed, China's actions and activities in the media and telecommunications spheres have thepotential to make an incredible impact on the entire world's conception of cultural freedom and national security.

The world is moving from an industrial age, with its attendant policy structure of nation-states and bilateral negotiations, into an information age based on multilateral negotiations among a wide range of state and nonstate participants. Nation-states are said to be ceding power to international and nongovernmental organizations as well as to local entities. In view of these trends, China will be the major test case of the early twenty-first century as to whether the values of Western liberal democracy are--or are not--a world standard for social governance. Media culture is at the very heart of this consideration. China's media and telecommunications address, reveal, and offer clues to such complex--and enduring--issues as journalistic freedom, individual identity and liberty, the opportunity to participate in a free-market economy, as well as the ambiguous attractions of an emergent consumer society based on media culture and the circulation of information.

This volume seeks to bring China to the attention of a wide range of scholars, specialists, and the informed public, all of whom no longer have the luxury of ignoring this major component of a globalizing world. As part of an ongoing effort to grapple with the rapidly changing patterns of media communication in what Tu Weiming (1991) calls "Cultural China"--including the People's Republic of China (PRC) and beyond--this volume is organically connected to its generously received predecessors, Voices of China: The Interplay of Politics and Journalism and China's Media, Media's China (Lee 1990a, 1994a). While each volume pushes the trajectory and landscape in its own direction, the trilogy, it is hoped, will contribute productively to a much needed dialogue among the various interpretive communities. And keep this dialogue alive we must.

It is my belief that this volume has broken several important new theoretical and empirical grounds. In this chapter I aim to identify the central tenet of this volume and relate Cultural China theoretically and empirically to major concerns in the field of political communication. Let me start by acknowledging that the primary theoretical orientation of this volume is a broadly defined approach to the "political economy of communication." Our outlook and epistemology, however, differ significantly from the dominant radical-critical perspective found in the Anglo-American literature, for a simple but profound reason. In Cultural China, we must contend with the ghosts of authoritarian states that dictate the terms and conditions of political economy, whereas critics of Anglo-American systems do not. (I shall return to this issue in the final section of this essay.) In what follows, I shall first articulate the intricately complex and paradoxical implications of "Cultural China" as a source and system of knowledge. I shall then illuminate how the contradiction between political control and economic reform has changed various aspects of China's political communication: media structure and function, professional culture and media content, as well as media law and telecommunications policy. Then my focus will shift to the dynamics of media interaction between mainland China and Taiwan. Finally, drawing on cases analyzed in this volume, I shall return to contrast the liberal-pluralist and radical-Marxist approaches to the political economy.

Cultural China as a System of Knowledge

"Cultural China" (Tu 1991) is made up of three symbolic universes. The first universe refers to the majority Chinese societies of the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and perhaps Singapore. The second incorporates the minority Chinese diaspora in North America and Southeast Asia, while the third universe is inclusive of people of all ethnic identities--scholars, specialists, traders, and entre-preneurs--who contribute to the understanding of Chinese culture. Three points regarding the first symbolic universe of Cultural China are at once noteworthy. First, this core universe has failed to fulfill its intellectual and cultural role. Authoritarian regimes in both the PRC and (until 1987) Taiwan had severely deprived academic, intellectual, and journalistic communities of their freedom and autonomy to produce significant knowledge. Colonial Hong Kong, with its coveted freedoms, provides an essential link between various parts of Cultural China, but its own economic might has dwarfed its cultural contributions. This tragic failure has created a big knowledge vacuum that could only be filled by other symbolic universes of Cultural China.

