Life Spectacles: Media, Business Synergy, and Affective Work in Neoliberal China

Hai Ren


The way in which Chinese media communicates the meanings of everyday life has been significantly reconfigured since the late 1970s. ‘Folk television’ or ‘life television’ has been developed as a popular television genre that focuses on ordinary people and their lived experiences. This phenomenon reflects the neoliberal development of China’s cultural institutions in general and the privatization of television production and distribution in particular. Meanwhile, cultural enterprises also shape the way in which Chinese citizens conduct themselves. In such domains as leisure and consumption, operators of theme built environments such as theme parks, theme shopping malls, and even residential communities deploy spatial planning and engineering techniques to subtly train their users to behave in a particular way to become proper citizens. This type of business through real estate development, a dominant sector of the Chinese economy, contributes to the national project of managing social risks in China’s neoliberal process. To illustrate how media and leisure companies engage in cultural production appropriate to China’s neoliberal development, this paper examines both a television production of news about ‘ordinary people’ and a theme park operation of ethnic festival by focusing on the relationship between media convergence, business synergy, and affective work.

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