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This book provides a comprehensive analysis of Chinese advertising as an industry, a discourse and profession in China's search for modernity and cultural globalization. It compares and contrasts the advertising practices of Chinese advertising agencies and foreign advertising agencies, and Chinese brands and foreign brands, with a particular focus on the newest digital advertising practices in the post WTO era. Based on extensive interviews, participant observation, and a critical analysis of secondary data, Li offers an engaging analysis of the transformation of Chinese advertising in the past three decades in Post-Mao China. Drawing upon theories of political economy, media, and cultural studies, her analysis offers most significant insights in advertising and consumer culture as well as the economic, social, political, and cultural transformations in China. The book is essential for students and scholars of communication, media, cultural studies and international business, and all those interested in cultural globalization and China.

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Table of Contents

China Today Series

Title page

Copyright page





1: Modernity, Cultural Globalization, and Chinese Advertising

China's Search for Modernity

Modernity in the Early Twentieth Century

Modernity in the Mao Era

China's Modernization since 1978

China's Search for an Alternative Modernity

Cultural Globalization in China

Orientalism and Occidentalism

Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

Cultural Homogeneity, Heterogeneity, and Hybridity

Understanding Chinese Advertising



2: The Development of Advertising in China

China's Media Commercialization

Three Advertising Stages: From 1978 to the Post-WTO Era

Advertising in the Post-WTO Period

The Government's Support for Consumerism and China's Middle Class

The Rising Middle Class



3: Chinese Advertising Agencies: Dancing in Chains?

Contextualizing the Construction of Chineseness

The Transformation of State-Owned ad Agencies

Local Experience vs. Western Theories

Celebrating Local Knowledge and Chineseness

The Ye Maozhong Phenomenon

A Case Study of a Private Chinese Firm: Dancing in Chains

Disciplinary and Patriarchal Culture

Balancing Popular Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism



4: Branding Chinese Products: Between Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

Chinese Advertising and Modernity

Selling Nationalism

Selling Nationalism through Appropriating Chinese History and Heroes

Celebrating Current Chinese Achievements

Promoting the Chinese Heart in a Foreign Country

Selling Cosmopolitanism

Marketing Contrived Westernness through Western Models and Symbols

Selling Modern Western Values

The Convergence of Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

Marketing the Grand Unity and Universal Humanity

Chinese Landscape Endorsed by Western Tourists



5: Chinese Sportswear Brand Li-Ning: Selling a Cosmopatriotic Image

The Brand's History

Foreign Competition in the 1990s

Counterfeits, Pass-off Brands and Shanzhai Products

Li-Ning's Cosmopatriotic Image

The Brand's Olympic Strategy

Selling Professionalism and Chinese Culture

Rebranding in the Post-Olympic Era

Competition from Global Brands

Challenges from Other Chinese Brands



6: Controversial Advertising in China

Advertising Regulations in China

Absolute Truth, Fraudulent and Illegal Advertising, and Moral Codes

Problems with China's Regulatory Regime

Advertising as a Controversial Form

Controversial Advertising since the 1990s

Controversial Products and Services or Executions


Controversial Foreign Advertising

The Blurring of Geographical Boundaries



7: From Mass Marketing to Participatory Advertising in the Digital Age

CCTV's Commercialization and Media Auction

CCTV Media Auction

CCTV's Promotions and Media Ratings

CCTV's Challenges

Branded Entertainment

Co-creation and Cross Promotion of Media Contents and Advertising Campaigns

Close Integration between Media Content and Advertising

Xiaomi's Participatory Marketing

Xiaomi's User and Fan Community

Xiaomi's Ritualistic Communication



Conclusion and Reflection

Appendix: A Partial List of Ad Links

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6


Index of Names

General Index

End User License Agreement

List of Tables

Table 2.1  Advertising Concentration in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong in 1983–2007 (million yuan)

Table 2.2  Top 15 Multinational Advertising Agencies in China in 2005

Table 2.3  A Partial List of Public Offerings in the Chinese Advertising Industry

Table 7.1  CCTV Bidding Kings in 1995–2013 (million yuan)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.1  Factors Shaping Chinese Advertising

Figure 2.1  Advertising Development in China in 1983–2011

Figure 5.1  Li-Ning's Old Logo (left) and Current Logo since 2010 (right)



Table of Contents

Start Reading


Index of Names

General Index
















































































































































































































































































































China Today Series

Greg Austin,

Cyber Policy in China

David S. G. Goodman,

Class in Contemporary China

Steven M. Goldstein,

China and Taiwan

Stuart Harris,

China's Foreign Policy

Elaine Jeffreys with Haiqing Yu,

Sex in China

You Ji,

China's Military Transformation

Michael Keane,

Creative Industries in China

Joe C. B. Leung and Yuebin Xu,

China's Social Welfare

Hongmei Li,

Advertising and Consumer Culture in China

Orna Naftali,

Children in China

Pitman B. Potter,

China's Legal System

Pun Ngai,

Migrant Labor in China

Xuefei Ren,

Urban China

Judith Shapiro,

China's Environmental Challenges, 2nd edition

Alvin Y. So and Yin-wah Chu,

The Global Rise of China

Teresa Wright,

Party and State in Post-Mao China

LiAnne Yu,

Consumption in China

Xiaowei Zang,

Ethnicity in China

Copyright page

Copyright © Hongmei Li 2016

The right of Hongmei Li to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2016 by Polity Press

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Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK

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All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7456-7116-1

ISBN-13: 978-0-7456-7117-8(pb)

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Li, Hongmei,1974- author.