A second point is that the center-periphery axis in the first symbolic universe is not fixed or unchanging but varies with issues, spheres, and settings. Various genres of popular culture from politically peripheral Hong Kong and Taiwan seem to have set the agenda for mainland China, especially among the youthful urban audience (Gold 1993). Against the backdrop of the PRC's political dominance, Hong Kong and Taiwan can be seen as centers of cultural reinvigoration and economic innovation (Tu 1991). In this volume, Joseph Man Chan portrays Hong Kong as a center of television production for viewers in South China; greater exposure to Hong Kong television seems to be associated with greater changes in belief structure among the Chinese audience (chapter 8). Hong Kong's supposed economic and media influences on the PRC (particularly those of the broadcasting media, which can achieve greater geographical penetration than can newspapers) provide a basis for constructing "Trojan horse" stories. Conversely, as I examine the peripheral status of Hong Kong's media vis-a-vis China's political power, it seems clear that fear of China's threat, real or imagined, has resulted in self-censorship among Hong Kong journalists (chapter 10). Ran Wei's account suggests that Taiwan's media are motivated by commercial interest to promote a closer tie with mainland China's media, only to find their efforts deflated by Beijing's political authority (chapter 11). Within the PRC, the party press at various levels is politically central but commercially peripheral, while the evening and mass-appeal press is politically peripheral but commercially central. Moreover, media revenue gaps have been widening between coastal cities and interior provinces (Chen and Lee 1998).

Third, the media narratives of the PRC, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have created three distinctly different stories, based on their respective interests and ideologies, about the colony's handover to Chinese sovereignty (chapter 9). They collide most sharply on the issues of national and cultural identity: To wit, who are the Chinese? While the PRC tries to integrate the "nation" with the "state" as a "national family" headed by Beijing and encompassing global Chinese communities, Taiwan attempts to delink them by claiming that two equal sovereign states exist under one nation. The Hong Kong media displayed considerable ambivalence and uncertainty about their own fate of being absorbed into a big Chinese "national family." The contending and contentious nature of these interpretive communities is indicative of the complexity involved in sorting out their political, economic, and cultural relationships. In this regard, as Harry Harding (1993) states, the concept of "Greater China" may overlook the centrifugal tendencies and focus too much on the integrative forces that bind a transnational Chinese economy, a global Chinese culture, and a unified Chinese state. While "Economic China" evokes a mixture of positive and negative feelings, "Political China" has aroused a vast amount of anxiety, fear, and resentment about the implied domination by Beijing over China's hinterland and overseas Chinese societies. Besides and on top of economic interests or power politics, what is the role of the more enduring and less instrumentally oriented cultural discourse?

Looking more macroscopically at Cultural China as a whole, one sees a postmodern twist such that center is periphery and periphery center. Our understanding of Cultural China and its media communication has a distinct marking of double marginalities. In the first paradoxical sense, big failures by the first and second symbolic universes have made us dependent on the third symbolic universe--notably U.S. media and universities, supposedly Cultural China's most marginal, remote, and loosely connected element--to produce knowledge about Cultural China. In a second paradoxical sense, Cultural China further stands at a very marginal rim of the concentric circle of dominant academic, intellectual, and journalistic concerns in a continental-size world he-gemon--that is, the United States--marked by a strong tradition of cultural isolation. In this country, conduct of all inquiries categorized as lying within "area studies" has been woven peripherally into different branches of the knowledge industry, according to the demands of the Cold War (Said 1979). Ezra Vogel (1994) therefore characterizes American scholars of contemporary China as "marginals in a superpower" who were "lukewarm cold warriors, peripheral social scientists, and assertive moralists."

Knowledge is not value-free or neutral. Knowledge producers are conditioned by what phenomenologists call "relevance structures" that entail personal biography, interest, schooling, paradigmatic commitment, the larger politico-economic history, and the epochal worldview surrounding them. Edward Said (1979, 1982, 1993) coined the term "Orientalism" to describe the historical processes by which Western scholars have constructed the mosaic of "the other world," or the Orient, in light of the imperialist needs of their countries, a mosaic complete with preconceived notions, fantasies, and biases. This process is eminently applicable to the construction of Cultural China. The Cold War framework constituted the single most powerful "grammar" in the deep structure of the American mind to inform generations of China scholars and journalists (Farmer 1990, 1994; Chang 1990). This does not, of course, imply that all understanding and misunderstanding about China served U.S. imperialistic interests. But it should by now be painfully clear (Lee 1990a, 1994a) that U.S. coverage of China has oscillated between romanticism and cynicism and that this radical mood swing has often had more to do with what was happening in the United States than it did with what was happening in China. The study of contemporary China, including its media, was admittedly littered with fantasized accounts of naive revolutionary romanticism during the Cultural Revolution, thus to some extent reinforcing its low academic status. This naivete was reminiscent of pilgrimages made by America's rebellious intellectuals to Stalin's Soviet Union, Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnam, and Cas-tro's Cuba--all against the larger social backdrop of McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, and anti-Communism (Hollander 1981).

