Workers and peasants as historical subjects

The formation of working-class media cultures in China

Authored by: Wanning Sun

Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415520775
eBook ISBN: 9781315758350
Adobe ISBN: 9781317635925


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Economic reforms, industrialisation, urbanisation and migration since the 1980s have given rise to what is now often described as the ‘new working class’ in China (Tong 2012; Qiu 2009; Qiu and Wang 2012: 159–92; Leung and So 2012: 84–104). But is there such a thing as a working-class media culture and, if so, what shape and form does a working-class media culture take? What are the political, social and economic contexts in which a working-class media culture comes to exist? And finally, if there is such a thing as the working-class media culture, then what is the relationship between class analysis and media studies in China, and indeed how should future research agendas be shaped by these concerns? This chapter addresses these questions: in the first section, I discuss the master-to-subaltern transformation in the cultural politics of identity construction and provide an outline of the main media and cultural forms and practices that are associated with the new working classes in contemporary China. In the second section, I consider the empirical, methodological and analytical implications of adopting a class analysis perspective and, in so doing, provide some thoughts on the shaping of media and communication studies as a field. I argue that, for the same reason that labour sociologists cannot agree on the level of class consciousness among China’s workers (Chan and Siu 2012: 105–32; Leung and So 2012: 84–104), it is difficult to generalise about the connection between new media and communication technologies and the level of workers’ class consciousness. At the same time, I suggest that although the development of a working-class media culture is uneven and its contour somewhat unclear, its impact could be far-reaching and its social–political implication is not to be dismissed. This discussion cautions us against, on the one hand, an essentialist idea of a pure and authentic working-class media culture and, on the other hand, a dismissive view about the long-term political, social and cultural impact of working-class media practices.

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