Title: Advertising and consumer culture in China / Hongmei Li.

Description: Malden, MA : Polity Press, 2016. | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015046121 | ISBN 9780745671161(hardback) | ISBN 9780745671178 (pbk.) | ISBN 9781509511136 (mobi) | ISBN 9781509511143 (epub)

Subjects: LCSH: Advertising–Social aspects–China.

Classification: LCC HF5813.C5 L484 2016 | DDC 659.10951–dc23 LC record available at

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Map of the People’s Republic of China


This book is the outcome of my ten-year observation of the advertising industry in China. I became interested in Chinese advertising and consumer culture when I was a graduate student at the University of Southern California (USC), where I completed my dissertation on the subject. My advisor Marita Sturken, and dissertation committee members Larry Gross, Stanley Rosen, and the late Richard Baum (at UCLA) provided tremendous support and encouragement. Larry and Marita have been providing continuous guidance after I graduated from USC.

I continued the research while I was a George Gerbner postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania in 2008–2010. I am very grateful to Dean Michael X. Delli Carpini for providing a stimulating and nurturing research environment while I was there. This project received Georgia State University's (GSU) research initiation grant in summer 2012. I also want to thank Richard Campbell, chair of Department of Media, Journalism and Film at my current home institute Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, for providing funds for indexing the book.

Jade Miller read through my dissertation manuscript at USC. Many of my graduate students at GSU read part of the book manuscript and provided useful feedback. In particular, I want to extend my appreciation to Carmen Goman for her meticulous editorial support. Mina Ivanova, Chris Michael Toula, and Laci Lee Adams also provided useful assistance.

I would especially like to thank the advertising and media professionals and scholars who agreed to be interviewed. To preserve their anonymity, I cannot list all of them. Among them, however, I want to mention Huang Shengmin, Chen Gang, Raymond So, Josh Li, Thomas Mok, and Liu Guoji. I also thank Liu Changming, Ruby Wu, Xu Zheng, Zhang Xiangying, and Li Mei for arranging my internships in Beijing in a Japanese firm, a Chinese firm, and a Western media-buying agency.

My family provided tremendous support. My two kids Sam and Joseph made the writing much more enjoyable. My husband Xu Cao provided a lot of encouragement. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law in Beijing provided support while I was conducting research there. My parents Li Linhui and Liu Zizhen always have a steadfast belief in me. This book is dedicated to them.



First Opium War


Self-Strengthening Movement


First Sino-Japanese War


Fall of the Qing dynasty


Republic of China established under Sun Yat-sen


New Cultural Movement


May Fourth Movement; Founding of the Chinese Communist Party


Second Sino-Japanese War


Civil war between KMT and CCP resumes

Oct. 1949

KMT retreats to Taiwan; Mao founds People's Republic of China (PRC)


Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; Mao reasserts power

Dec. 1978

Third Plenary Session of the 11


Central Committee; Deng Xiaoping assumes power, launches Four Modernizations and economic reforms


One-child family planning policy introduced


U.S. and China establish formal diplomatic ties; Deng Xiaoping visits Washington


Census reports PRC population at more than one billion


China issues Provisional Regulations for Advertising Management


China issues Regulations for Advertising Management


Tiananmen Square protests culminate in June 4 military crack-down


Deng Xiaoping's Southern Inspection Tour re-energizes economic reforms; China further commercializes media


Jiang Zemin is president of PRC, continues economic growth agenda

Oct. 27, 1994

Advertising Law is passed, which comes into effect on February 1, 1995

Dec. 11, 2001

China joins WTO; further liberalizes media and advertising


Hu Jintao, General-Secretary CCP (and President of PRC from 2003)


Chinese ad revenue exceeds 100 billion yuan for the first time

Jan. 1, 2004

Investors from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are allowed to fully own ad agencies

Dec. 10, 2005

Foreign investors are allowed to fully own ad agencies


Number of Chinese Internet users surpasses the United States

Aug. 2008

Summer Olympic Games in Beijing


Shanghai World Exposition


Internet surpasses print media and becomes the second largest advertising medium


Xi Jinping is appointed General-Secretary of the CCP (and President of PRC from 2013)


Internet surpasses TV and becomes the largest advertising medium

Apr. 24, 2015

China passes revised Advertising Law, effective September 1, 2015


Since China opened its doors to domestic and international capital in 1978, the “low salary, low consumption” system prevalent during the first three decades of Communist rule (since 1949) has gradually been replaced by a political economy that promotes higher salaries and higher-level consumption. Before 1978, almost all daily necessities were rationed, with prices determined by the central authorities. Producing and saving were two core values of China's economy. Ideal socialist Chinese cities were “Spartan and productive places with full employment, secure jobs with a range of fringe benefits, minimal income and lifestyle differences, an end to conspicuous consumption and lavish spending, and with decent consumption standards for all” (Whyte & Parish, 1984, p. 16).