The study of Chinese media has begun to mature, however. Many perspectives and approaches have appeared in tandem with theoretical and methodological advances in various branches of the humanities and social sciences. This is also a direct response to a relative opening-up of research opportunities in China, coinciding with the coming of age of scholars of Chinese descent. Making their voices heard in this volume are many younger Chinese scholars who, having been educated in Western universities and having picked up the requisite vocabulary and logic for social research, now aspire to communicate with their Western colleagues in a dialogue of equals. Meanwhile, their present-day Western colleagues seem also more proficient in the Chinese language and culture than were members of the preceding generations. Together, various interpretive communities may--to use phenomenological terms--in-tersubjectively construct multiple and pluralistic realities about media dynamics in Cultural China. The interpenetration of the insider's perspectives, based on firsthand experience and personal participation, with the outsider's perspectives, derived from analysis and reflection, should enrich each other. But, as Robert Merton (1972) cautions us, all individuals should carry not only a single status but also a "cross-cutting status set." We are "plural persons," trying to manage the tension between the roles of "insider of the outsider" and "outsider of the insider" (Berger and Kellner 1981:34).

In this volume, the tension between differing roles is revealingly described by Zhongdang Pan (chapter 3) and Zhou He (chapter 4), who do ethnographic studies in Beijing's journalistic circles and in one of Shenzhen's leading newspaper organizations. Like good journalists, media anthropologists aspire to get into the picture without being engulfed in it; they seek to strike a balance between being committed participants and detached observers. They mine rich anecdotes of theoretical import that are broadly suggestive of the patterns of media change and the structural conflict involved. Daniel Lynch conducts in-depth interviews with scholars and policy makers with regard to China's changing telecommunications policy (chapter 6), and Joseph Man Chan completes a sample survey in Guangzhou to probe the effect of television spillover from Hong Kong (chapter 8). With notable exceptions (Polumbaum 1990; Lull 1991; Chu and Ju 1993), these projects would have been very difficult if not impossible to conduct in more restrictive periods. Other case studies by Stanley Rosen (chapter 5) and Tahirih Lee (chapter 7) use deep "textual reading" to delineate the boundaries and processes of change, while holistic interpretation of the published archives and statistics (such as that by Wu in chapter 2) is also highly illuminating.

In line with the tradition of its predecessors (Lee 1990a, 1994a), this volume exhibits a diversity of theoretical and methodological interests from a number of disciplines: media studies, political science, and legal history. The chapters included herein cut across different units of analysis, but many of them converge on media structures, bureaucracies, and organizations. This volume is unusually strong in examining institutional factors that shape the production of media content, although several chapters (such as Stanley Rosen's case study and Joseph Man Chan's survey) cover media content and audience reception of it. Moreover, we focus primarily on the information side of the media rather than on the symbols and rituals of popular culture and entertainment (such as songs and games) that circulate and knit together the social fabric. Meanwhile, we should caution ourselves against taking the term "Cultural China" too literally, for it may belie the huge developmental gaps that exist between coastal China and interior China. A large part of China is admittedly not covered in our account or in anybody else's.

Candor requires we admit to the paramount liberal underpinnings of our work. We are filled with strong and genuine hopes that the PRC's media will become ever freer from state stricture, that Hong Kong's media will withstand possible onslaughts following the regime change, and that China and Taiwan will improve their diplomatic and media communication. This list could go on, but the point is that we abhor subjugation of the media to the status of party-state organ. In analyzing the process of China's marketization and its implication for expanding media freedom in nonpolitical areas, we are also mindful of the market potential in distorting and restricting media diversity--not only in liberal democracies but also in illiberal China. Pan and He allude to the corrosive influence of money on media ethics in China. The increasingly conglomerated media in Hong Kong have also been taking the path of least resistance to political constraints by pursuing depoliticization, apoliticization, vulgarization, and sensationalism. We hope to capture the dialectical and paradoxical implications of market forces for media operation and content.

