Asian Studies Conference Japan

Saturday, June 19 - Sunday 20, 2004
Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University

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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 21: Room 201

Chinese Nightlife
Organizer and Chair: James Farrer, Sophia University

This panel focuses on patterns of socialization and glocalization in recent and contemporary urban China as expressed in the club and bar scene. Each paper deals with the localization of a regional or global phenomenon and assesses the contributions of social spaces such as clubs, karaoke boxes, and bars to relations between or among locals and outsiders in major Chinese cities. Anouska Komlosy looks at how clubbers and rock musicians in Yunnan have developed their own distinct identities by combining national and international styles with local styles drawn particularly from minority cultures. James Farrer examines the rise of a contemporary bar scene in Shanghai, describing how that scene arose in the 1980s to cater to a small population of foreign nationals but has become localized over the years and now accommodates a far more diverse crowd. Xiuhua Shen evaluates the roles played by karaoke clubs in defining and reinforcing masculine identities among overseas Taiwanese businessmen in China, as well as serving as an important nexus for the interaction between local women and foreign men. Matthew Chew looks at karaoke boxes as an important component of the local club scene in Chinese cities, viewing them as a phenomenon of localization which differentiates the Chinese club scene from club scenes in other parts of the world.

1) James Farrer
Bars in Reform-Era Shanghai

This paper focuses on the transformation of the bar scene in Shanghai from a small service industry aimed at foreign businessmen and tourists in the 1980s to a large local industry sector serving mostly local customers by the late 1990s. It examines how Shanghai people came to embrace a style of drinking culture that they originally had rejected, as well as how locals interact with foreign and overseas Chinese customers in the city's bars. This is a study in globalization and localization of a cultural form, but it is also a study in social interaction and the formation of a cosmopolitan leisure scene in Shanghai. Bars arose in the early 1980s, and were clustered around the major hotels where foreign guests stayed. As more westerners moved to Shanghai in the 1990s, bars grew both in numbers and in size, but as late as 1993 a visitor to Shanghai would find no large, lively bar scene attracting both foreigners and local customers. This situation changed in the late 1990s as bars began to cater to a local crowd. Since then, the bar scene in Shanghai has attracted investment from international groups such as the Hard Rock Café and the Lan Kwai Fang group in Hong Kong. Today, the bar scene in Shanghai is no longer limited to international residents of the city, but provides an important nexus for social interactions for both the city's locals and outsiders.

2) Matthew Chew, Hong Kong University
Karaoke Boxes and Chinese Clubcultures

Most dance clubs in the PRC devote some floor space to karaoke boxes and many Chinese clubbers have danced to club music in karaoke rooms. This crossover party practice is the most prevalent instance of localization of clubbing in China. It is mainly located in three types of karaoke settings: baofang in disco clubs, guest rooms in KTV hostess nightclubs, and karaoke boxes in karaoke box establishments. Each of these organizations generates different local clubbing activities, but I focus on the commonalities among them in this essay. I examine how these hybrid organization forms emerged out of unique local partying circumstances and how they shaped Chinese clubbing practices in ways unplanned for by their initiators. Since karaoke is a popular leisure activity in China for both clubbers and non-clubbers, it seems logical that karaoke and clubbing should crossover into a new practice. However, this is not the only or most important reason for karaoke-clubbing to emerge. Police suppression of drugs, moralistic views about casual sex, and the state's ambivalent attitude towards nightlife cultures are some of the equally significant push factors. The local mix of clientele – criminals and sex workers, successful business people, military and bureaucratic personnel, and mistresses and married persons – prefer more privacy than the typical spatial layout of conventional dance clubs can afford. Karaoke-clubbing practices thus open up an appropriate space for local circumstances while retaining conventional club strengths such as sociability and an international atmosphere.

3) Travis Kong
Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Happy Hours: Body, Desire, and the Sexual Politics of Hong Kong Gay Men

Perhaps the most spectacular and visible sign of the growth of the Hong Kong gay world is the emergence of commercial gay venues such as bars and nightclubs. The wild, carefree and glamorous all night extravaganza has its own charms and attractions. These "sites of desire," while providing a significant cultural force for gay men to identify with one another through their sexuality, language and values, are also "sites of domination," where Hong Kong gay men encounter the most brutal forms of discrimination. Through ethnographic methods such as in-depth interviews and participant observation, this paper will argue that Hong Kong gay men are living under various forms of domination inside the stratified gay world that operates according to the commercially-driven logic of hegemonic cult gay masculinity. Using their embodied cultural capital, Hong Kong gay men react against these hegemonic ideals in order to find love and intimacy.

4) Anouska Komlosy, St. Andrews University
Rock Music, Dance Clubs, and Ethnic Identity in Contemporary Yunnan

This paper explores the ways in which dance and musical clubcultures in contemporary Yunnan reveal patterns of identity construction in one of the most ethnically diverse provinces of China. Discos and rock music venues in Yunnan are influenced by trends in more cosmopolitan cities in coastal China, yet they also strategically adopt elements of local minority cultures. DJs and rock musicians in Yunnan are inspired by the vibrant Beijing music scene, yet unlike Beijing rockers, they use the music and chants of the so called “minority nationalities” in their tracks. They combine elements of 1970s Chinese style such as Mao hats and army bags with “minority nationality” jewelry, clothing, and tattoos, thereby creating an identity that is distinct from those of Beijing rockers such as the famous Cui Jian. Yunnanese musicians often sing in local dialect and spend much of their time touring “minority nationality” areas, where they have built a captive audience out of a winning combination of national and local styles. These musicians are generating a “Yunnanese” sound as well as Yunnanese rock and roll lifestyle that has proven influential in youth clubculture scenes in the Yunnan region. Far from merely signifying the abstract forces of globalization or westernisation, Yunnan clubs, musicians, venues, and their audiences strategically blend and mix local, regional, national, and international styles to create a unique social and cultural performance space for this ethnically diverse region of China.

Discussant: Tiantian Zheng, State University of New York, Cortland


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