Despite a thriving advertising industry in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s (Jian Wang, 2000; Jing Wang, 2008), China gradually eliminated commercial advertising after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), there were almost no commercial ads except for limited information about foreign exports (Chen, 2010). People were predominantly dressed in blue, gray, brown, or military green, prompting French journalist Robert Guillain (1957) to call the Chinese “the blue ants…under the red flag.” The streets were devoid of outdoor advertising, except for political slogans or publicity columns filled with printed or handwritten political announcements and propaganda.

Since 1978, China has undergone tremendous changes. Consumerism, attacked as decadent capitalism during the Mao era, has now become a key driving force to economic development. In the last two decades, the Chinese government has actively promoted domestic consumption as a way to restructure the economy. Current Chinese cities resemble the urban centers in any capitalist society, and attract pleasure-seeking consumers, with towering buildings, ubiquitous outdoor TV commercials, alluring neon-lit billboards, bulletins, posters, outdoor TV screens, mural ads, massage bars, beauty salons, department stores, and many brands of automobile. Chinese consumers have access to a wide range of local and foreign products, wear clothes in any color or style that one can imagine, and are exposed to domestic and foreign advertisements that sell customized luxury products as well as mass-produced daily necessities.

The “three big items”—the staple consumer goods (a bike, a watch, and a radio set) that symbolized a well-to-do family in urban China in the Mao era—have been replaced by the new three big items: an apartment in a good location, an automobile of a good brand, and the opportunity for foreign education. With increasing disposable income, a rapidly growing middle class, and an increasing number of millionaires and billionaires, China is now flooded with luxury foreign products, making the country the third largest luxury market in the world. A McKinsey report estimates that China will account for 20 percent (180 billion yuan or approximately $27 billion USD) of global luxury sales in 2015 (Atsmon, Dixit, & Wu, 2011). China has become the world's largest market for automobiles, personal computers, smart phones, and a long list of other consumer products and production materials.

Advertising, arguably the most important institution driving consumer desires, has developed rapidly in China. From a previously negligible sector, advertising has grown into a gigantic industry at double-digit and sometimes triple-digit rates, with an average annual rate of growth of 35 percent in the last three decades (Cheng & Chan, 2009). Advertising revenue continues to grow, often at a rate much higher than the general economy growth.

The development of advertising goes hand in hand with China's economic globalization, political liberalization, cultural transformations, and technological development, especially since 1992. As will be discussed in chapter one, four major factors—policy, market, technology, and culture—have shaped Chinese advertising. The dynamics of these interdependent forces are embodied in three key relations: state–media, producer–consumer, and China–West relations. These sets of relationships constitute and determine crucial features of advertising culture in China.

China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, further liberalizing the media and advertising markets. In the post-WTO era, the authorities have tightened control over media's ideological functions while simultaneously liberalizing their economic potentials. New advertising and marketing trends and practices have emerged in conjunction with new communication technologies and social media.

In this interdisciplinary project, I analyze advertising in China since 1978 as an industry, a profession, and a discourse in the broader context of China's search for modernity and economic integration with global capitalism. This book emphasizes the ways in which advertising practitioners negotiate between the local and the global, the state and the market, China and the West, and tradition and modernity. Thus it can be read as a cultural history of advertising as well as an analysis of China's broader societal and cultural transformations.

My investigation centers on Chinese ad agencies and brands, with limited discussion of foreign advertising, for three reasons. First, in the Chinese market, the majority of advertising agencies and marketers are local. Second, scholars such as Jing Wang (2008) and Jian Wang (2000) have discussed foreign advertising in China. Gerth (2003) analyzes advertising in the early twentieth century in great detail. However, research on Chinese ad agencies and brands published in English is limited. And third, the tactics and strategies used by Chinese ad agencies and brands reflect challenges and opportunities facing less-developed countries entering the global market.

This project is the outcome of my cumulative fieldwork and observation over the last ten years. I draw upon materials from advertising campaigns, trade journals, news reports, documentaries, and interviews. In summer 2005, I conducted participant observations in a Chinese advertising agency, a Japanese firm, and a Western media firm. Additionally, I conducted thirty-four interviews with advertising professionals, including ten working in Japanese firms, ten in Western firms, twelve in Chinese firms, and two in Taiwanese firms. I also interviewed several leading scholars. Further, between 2008 and 2012 I conducted repeat interviews as well as new interviews with ad professionals.