Western-trained, we have inevitably turned and returned to Anglo-American literature--on the sociology of media professionalism and organization, media effects, and the role of the media in political change--to shape our problem or sharpen our analyses. In contextualizing the literature in Chinese practices, we have had to contend with contrasting theoretical models that posit the media variously as a site of social, institutional, and ideological struggle; as a mirror or shaper of reality; or as an agent of social change or social control. This state of affairs inevitably begets a host of vexing questions. Where should theoretical perspectives meet empirical observations? How broadly relevant are the established Western perspectives to non-Western (particularly, Chinese) settings? To what extent does our culturally grounded research represent a perspective that challenges theoretical orthodoxy, or is a simply typical or deviant case to be incorporated into the general pattern? The guild of mainstream U.S. communication research has a long history of celebrating its own tedious parochialism by paying little heed to, and thus consigning to marginality, any media topologies whose visions or concerns go beyond the water's edge. Studies on Chinese communication--despite the magnitude of China's social experiments, likely to affect huge masses of geography and population, and despite the increasingly high standard of this scholarship--have yet to be "made visible," have yet to get noticed and be counted as part of the mainstream landscape. Notwithstanding the epistemological and cultural gulfs, we believe, with C. Wright Mills (1959:157), that only by comparative studies can we "become aware of the absence of certain historical phases from a society, which is often quite essential to understanding its contemporary shape."

Media Reform of the 1990s in the PRC

One of the most central problems facing political communication in the PRC in the 1990s involves what I (Lee 1994b) call "ambiguities and contradictions" arising from the relationship between continued state control and economic reform. In this volume, Zhou He characterizes this tension as a "tug-of-war" while Stanley Rosen refers to it as a "duality." This inherent disunity speaks to the dialectic of political economy--the state versus the market--a dilemma that China's authoritarian state capitalist-market system can only hope to manage rather than resolve. The media under the old Communist commandist mode of control were first and foremost the transmission belt of the party line, but two decades of economic reform have served to weaken their still strong mouthpiece role (Lee 1990b). What Peter Berger (1985) calls "marketization of political management" in China has progressively depoliticized the state, economics, and culture, thus creating considerable room for media liberalization. Local and regional media have risen to chip away at the centralized dominance (White 1990; Yu 1990). Formal censorship has been regularized and made more predictable through efforts of bureaucratic control (Polumbaum 1994), and the media have undergone a process of increasing secularization (Dittmer 1994). In China, the state is still highly authoritarian, arbitrary, and intrusive; but it has had to reckon with innumerable manifest or latent functions unleashed by market forces. As a result, China's media have been characterized as having "commercialization without independence" and enjoying "bird-caged press freedom" (Chan 1994; Chen and Chan 1998).

MEDIA STRUCTURE



Guoguang Wu (chapter 2) portrays a notable change in China's media structure: that "many mouths" have echoed the thought of "one head." Wu takes a middle course and, in my opinion, a more accurate position between the pessimistic view that the authoritarian regime would never change and the optimistic view that transformation in China has been so profound as to produce a momentum for "peaceful evolution." Instead, he argues that marketization has brought about fragmentation and diversification to China's party-state monopoly of media structure in three ways. First, various ministries and bureaus of the central government, along with local governments, have rushed to set up their media voices. Second, even though private media ownership is out of the question, many quasi-social groups--including the party-affiliated mass organizations (labor unions, women's federation, and the Communist Youth League), the nine satellite "democratic parties," and various professional associations and academic societies--have all tried to establish their own media voices. Third, marketization has reduced press dependence on the state. In sum, structural liberalization takes place primarily in the social rather than political sector, and societal liberalization is a necessary but insufficient condition for democracy. An abundance of media outlets does not, of course, ensure ideological pluralism. (The rise of local power, however, has added a new dimension to the old dynamic of media control; thus, for example, the unorthodox Southern Weekend has been protected by Guangdong authorities from punishment by the central Department of Propaganda.)

