Sixth Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday and Sunday, June 22-23
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University


last update 2002/03/09

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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181


Session 7
Shanghai Pop: Local Transformations in Chinese Popular Culture
Organizer: James Farrer, Sophia University.

Not only have the forms and contents of Chinese popular culture experienced enormous transformations in the twentieth century, but many of these transformations have distinctive local histories. This panel looks at these local transformations primarily in Shanghai, focusing on transformations in Shanghai nightlife and film, with a comparative and historical focus that situates developments in Shanghai popular culture within a larger temporal and spatial context. Cultural politics, local traditions and economic strategies are accounted for in this multidisciplinary narrative of Chinese cultural developments. Andrew Field's paper describes the development of the Chinese dance hall culture during the Republican era, emphasizing that the Shanghai dance craze can only be understand as a series of local adaptations of initial western forms. Yomi Braester's paper shows how Chinese cultural politics in the early PRC era led to the reinterpretations of the connotations of Shanghai in Chinese popular culture, showing that what the "local" is subject political rewriting. James Farrer's paper picks up the historical narrative in the reform era by examining the figure of the foreigner in the development of a new Shanghai nightlife. Matthew Chew's paper describes the contemporary nightlife scene in Shanghai and other Chinese cities, focusing on the local nature of the Chinese nightlife, arguing for distinctive features not captured in a facile narrative of globalization. These papers thus constitute a historical narrative of Shanghai popular culture during the twentieth century, engaging debates on the globalization and localization of cultural forms, the influence of state-directed politics in shaping local cultures and often over-looked variations in Chinese popular cultures.

1) Andrew D. Field, University of Washington. "Shanghai Nightlife and Chinese Mass Culture, 1919-1937."

This presentation will offer a synoptic view of my dissertation on Shanghai nightlife during the interwar era. It will argue that the most interesting developments in urban mass culture occurred at the interface between Chinese and Western forms of entertainment, specifically the Chinese adaptation of the Western nightclub or cabaret. This occurred in the late 1920s for both commercial and political reasons. Western-style nightclubs and cabarets became popular among the relatively small population of Western Europeans and Americans living in Shanghai after the first World War. Yet these establishments could not run profitably with such a limited client base-they needed to bring in the Chinese elite as well. This began in the late 1920s when Western musicians were encouraged to change their musical styles in order to accommodate a Chinese audience. This method worked and soon Western clubs, ballrooms, and cabarets drew a regular Chinese clientele from among the upper classes (bourgeoisie, college students, intellectuals), who for political reasons were allowed far greater participation in urban cultural and public affairs than they had before the Nationalist revolution of 1927. In 1928, Chinese-run hotels began to set up their own cabarets strictly for a Chinese clientele who were given the exotic experience of a Western-style nightclub, but with Chinese hostesses to cater to their desires and needs. By the 1930s, through the influence of the "mosquito press," these hostesses became citywide media figures and propelled cabarets to new heights of popularity. Meanwhile, the economic factors of depression and war forced once exclusive cabarets to loosen their policies and open their doors to the masses. Thus, by the mid-1930s, cabarets had lost their elite status and were an integral part of Chinese mass culture in Shanghai.

2) Yomi Braester, University of Washington. "Reshooting Shanghai: How PRC Cinema Took Over Shanghai"