This book is among the first scholarly works in English that systematically analyzes Chinese advertising from the perspective of Chinese ad professionals, ad agencies, and advertisers. It contributes to an emerging body of literature that examines the tension between nationalism and cosmopolitanism in China's engagement with globalization. This book provides insight into China's evolving media industries as they are affected by communication technologies. It also allows readers to understand the changing relationship between the media and the ad agency, the advertiser and the consumer, and the regulators and regulated in post-WTO China.

Chapter one introduces the conceptual and analytic framework for understanding Chinese advertising. It discusses key theories and historical contexts that allow readers to look at Chinese advertising as an industry, a profession, and a discourse. I focus on China's search for modernity and cultural globalization, as well as the dialectical relationship between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and Orientalism and Occidentalism. The chapter stresses how key advertising influencers, including factors such as policy, market, technology, and culture, mutually shape the key sets of relations: state–media, producer–consumer, and China–West.

Chapter two discusses advertising and consumer culture since 1978 in the broader context of China's modernization, economic liberalization, and media commercialization. It provides an overview of advertising development and analyzes three phases in conjunction with China's political and economic liberalization. The government's support for domestic consumption as well as the rise of the middle class play roles here. My analysis centers on the interplay between the market and the state, the local and the global, and technology and ideology.

Chapters three through five analyze the tension between nationalism and cosmopolitanism and the convergence of the two. Specifically, chapter three focuses on how neoliberal policies and the imagined West-China relations shaped advertising ideas and practices prior to China's entry into the WTO and during the subsequent grace period until 2005. Such an analysis is also complemented by an understanding of important competition tactics and advertising strategies proposed by leading Chinese ad professionals in post-WTO China. The chapter investigates the transformation of Chinese advertising agencies (state-owned and private) and the discourse of Chineseness, focusing on how advertising has become a site for negotiating Chinese identity as a business and cultural strategy.

Chapter four studies how Chinese advertisers sell nationalism and cosmopolitanism by conducting an in-depth analysis of selected TV commercials and print ads. Given that Chinese advertisers and ad agencies often claim to represent more authentic Chinese feelings and values, an analysis of these ads helps us understand how Chinese advertisers reflect and produce Chinese identity, which further reflects a conflicting understanding of China as a nation, a state, and a people in an increasingly globalized market. This chapter is a modified version of a journal article published in the International Journal of Communication in 2008.

In chapter five, I extend the discussion from chapter four and investigate China's most prominent sportswear brand, Li Ning, in relation to global brands and other Chinese brands. The chapter analyzes Li Ning's marketing and advertising strategies, centering on the Beijing Olympics and beyond. The analysis specifically explores how and why the brand balances nationalism and cosmopolitanism to produce a cosmopatriotic image.

Chapter six looks at China's controversial advertising in the context of the country's changing regulations and its sociopolitical, economic, cultural, and technological transformations. Topics explored include the nature of advertising controversies; the differences between local and foreign ads; the impact of technologies; and historical, political, and cultural contexts that contribute to controversial advertising practices.

Chapter seven continues the discussion of the impact of digital technologies and analyzes how trend-setting advertising practices have changed the relationship between the media, the advertiser, the consumer, and the ad agency. I discuss three major advertising practices that have exerted lasting influences, including CCTV's annual auction, Unilever's branded entertainments, and Chinese smartphone Xiaomi's participatory social media marketing. The three different advertising practices illustrate China's shift from mass marketing to more responsive strategies catering to consumer needs and sentiments.

I should note three things: first, in the book I convert Chinese currency into US dollars using the exchange rates at the time of each occurrence; second, advertising revenue figures are not deflated because they are mainly used to illustrate general trends; last, the name of a Chinese person is spelled out mostly following the Chinese convention—that is, one's given name follows the family name. However, if a scholar is based in the West or has an English first name, the first name precedes the family name.

An incomplete list of links of ads discussed is included as an appendix.

1Modernity, Cultural Globalization, and Chinese Advertising

Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable.

Charles Baudelaire, 1863

Advertising represents a key site of cultural negotiation in China, a society that otherwise limits political expression. Advertising shapes and is shaped by China's sociopolitical, economic, cultural, and technological transformations. Through advertising, we can understand not only the challenges and opportunities facing China's corporate world but also the ways in which corporations respond to local, regional, and global forces in China's rapidly globalizing market.

This chapter sets up an analytical and theoretical framework for understanding advertising conditions in China. It situates advertising development in the broader context of China's search for modernity and cultural globalization. By emphasizing the productive dialectics between tradition and modernity, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, Orientalism and Occidentalism, and cultural globalization and localization, this chapter maps out cultural theories that help make sense of Chinese advertising as an industry, a discourse, and a profession. It concludes with a conceptual model that incorporates major factors shaping advertising in China.