Marketization has produced an "uneven development" in China's press commercialization. As a consequence, press fortune has been reversed: The previously dominant central and regional papers have been losing ground in market competition to mass-appeal newspapers that used to enjoy a low status in the state hierarchy. The People's Daily is a most astonishing index. While still heading the list of top ten newspaper advertising revenue earners in 1990, the paper slumped to number ten three years later and to number fourteen in 1996; this raises a serious question about the future of the party press. While Mikhail Gorbachev reformed the former Soviet Union's polity without concomitant economic transformation, Deng Xiaoping steered China onto the road of economic growth as a way to forestall significant political change. With the progress of economic reform in China, the state has found it imperative to shed part of its mammoth financial obligations, thus urging all media to achieve financial self-reliance and even taking measures to curtail media subsidies. By 1997, however, only an estimated one-third of China's newspapers reached financial self-sufficiency; many of those in the impoverished and interior provinces would not have survived without state subsidies. On the rise in the bid to take the party organ's market role have been mass-appeal papers in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Beijing. The nationally broadcast Chinese Central Television (CCTV) is so lucrative (with an advertising revenue of U.S. $600 million in 1998) as to need no state subsidies, but the state, eager to retain its patron role, insists that CCTV accept its meager allowance anyway.

Market competition has significantly altered the salary structure of Chinese journalists. In the 1980s, they were paid according to professional grade (senior editor/reporter, head editor/reporter, editor/reporter, assistant editor/reporter) regardless of the size or status of their media units. At present, however, the or-ganization's ability to garner advertising revenues is a more important determinant of the reporter's income than either the media unit's administrative status (central, provincial, municipal, or county) or the reporter's professional grade. The jealousy aroused by the extraordinary wealth of Xinmin Evening Daily (where a reporter was paid as much as the editor in chief of the People's Daily) must have contributed to its being forced to merge with the unprofitable Wen-hui Daily in 1998. Besides, many financially lucrative papers have tried to lobby the central government for approval to expand the number of pages they publish in order to carry more advertisements. Some of them now operate their own delivery system to expand their range of circulation rather than continue to rely on the poor and yet increasingly more expensive postal service. Within the media unit, the once auxiliary managerial departments have been elevated to equal the editorial departments in status.

One of the most intriguing and perplexing developments has been a trend toward press conglomeration in the PRC. Unable to secure new publication licenses from the state, in the mid-1980s many official newspapers went ahead to publish editorially soft companion supplements disguised under a variety of names, such as "weekend editions," as income-generating devices. Hard-line propaganda officials repeatedly censured many large papers (dabao), which had been losing readers, for trying to support themselves by publishing tabloids (xiaobao) that were filled with reports of accidents, gossip, and trivia. Following the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, the state closed down all companion publications except the few controlled by major party organs. The Communist Party had long been fiercely hostile to press conglomeration in the Western countries, denouncing it as a manifestation of how the oppressive capitalist class seeks to control public opinion. Therefore, it seemed to signal a peculiar reversal of policy when the Press and Publication Administration approved the Guangzhou Daily as China's first press group in 1996. The Guangming Daily and the Economic Daily followed suit. The Nanfang Daily, the Yangcheng Evening Daily, the Shenzhen Daily, and several others are awaiting approval.

Press conglomeration in China is strictly engineered by the state, revolving around a group of "core" party organs, which act as umbrellas incorporating a multitude of auxiliary newspapers and magazines that cater to various areas of specialized interest. Official rhetoric vaguely justifies conglomeration as a measure to upgrade the quality of the Chinese press and its economy of scale. The real reasons are, of course, much more complex. The state seeks to reincorporate the core and newly affluent outlets into the state system and, in the process, to shift part of its own financial responsibility by requesting that these prosperous outlets subsidize those considered socially important but financially unprofitable. These core outlets may help the authorities cure their headache by crowding out or taking over a chaotic array of "small papers" that have repeatedly defied state orders. In turn, these core publications benefit from takeovers and mergers; some even bargain with the authorities for preferential tax treatment as a condition of conglomeration.

