Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Special cultural zones: Provincializing global media in neoliberal China
by Tan, Jia, Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2012, 204; 3551779
Abstract (Summary)

Special Cultural Zones: Provincializing Global Media in Neoliberal China explores how digital, televisual, and filmic productions of the liberal economic growth zones mediate constructions of ethnicity, class, gender, and citizenship in the context of neoliberal globalization. Specifically, I look at how the Guangdong Province in Southern China has been configured in media production, policy, and activism in China, Hong Kong, and the U.S. since 1980.

By framing the province as a site of neoliberal globalization in the context of global media rather than a region of China, this project challenges the prevalent conception of mainland China as a monolithic cultural entity and investigates the cultural exchanges among the province, Hong Kong, and diasporic Cantonese. Bordering Hong Kong, Guangdong Province has successfully implemented the liberal economic policy of the "Special Economic Zones" to attract foreign direct investment, develop export-oriented manufacturing sector, and thus launch the nation-wide economic reform. The province has become an integral part of the global economy and it now trades far more with foreign countries than it does with the rest of China.

Postcolonial historian Dipesh Chakrabarty's argues that we can "provincialize Europe" if we start to deconstruct the myth of "the west" as an original site of modernity by revealing the constitutive positions of the colonies in the modernization process. Chakravarty also criticizes the developmental logic of many third world countries that subscribe to the linear and progressive narrative of modernity. In my project, rather than provincializing a center, I centralize a province and use the province as an analytic unit to reconfigure debates on media globalization and transnationalism.

Though scholars in political science, economics, and urban studies have all recognized the economic importance of the province, they have rarely taken into account its cultural production and discursive formation. In particular, despite Guangdong's economic prominence, the representations of the province and regional Cantonese cultures have been obscured by the hierarchy in national media industry and the state-enforced monolingual policy of speaking Mandarin in public sections. In my project, I investigate the construction of monolithic Chinese nationhood in Chinese as well as overseas media and the subsequent negotiations with it in popular cinema, independent video-making, and transmedia activism in the province and Hong Kong. These negotiations, I argue, together with the cultural exchanges among the province, Hong Kong, and diaspora Cantonese, create dynamic "Special Cultural Zones" that mediate and question the developmental, economic-centric, and masculine narrative embedded in monolithic Chinese nationhood as well as neo-liberal globalization. Specifically, since province is itself a major political, social, and geographical category to mark and classify differences, I use the provincial as a way to account for the assignation and production of social differences that not comprehended by categories such as nation, citizenship, race, class, and gender.

This dissertation is not a retelling or reclaiming of regional history. Instead, it destabilizes the province as a homogenous entity and utilizes the province as an analytical category to make visible the shifting spatial inter-relations of the national and the global via contested cultural manifestations. Informed by critical geography, post-colonial theory and transnational feminism, I complicate the geographical dichotomies of center/periphery, global/local, urban/rural through the triangulation of three spatial dynamics of the Special Zones: the provincial, the migratory, and the space of exception. First, this dissertation challenges the prevalent conception of mainland China, particularly the ethnic majority, or the Han people, as a monolithic cultural entity. I argue that such misconception in modern times is built upon the China/West dualism. Analyzing how Cantonese media activism on the Internet and local TV programs interacted with actual street protests, it highlights the state-imposed hierarchical order of central-provincial media productions and expands on the exchange among Hong Kong, provincial Guangdong and diasporic Cantonese.

Second, this project questions recent models of transnational media, specifically the China-diaspora model that transgresses but still relies on the nation-state as an autonomous unit of analysis. By pursuing this strategy, it accentuates the Hong Kong-Guangdong connection and how hegemonic discourses of monolithic Chinese nationhood and the American multiculturalism have shaped the gendered ethnic formation in transnational Hong Kong film Eight Taels of Gold (1989) and others that feature transpacific migration.

Third, this dissertation elucidates how the Special Zones reinforce pre-existing urban-rural divide, solidify gendered urban citizenship, and normalize the biopolitical management of the migrant-workers through the politics of exceptional spaces. To accomplish this, it scrutinizes how new media environment facilitates recent digital documentaries and media art projects such as Sanyuanli (2003) for broader considerations of their narrative experimentation, locational aesthetics, site-specific practices, and negotiation with the "neoliberal spatialities" of the Special Zones.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: James, David E.
Commitee: Jaikumar, Priya, Lippit, Akira M.
School: University of Southern California
Department: Cinema-Television(Cinema Critical Studies)
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 74/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian Studies, Multimedia Communications, Mass communications, Film studies
Keywords: China, Digital productions, Film, Guangdong, Media, Neoliberal, Special Economic Zone, Television
Publication Number: 3551779
ISBN: 9781267898722
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