China's Search for Modernity

As a grand narrative, Chinese modernity is inherently associated with global influences, ranging from China's semicolonial history to its current participation in the global economy. Modern China is characterized by a constant struggle between emulating Western modernity and creating an alternative model of development. Consequently, China has demonstrated an ambivalent attitude toward the West: a strong desire to imitate the West and a powerful resentment toward the West, largely due to the nation's historical suffering from Western domination and imperialism.

Modernity is often understood as the Western mode of sociopolitical and economic arrangements—characterized by industrialization, mass production, the division of labor, and urbanization—which lead to and are further shaped by a new ethos that supports rationality, efficiency, democracy, material progress, freedom, newness, and individualism. Mike Featherstone (1991) summarizes modernity as follows:

From the point of view of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German sociological theory,…modernity is contrasted to the traditional order and implies the progressive economic and administrative rationalization and differentiation of the social order (Weber, Tonnies, Simmel): processes which brought into being the modern capitalist-industrial state and which were often viewed from a distinctly antimodern perspective

(p. 3).

The “anti-modern perspective” quoted above refers to how modernity is experienced as a way of life that produces “a sense of the discontinuity of time, the break with tradition, the feeling of novelty and sensitivity to the ephemeral, fleeting and contingent nature of the present” (Featherstone, 1991, p. 4). A modern person constantly experiences newness and “the shocks and jolts of modernity” (p. 5). Discontinuity, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, a sense of loss of traditions, and nostalgia for the past have also been referred to as postmodern, post-traditional, or post-industrial conditions (see Berman, 1982; Frisby, 1985; Giddens, 1991; and Lyotard, 1984).

Similarly, Giddens argues that modernity needs to be understood as “an increasing interconnection between the two ‘extremes’ of extensionality and intentionality: globalising influence on the one hand and personal disposition on the other” (1991, p. 1). Giddens believes that modernity can be understood as a global structural arrangement as well as one's subjective experience.

China's modernity has been largely shaped by its relationship with the West. Semicolonialism and modernity came to China simultaneously. To become modern is a “grand narrative” (Lyotard, 1984) that has obsessed China in the last two centuries since the first Opium War (1839–1842) when the country, under the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), was defeated by the British army. After the Opium War, China suffered many more military defeats and was forced to open up its trading ports, cede territories, pay indemnities, and grant extraterritorial legal rights to Westerners. These military defeats gradually transformed China into a semicolonial society, and forced Chinese intellectuals and reform-minded officials to implement measures to save the nation. For example, statesman Zhang Zhidong launched the Yangwu Yundong (Self-Strengthening Movement, 1861–1895) to promote Western science and technology in order to defeat foreigners. The Movement's pivotal principle was encapsulated in the slogan “Chinese thought as the foundation, and Western learning as the practical application.” Unlike Japan, however, which was successfully transformed into a modern nation during the Meiji Restoration in the nineteenth century, Chinese elites still clung to the autocratic monarchy. The movement's failure was symbolized by China's tragic defeat by Japan in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). The failure produced “a new national mode of unparalleled apprehension, frustration, and anger” (Pusey, 1983, p. 5), resulting in Chinese people's painful conclusion that China was inferior not only in armaments but also in political institutions, culture, and civilizational achievement. James Pusey (1983) argues, “this was a loss of ‘faith in our fathers’ probably more traumatic for the Chinese than the post-Darwinian loss of ‘faith of our fathers’ was for so many nineteenth-century Westerners” (p. 201).

Since then, a central question persisting in Chinese society is how to strengthen China. Generations of Chinese intellectuals severely criticized Chinese culture and some even advocated a complete elimination of Chinese traditions. Nationalism and racism, in conjunction with social Darwinism, also took root among many Chinese elites and in popular imagination. While a few scholars attempted in vain to rejuvenate China with Confucianism,1 many others turned to radicalism and advocated complete Westernization of China's institutions and culture. Since then, inferiority and superiority complexes have simultaneously formed opposing Chinese sentiments regarding the West: while Chinese traditions are selectively eulogized and criticized, Western modernity is also admired as well as despised. These positions are not fixed; they shift and overlap with contextual changes.

Modernity in the Early Twentieth Century

The early twentieth century (1910s–1920s) is commonly considered the starting point of China's serious engagement with modernity, symbolized by the New Culture Movement and the subsequent May Fourth Movement. Launched by radical and bourgeois intellectuals, these enlightenment movements resisted feudalism and Confucianism and promoted science and democracy as two main principles. They also aimed to produce vernacular literature to replace Confucian classics and establish a new system of morality based on Western democracy, science, and individualism. Prominent intellectuals including Lu Xun, Hu Shi, Wen Yiduo, Chen Duxiu, and Qian Xuantong embraced Westernization as the model to save China (Shih, 2001; see also Lu, 2002). Shu-Mei Shih (2001) argues that Chinese modernists (a broad term including different groups and ideologists from 1917 to 1937) associated Western modernity with progress, scientific advancement, efficiency, newness, rationality, democracy, individual freedom, cosmopolitanism, and power, in contrast with a traditional China that was considered backward, parochial, spiritual, and weak.