So far, the Chinese authorities seem to find in press conglomeration a panacea for resolving many difficult problems that must be faced sooner or later. Communist state planners may conveniently forget their harsh criticisms of Western capitalists, but they are satisfied that the Communist Party, not the capitalists, gains control of China's press conglomerates. Press conglomeration, however, does exact social prices that the Chinese authorities do not seem to have thought through. The state altered the policy by fiat, without transparency, and probably masking a series of behind-the-scenes bargains with the emergent financial forces. For press conglomeration to work, China must confront many vexing legacies of the Leninist system. To cite a few: How will the omnipresent state interfere in the process and operation of press conglomeration? In the course of controlling the pace, size, and process of press conglomeration, will the state be able to keep intact the traditional Communist mode of organizing the press? What will the relationship be between the core and its subsidiary publications? Will the core take away all or most of the profits from its affiliates? These issues warrant close scrutiny.

THE "PARTY PUBLICITY INC."



Zhou He, in a pioneering work, studies the political economy of the media in reform China using a more politics-centered and more state-oriented approach (chapter 4). As he points out, in China the party-state owns a vital part of the national economy, sets development priorities and projects, controls key resources and even the entire financial system, and regulates all crucial economic activities. On the other hand, the party-state once again lighted the flame of market reform in part to save itself at the brink of a legitimacy crisis following the Tiananmen crackdown. The real question becomes one of assessing the extent to which market factors have served to weaken, modify, or subvert various ideological dimensions of journalistic practice.

Focusing on the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily, one of the avant-garde and lucrative publications in a southern border city geographically and administratively remote from central control, Zhou He surmises that introducing advertising revenues into newspaper operation has affected various aspects of the newspaper in an uneven manner. Advertising and circulation management unashamedly follows the market mode; the organizational structure of the newspaper remains politically dominated but is becoming more accommodating of market needs. The party-state does not give up its authority to appoint top leaders but nonetheless lets the paper hire and fire more junior staff, thus helping to establish a reward structure based on performance rather than age or rank. Editorially, the paper exhibits what Zhou He calls "a capitalistic body" (to serve the market) that wears "a socialist face" (to pacify the party); its content is still conventionally framed, but its genre of discourse is being expanded.

Most important, Zhou He argues that China's party press is being transformed from a strict mouthpiece into what he calls the "Party Publicity Inc." Its present chief mission is to promote the party's images and legitimacy by means of softened messages rather than to achieve full-scale ideological indoctrination and brainwashing of the people. The outer ideological limits remain to be set by the party, but within them the press has gained greater room for maneuvering. As a profit center, the press has tried to commodify the politics in contrast to the old custom of politicizing commodities--in other words, instead of endowing most mundane issues with political significance, it is making serious political topics lively and interesting enough to attract the consumer's attention. The state expects the media to toe the party line in exchange for the opportunity to profit from the market. In the 1990s, the media have largely been devoting themselves to pursuing maximum market gains away from the state's interference, and so the media fervor for political reform in the late 1980s has been cooling off.

THE SOCIOLOGY OF NEWS WORK



In another piece of pioneering work, Zhongdang Pan brilliantly links the big picture of the political-economy perspective to the day-to-day practice of journalism (chapter 3). Drawing on the literature of what is generally called the "sociology of news work," especially the phenomenological writing of Gaye Tuchman (1978), Pan conducted a painstaking participant-observation study with journalists from six papers in Beijing. He tells many field tales that are most revealing of the "ambiguities and contradictions" in the current storm of news reforms. How do Chinese media and journalists manage the tension between economic reform and political control? How do they "improvise" certain strategies that may come to be routinized as part of new practices? How do such practices collide or coexist with the commandist approaches to weaken conventionality? These are the questions he asks.

The new political economy in China seems to have produced the latent consequence of creating a wider institutional space within which news organizations and journalists can improvise news practices beyond the official confines. But in view of the structural and ideological ambiguities involved, news improvisation is bound to be shortsighted, opportunistic, and subject to possible interruption by political decrees. This much-talked-about "news reform" is not guided by a coherent ideological framework but based on ad hoc tactics that grow out of the need to cope with practical problems. The media seem to have lost their zest for the usually abstract and "impractical" ideological discourse typical of the 1980s. Replacing their political energy is the goal of making money by groping for a more innovative product in format or content. To this end, the media form a new web of relationships with advertisers, run multilayered business enterprises (including such unrelated operations as hotel management), and swim around the shifting official boundary. However situational and informal, these improvisational practices may subvert official rigidity in the long haul. In Beijing, Pan seldom encounters journalists making references to orthodox party rhetoric, nor does Zhou He meet many journalists in Shenzhen defining themselves strictly as "party propagandists." Social change seems to have altered Chinese journalists' "practical ideology" if not their "pure ideology" (Schurmann 1966). But, admittedly, we still have only primitive knowledge about how this change has affected different status and interest groups (cadres, editors, and reporters) within the newsroom.

