Modern China’s Idols: Heroes, Role Models, Stars and Celebrities

Elaine M Jeffreys


This paper examines the diversity of China’s popular culture idols with reference to a commemorative website called ‘The Search for Modern China’, which was launched in late September 2009 to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party on 1 October 1949. The website’s framing narrative suggests that the history of idol production and celebrity in the PRC can be viewed crudely as marked by disjuncture: the decline of heavy-handed Party-state involvement in the propagandistic manufacturing of socialist idols of production, followed by the grafted-on rise of western-style media-manufactured celebrities as idols of capitalist consumption. However, an analysis of the website’s pantheon of idols reveals that while some idols from the Maoist and early reform period have been relegated to the realm of fiction, revolutionary kitsch or are now simply passé, others remain very much alive in the popular imagination. A state-led project of promoting patriotic education has ensured the coexistence in commercial popular culture of revolutionary idols and contemporary celebrities, via memory sites associated with broadcast television, DVDs and the Internet, and the historical locations, museums and monuments of ‘red tourism.’


China – 60th anniversary; celebrity; fame; heroes; role models; youth.

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