While these movements enabled Chinese society to be critical and self-reflexive concerning its traditions and culture, they also produced a lasting rift among Chinese scholars and people. The few scholars such as Gu Hongming and Wang Guowei who promoted traditional Chinese culture were marginalized. Radical intellectuals who favored the elimination of Chinese systems and culture became dominant in the twentieth century, and the ideas formed during this period still resonate with China today.

Modernity in the Mao Era

The People's Republic of China, founded in 1949, implemented a new socialist political system and a centralized planned economy, which is commonly considered an alternative model to Western modernity. Chinese citizens were expected to consume little and sacrifice individual pleasure for the collective good of building a rich, powerful, egalitarian, socialist future. Capitalism and Western imperialism as well as Chinese traditions were severely criticized in favor of a new socialist ethos. Toward this goal, marketplaces, recreation centers, religions, and ritualistic cultural gatherings as well as commercial activities were suppressed.

While Mao's model seemed to be different from Western modernity on the surface, it still endorsed a linear understanding of history and naturalized the binary between China and the West (Chen, 1995). The model was also conditioned by the regime of knowledge and the socialist history constructed by the West about itself and China. Not surprisingly, Mao's China also emphasized efficiency, rationality, and technological determinism. What distinguished China and the West was merely different “cultural claims on the modern” (Dirlik, 2002, p. 17). Indeed, Gillette (2000) argues that to the Communist regime as well as the Nationalist government “modernization was measured primarily through material terms, with technology serving as the main index; ‘civilization’ was its ideological and ethical counterpart” (p. 14).

China's Modernization since 1978

After China implemented its open-door policies in 1978, statesman Deng Xiaoping promoted four modernizations: industry, agriculture, science and technology, and national defense. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping added modernization of state governance to the list. Establishing an economically efficient society was the top priority. Economic reform has since become a grand narrative that gradually delegitimizes socialist egalitarianism and instead validates income inequality as necessary for economic development. This pragmatic discourse is encapsulated in Deng's “cat theory,” which states, “It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice,” and in his policy that “lets some people become rich first.” A realistic pursuit of power and wealth, an assertion of collective identity, and China's ambivalent attitude toward the West constitute a large part of China's modernity (Lin & Galikowski, 1999).

The idea of complete Westernization in the 1980s was very influential, despite opposing official slogans such as “building socialism with Chinese characteristics” and “modernization with unique Chinese features.” Scholars demonstrated an insatiable yearning for outside knowledge. Qin Xiao (2009) argues that the 1980s could be viewed as the second enlightenment movement, even though it was an unfinished project. Further, many influential Chinese scholars equated modernization with Westernization, even though some advocated an alternative path (Chong, 2002). For example, Josh Li, former managing director of Grey Advertising in Beijing, recalled that many college students then felt that “China will be better off if the American President Ronald Reagan would be the Chinese president” (personal interview, July 6, 2005). In another telling example, Liu Xiaobo, a professor and literary critic who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, stated that China could only be saved by “three hundred years of foreign colonialization” (Chong, 2002, p. 223). While Liu's statement resonated with Chinese society in the 1980s, many now criticize his submissive attitude toward the West.

A third example concerns an influential TV show titled River Elegy (He Shang), broadcast in 1988 and subsequently banned. The show sharply criticized and reinterpreted Chinese culture, civilization, and communist symbols: the Great Wall, the Yellow River, the Dragon, and the Red Flag, among other icons. It contrasted China's “yellow land culture,” symbolized by decadence, incompetence, superstition, and icons of the distant past, with the “azure blue ocean culture” of the West, representing “youthfulness, adventure, energy, power, technology, and modernity” (Chen, 1995, p. 31). The show also ascribed new meanings to many Chinese cultural symbols. For example, the Yellow River was depicted as a source of poverty and disasters instead of China's mother river. The Great Wall was portrayed as a defense mechanism isolating China rather than a symbol of diligence and national pride. The Chinese dragon was described as an evil monster instead of an icon for good fortune and happiness. Su Xiaokang, the program's primary producer and writer, was on China's most wanted list after the government cracked down on the 1989 student democracy movement (a.k.a. the June Fourth Movement). Despite the program's short lifespan and simplistic portrayal of China, the key themes still resonate in China today.

All these examples imply a pervasive influence of Western modernity in Chinese society. In the aftermath of the student democracy movement, pragmatism intensified, resulting not only in the government's embrace of economic development in order to legitimize its rule but also in individuals' single-minded pursuit of monetary gain. In conjunction with economic development and globalization, some elites also show support for an alternative modernity.