Accounts by Pan, He, and Stanley Rosen (chapter 5) have shown that news workers seem to attach much less importance to the fight for official passage of media laws in the 1990s than they did in the 1980s. Journalists have become more pragmatic and, perhaps, less idealistic. They realize that the authoritarian regime is only interested in the "rule by law," not the "rule of law," and that any explicit body of statutes does not necessarily protect their job rights or enhance their professional autonomy. Media organizations and workers have one by one jumped into the ocean of business pursuit, and in many ways business enterprises have risen to rival the party as a major influence on media operations. According to Pan's account, the ability to cultivate advertising sponsorships enhances the status of an individual editor or journalist within the organization and strengthens a news organization's power in relation to its news sources. Many news units evince enthusiasm for adopting trendy West-ern-style polls and surveys as new marketing schemes; some are prepared to facilitate the efforts of their staff in revenue-producing news work by providing better resources or incentives (automobiles, cellular phones, and cash awards).

Journalists' business acumen is largely embedded in the widespread and rather informal network of personal connections (guanxi) built around good faith and tacit reciprocity. The editor on duty, with scarce organizational resources at his or her disposal, stands to profit. "Paid journalism" takes the forms of trading news for favors, leasing space and time to commercial sponsors, exploiting media connections to make business deals, and disguising advertisements as news (Zhao 1998). It is a new and prevalent (mis)norm, partly because "everybody does it"; whoever spoils the game runs the risk of being ostracized as a troublemaker. Since corruption is so rampant and structurally embedded in government and business, official warnings have done little to curb it among journalists (Zhao 1998). It is difficult to know how far this process of improvisation can go without significantly changing journalistic practice or provoking an official clampdown.

MEDIA CONTENT AND IDEOLOGY



In the late 1980s, the politically boldest news outlet was Shanghai's semiofficial World Economic Herald. It stood at the forefront of advocating various comprehensive programs of political and economic reform (including the rule of law, press freedom, and democracy) and was closed down by the authorities during the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 (Hsiao and Yang 1990; Goldman 1994). Tighter press control briefly returned before the waves of economic enthusiasm began to sweep across China in 1992, bringing about increasing relaxation of restrictions in nonpolitical areas. But innovations by today's Beijing Youth Daily and the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily in no way match the political courage of the World Economic Herald. In retrospect, the World Economic Herald both benefited tremendously from the general atmosphere of political reform initiated by Zhao Ziyang and was used by his top assistants (many of whom are now in exile overseas) as a forum to advocate their reform agendas (Goldman 1994; Zhao 1998).

Instead of directly defying state ideology in the post-1989 decade, the media have learned to invent a set of more innovative and devious approaches for coping with the terms of political requirements and economic interests. Faced with the dilemma of having to please "two masters" (the party and the public), they have had to improvise a variety of seemingly paradoxical strategies to stimulate audience interest without stepping out of official bounds. Journalistic culture has changed considerably since the 1980s (Polumbaum 1990); now newspaper editors confess in private that their front pages endorse planned economy, their second to eighth pages support mixed economy, and their ninth to sixteenth pages advocate market economy. Many popular radio phone-in shows and television expose pieces appear juxtaposed with otherwise rigid and dogmatic programs. Many programs offer a mix of popular topics and emotional debates that attract high ratings. With the aging party leaders already in bed, the eleven o'clock national news on CCTV is said to be more daring and informative than its seven o'clock news. (CCTV is allowed greater latitude in programs such as "Focus Interviews" than the People's Daily is to expose such sensitive issues as corruption among the lower- or middle-ranking cadres. Television is quickly becoming the most potent shaper of popular images and values, but the party press retains its status as the foremost ideological instrument.) This evolving symptom of media schizophrenia is a stone aimed to kill two birds, party needs and public wants, at the same time. The media have little reason or incentive to offend the state, since they can profit from the market as long as they ritualistically chant the chorus of official dogma. The state is trading economic benefits for media loyalty.