The pla's takeover of Shanghai in May 1949 did not mark an immediate change in the city's place in the country's economic structure, not did it transform film production overnight. The paper traces how the movies of the 1950s and '60s reflect the changing status of Shanghai in prc politics and culture as well as how cinema was retooled for that purpose. The tensions between the Shanghai underground and the Yan'an headquarters, exacerbated when Maoist doctrine fashioned the pla's victory as a peasant revolution and when Jiang Qing would vent her rancor against Shanghai cinema circles, can be observed in films that condemn Shanghai's "decadence" and stress the battle over the city. Until the late 1950s Shanghai was portrayed as the cradle of the revolution in films such as Weile heping (For peace, 1956) and Yong bu xiaoshi de dianbo (The never-dying transmission, 1958), and it was only in the early 1960s that films suppressed Shanghai's revolutionary legacy and depicted its culture as the source of evil. In this context I dwell on Wang Ping's Nihongdeng xia de shaobing (Sentinels under the Neon Lights, 1964). The historical background helps explain the treatment of space in these and other films. The 1930s have already witnessed the cinematic use of Shanghai locations to allude to social problems, and as early as 1949, Sanmao liulang ji (Orphan on the streets) directly associated urban spectacle with the ccp's political power. I show how landmarks acquire symbolic value in the films mentioned above as well as in Zhan Shanghai (The battle for Shanghai, 1959) and Moshushi de qiyu (The magician's adventure, 1962). Equally important is the overriding of earlier cinematic images (the subject of the larger project which this paper is part of). Beginning subtle rewriting of earlier pieces in films such as Modeng nüxing (Modern women, 1951) and culminating in the reappropriation of Shanghai themes in the Model Plays, prc film of the 1950s and '60s aims at erasing Shanghai's cinematic memory.

3) James Farrer, Sophia University. "The foreigner in Shanghai nightlife"

The figure of the foreigner has been central to the development of Shanghai nightlife during the twentieth century. This is as true of reform era Shanghai as of the Republican era. Both as customers, managers and embodied cultural signs, foreigners have centrally defined Shanghai's burgeoning leisure industry. This paper maps the geography of Shanghai's nightlife through the activities, images and uses of foreigners in Shanghai's bars, discos and nightclubs. Bars first developed in Shanghai in the early 1980s in order to serve the small number of western business people and tourists visiting the cities. Discos were first opened in hotels catering to foreigners in the late 1980s. Shanghai's first "clubs" were opened by a mix of foreigners, overseas Chinese and local Chinese with foreign connections, also serving a primarily western clientele. During the reform era all these venues became increasingly "localized" in terms of themes, management and clientele, but foreigners arguably remained central. The western foreigner ambiguously embodies many of the meanings of nightlife "play" in Shanghai, but unlike conventional signs, the "readers" of this "embodied sign" can interact with these actual foreigners, occupying, challenging and transposing the meanings the foreigner embodies. This paper uses data gathered from participant observation research during the 1990s to examine how people relate to actual foreigners in the nightlife scene, how Shanghaiese represent their cosmopolitan identity through these interactions, and how these interactions have changed over the past twenty years during which a vibrant local nightlife scene has reapppeared in Shanghai.

4) Matthew Chew, Independent Scholar. "Local characteristics of contemporary Chinese club culture."

This paper identifies and evaluates the local characteristics of contemporary Chinese club culture. Drawing from my experience in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, and Shenzhen from 2000 to 2001, I examine how contemporary Chinese club culture deviates from its Western counterparts. The aspects of club culture I investigate include dance music, DJ-ing, dance styles, clubbers' social attributes, and dating interaction among clubbers. Lyrics constitute a much more crucial part of Chinese dance music than Western dance music. DJs rap, sing, interject, and yell over the dance music they play, or MCs are added to the crew to do such work. Club goers invent risque and politically abrasive lyrics (shunkouliu) for rapping during the voiceless parts of dance tracks. DJ, pop musicians, and groups, especially Hong Kong ones, win audiences by lyrics that ingeniously fit the local clubbing environment. Ecstasy became the choice drug among Chinese club goers since 1998, as it was in Britain since the 1990s. However, the drug's reception in China as 'head shaking pill' generated interesting ramifications for dancing and club behavior, although one would expect the same chemical to induce similar bodily effects in everyone. Clubbing and sex work are more inextricably linked in China than in the West, subtly affecting the social constitution of the club crowd and dating interactions.

Discussant: Steven Day, University of California at Los Angeles


list of panels