China's Search for an Alternative Modernity

Alternative modernities evidence differences, conflicts, contradictions, and contingencies of modernity in different societies. Rather than focusing on the modernity, researchers of such alternative models explore many modernities produced as a result of “the articulations, productions, and struggles between capitalist forces and local communities in different parts of the world” (Nonini & Ong, 1997, p. 15; also see Gilroy, 1993; Ong, 1997, 1999). Ong (1997) treats modernity as “an evolving process of imagination and practice” in specific historical context (p. 171). Concepts of alternative modernities challenge the hegemonic conceptualization of modernity as a Western construction. Chinese modernity, as Ong argues, represents “knowledge-power processes that arise out of tensions between local and regional forces, and not merely in reaction to the West” (p. 172). In this sense, situating advertising in China's search for an alternative modernity requires us to consider how local and regional forces shape China's advertising practices.

In the last two decades, the government has attempted to de-Westernize China through selectively restoring pre-communist traditions as well as the communist legacy. For example, Confucianism was revived as an instrument to increase China's soft power.2 Further, “main melody” films and shows (zhu xuanlv), productions sanctioned by the party-state, appeared with increasing regularity. Sun (2010, April 1) argues that these programs “are propagandist in nature, usually re-affirming the official narrative of modern Chinese history and sugarcoating communist revolutionary heroes” (para. 2). Some recent state-sponsored big-budget productions increasingly employ techniques of commercially successful blockbusters to target younger audiences, with a few becoming very profitable.

A discourse of “Chinese traitors” has emerged in popular literature, and those who cannot stand up against foreign powers are accused of “losing their backbone” (Lin & Galikowski, 1999, p. 161). Scholars and writers such as Zhang Chengzhi, Liang Xiaosheng, and Han Shaogong, who advocated complete Westernization in the 1980s, have gradually shifted their positions and have begun promoting Chinese culture and traditions. The success of Asian economies has also stimulated scholars to argue that there is an Asian model of development based on shared values of Confucianism.

In the academic field, “new left” intellectuals—many endorsed by the government—advocate a “critical rethinking of the assumptions of developmentalism, modernization, linear progress, absolute market, and autonomous individuality” (Zhang, 2001, p. 40). However, these scholars are strongly influenced by Western postmodern theories, ranging from postcolonial studies (e.g. third-world literature), cultural studies (e.g. Said, Spivak, Appadurai), and postmodernism (e.g. Fredric Jameson) to post-structuralism (e.g, Foucault, Derrida). Thus China's postmodernism is “often synonymous with a discourse on nationalism, which reinforces the China/West paradigm” (H. Wang, 2003, p. 170). Chinese postmodernism has also been characterized by a valorization of popular culture and consumerism, making it difficult to generate serious critique of capitalist activities and China's political reforms. Indeed, consumerism has become a dominant value among urban Chinese (Zhang, 2000). According to Xia Xueluan (2001), Chinese society has shifted from traditional values to modern values (prioritizing career mobility, pursuit of diverse lifestyles, competitiveness, and consumption), from other-orientation to self-orientation, from obligation-orientation to profit-orientation, from collectivism to individualism, and from idealism to pragmatism (pp. 77–89). Furthermore, China's single-child policy has produced little emperors or empresses showered with gifts from their parents, grandparents, and relatives, resulting in a pleasure-seeking consumerist ethos.

Wang Hui (2003) argues that neoliberalism, in the forms of deregulation, privatization, and free trade, has become the predominant ideology in China. The combination of neoliberalism as an economic ideology and authoritarianism as a political system (Harvey, 2005) has produced a unique mode of economic production, referred to as “state capitalism” and “crony capitalism” (Bremmer, 2011), which favors those with political connections.

China's economic and political model was recently labeled the “Beijing consensus” (Ramo, 2004), an alternative model to the “Washington consensus” that promotes a free market and democracy. While scholars differ on what constitutes the Beijing consensus, whether there is a Beijing consensus, and whether the Chinese model is desirable, the concept of the Beijing consensus has attracted some attention, especially in nondemocratic countries. Even so, voices advocating an alternative modernity still occupy a marginal position. In the advertising arena, alternative modernity in China is often packaged as a competitive profit-making strategy, a practice that evidences Western influence. Diverse voices, then, still ultimately serve the interests of capitalism (Dirlik, 2002).

Knowledge of both modernity and ideas of alternative modernity provides essential background for understanding advertising in China as a profession, an industry, and a discourse. Advertising symbolizes China's desire to emulate the Western development model while simultaneously incorporating Chinese culture, balancing tensions between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, the local and the global, and tradition and modernity.

Cultural Globalization in China

Globalization today is only partly westernization. Globalization is becoming increasingly decentered—not under the control of any group or nation, still less of the large corporations.