Stanley Rosen (chapter 5) provides a fascinating account of how the daring Beijing Youth Daily uses investigative reporting and debates on controversial issues as popular marketing devices. As a local paper that stands out as an example in the 1990s of experimentation in news style and layout, it picks controversial social issues, conducts independent investigations, interviews the different sides involved, and invites a lively debate from its readers. The story series is likely to be introduced and concluded by a note from the editor that deliberately casts the issue in terms of "nationalism," "patriotism," or some other conventional value. These seemingly disarming press debates can be used to reconcile conflicts experienced by the public. More subtly, the readers expand their own horizon of vision and must rethink many core values through exposure to public struggles over redefining what is right or wrong. What is a "good citizen" or "public spirit"? Should nationalism suppress individualism? Must party loyalty sacrifice personal interest? Ideas germinate.

The newspaper routinizes new modes of reporting to cover "newsworthy" topics in highly improvisatory ways, to which the authorities can put a stop at any time. Therefore, the Beijing Youth Daily has a very pragmatic motive in striking a tolerable fit between party trust and market success.



Continues...

Excerpted from Power, Money, and Media: Communication Patterns and Bureaucratic Control in Cultural China by Jinquan Li Copyright © 2000 by Jinquan Li. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Editor's Acknowledgments
A Note on Romanization
1 Chinese Communication: Prisms, Trajectories, and Modes of Understanding 3
2 One Head, Many Mouths: Diversifying Press Structures in Reform China 45
3 Improvising Reform Activities: The Changing Reality of Journalistic Practice in China 68
4 Chinese Communist Party Press in a Tug-of-War: A Political-Economy Analysis of the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily 112
5 Seeking Appropriate Behavior under a Socialist Market Economy: An Analysis of Debates and Controversies Reported in the Beijing Youth Daily 152
6 The Nature and Consequences of China's Unique Patterns of Telecommunications Development 179
7 The Media and the Legal Bureaucracy of the People's Republic of China 208
8 When Capitalist and Socialist Television Clash: The Impact of Hong Kong TV on Guangzhou Residents 245
9 One Event, Three Stories: Media Narratives from Cultural China of the Handover of Hong Kong 271
10 The Paradox of Political Economy: Media Structure, Press Freedom, and Regime Change in Hong Kong 288
11 Mainland Chinese News in Taiwan's Press: The Interplay of Press Ideology, Organizational Strategies, and News Structure 337
Notes on Contributors 367
Index 369
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2002

    Power, Money, and Media: Communication Patterns and Bureaucratic Control in Cultural China

    Books about China's media and communications are far and few between. In particular, quality scholarly books about China's media and communication that demonstrate solid substance, provide thoughtful analyses, and reflect on conceptual and theoretical orientatioins are even more rarely seen. This book...is one of the very few recently published books that present excellent studies about China's media and communication. [It] has filled a large part of the gap in studies on international communication in general and on Chinese media and communication in particular.--The China Review, vol. 2, no. 1, 2001, pp. 175-8.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2002

    Power, Money, and Media: Communication Patterns and Bureaucratic Control in Cultural China

    This book will certainly join its two predecessors, 'Voices of China: The Interplay of Politics and Journalism' and 'China's Media, Media's China,' as the most important works on the Chinese media that have ever been published outside China. --Asian Journal of Communication, vol. 11, no. 1, 2001, pp. 173-5.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2000

    China's Marxist -market media

    Richly detailed analyses of such issues as the increasing influence of advertisers in China; the continuing efforts of the Communist Party to direct editorial content; the inability of the party to control the growth of journalistic diversity, media, and the Chinese legal system; China's emerging telecommunications policy; the impact of Hong Kong television on the residents in South China;the paradox of regime change and press freedom in Hong Kong; and the mainland Chinese news in Taiwan's press. This volume is the result of fieldwork conducted within China's media organizations that until recently would have been impossible. Professor Jeremy Tunstall writes: 'Fascinating new data and expert commentary on China's giant mix of market and Marxist media. A must-read for students of world media.'

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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