Governance on the Production of Identity: Consuming Western High-culture in Contemporary Shanghai

By Fang Xu.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Urban China has witnessed an increased exposure to and interest in Western performing arts over the last ten years, especially in a metropolis like Shanghai. Although China has been notorious as a manufacturing site for global commodities, another increasingly significant aspect of China’s participation in the global economy is as a consumer of Western goods and cultural products. In this paper, I look at the veiled governmental intervention in Western high-cultural consumption and the urbanites’ responses in current Shanghai, which was a semi-colonial treaty port in the early 20th century, and is currently a strategically vital mega-city for the economic development in contemporary China. The collective memory of Shanghai being the focal point of Western and Eastern cultural encounter, and being modern and open to the world glosses upon the current conspicuous consumption of Western high-cultural performances. In both official and popular narratives, achieving the city status as a first-tier cosmopolitan city through cultural exchange and cultural consumption is of same importance as the development in the economic sphere. And Western high-cultural consumption is an effective way to glorify the city’s status and to enhance the ‘quality’ (suzhi) of the city dwellers. This entails the construction of grand theatres and invitations to world prestigious arts troupes. Furthermore, the flourishing market and the stratified audience group indicate social inequality in China’s socialist market economy. My study contributes to the understanding of how the availability and accessibility of Western high-cultural products influence Chinese urbanites’ daily lives, especially with the ideological and financial support from the governmental level. This research is also relevant to broader discussions about the roles developing countries play in facilitating the sustainability of Western high culture amidst processes of intensified globalization.

Keywords: Cultural Consumption, Shanghai, Globalization in Cultural Sphere, Urban Governance, Identity Negotiation, Social Status in Formation

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp.19-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.465MB).

Fang Xu

Masters Student, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Currently a Master Student in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Before the graduate study,I worked in the programme department at the Shanghai Concert Hall for years, and later was an assistant manager responsible for the Grand Theater at the Suzhou Science & Culture Arts Center till the summer of 2007. My research interest lies in the Western high-cultural consumption, e.g. classical music concert, in urban China under the reform towards a socialist market economy and amidst globalization. Its conspicuous nature and association with the West connote the social-status-seeking among Chinese urbanites. And I am also interested in the emulation reflected in this consumption pattern at both the individual and inter-city level.

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