—Anthony Giddens, Observer, April 11, 1999

Cultural globalization is characterized by increasing interconnections and a dramatic “compression of space and time” (Harvey, 1989). Since Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” in the 1960s, heated discussions about globalization (economic, financial, cultural, media, and technological) have appeared in academic writing and popular literature. Arif Dirlik (2002) argues that the idea of globalization that “perpetrates the goals of modernization is prepared now to invite into modernity traditions that had been condemned to irrelevance” (p. 20). Here I will review Orientalism and Occidentalism, and discuss nationalism and cosmopolitanism, cultural imperialism and hybridity, to provide context for understanding Chinese advertising.

Orientalism and Occidentalism

“Orientalism” is the cultural and ideological expression and representation of the Eurocentric construction of the Orient, with “supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles” (Said, 1978, p. 2). It is a general style of thought that gives the West the power required for “dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (p. 3). The Orient is othered as “an integral part of European material civilization and culture” and simultaneously contrasted to embody different images, ideas, personalities, and experiences, thus creating and naturalizing binary constructions (p. 2). In the process, “the Oriental becomes more Oriental, the Westerner more Western” (Said, 1978, p. 46). Another facet of Orientalism concerns how non-Westerners self-impose and internalize the logic of Orientalist discourse, consequently losing agency and reinforcing Eurocentric modernity.

Orientalism and self-Orientalism are important concepts for understanding popular culture in China because the Western Other has often been used either to push for reforms or suppress dissident voices. The West functions as an entity for China to either emulate or overcome. Specific to Chinese advertising, Orientalism provides a lens through which we can understand China's yearning for Western practices in contrast with local experiences.

Given China's active and voluntary participation in the global economy and media culture, Orientalism has to be reconsidered “not simply…as a system of mystification and manipulation imposed from the outside, but also as an on-going process of self-realization and self-fashioning” (Chow, 2007, p. 292). Indeed, Xiaomei Chen (1995) points out that social movements in China are not mindless Western replications; rather, they are new modifications situated in specific social and historical contexts. Chen coined the term “Occidentalism,” as a supplement to Said's Orientalism, to describe how discourses about the West enable the Chinese to generate new discourses and practices for domestic purposes. While Chinese officials criticize the West for decadence and corruption to justify social control and monitor dissidents, Chinese intellectuals invoke the West to resist domestic political suppression and support economic and social reforms (Tang, 2000). This suggests the complexity of invocations of the local and the global in popular and advertising discourses.

Although support for alternative modernities and indigenous culture often privileges local resistance, an insistence on local purity may serve as an excuse for a reactionary revival of older forms of oppression (Dirlik, 1996). Indeed, Asian values and “Chineseness” are often used to legitimize China's authoritarian control. The local is thus valuable as a site for resistance to the global only insofar as it also serves as the locus of negotiation to abolish inequality and oppression inherited from the past. As will be discussed in chapter three, the discourse of Chineseness and an alternative modernity are used in advertising partially as a way to legitimize local exploitation and labor control. Furthermore, Chineseness is inherently related to the issues of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, predominant schema through which Chinese advertising professionals and citizens/consumers understand the world.

Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

The discourses of nationalism and cosmopolitanism are different responses to globalization. Though nationalism may be viewed as different from patriotism, in this book I will treat the two as one and the same, because the line between them is often blurred. Many scholars agree that nationalism is socially constructed (e.g., Anderson, 1991; Gellner, 1983; Duara, 1993) and not some primordial identity waiting for people to discover it. For example, Anderson (1991) argues that the emergence of print media resulted in the construction of nations as “imagined communities.” The formation of national identity involves the processes of selection, reorganization, and re-creation of historical materials. Further, Duara (1993) contends that nationalism is best viewed as a relational identity, a site of dynamically competing and shifting representations and discourses. For example, he states, “What we call nationalism is more appropriately a relationship between a constantly changing Self and Other, rather than a pristine subject gathering self-awareness in a manner similar to the evolution of a species” (p. 9).

In China, the erosion of communism and collectivism has left ample room for the revival of traditional culture and nationalism, which are also reactions to the challenges of globalization. Official nationalism in China embodies two converging narratives: China as a victim of foreign imperialism and China as a victor under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (Gries, 2004). Since the 1990s, Chinese media increasingly emphasize the victimization narrative, especially when China experiences conflict with the US and Japan. Most recently, especially after the Beijing Olympics that corresponded with the beginning of the Western financial recession, the narrative of China as a victor has been intensified.

Even though scholars (such as He & Guo, 2000; Zhao, 2000; Hughes, 2006; Shirk, 2007) often focus on state or official nationalism, popular nationalism has become increasingly prominent. Popular nationalism in China often develops along with official nationalism, but can also form independently. A typical example of Chinese nationalism is the widely cited bestseller China Can Say No (Song, Zhang, Qiao & Gu, 1996), which was published by book merchants and distributed through nonofficial channels, with the main purpose of making money. The authors criticize Chinese leaders' worship of America, American hypocrisy, hegemony, individualism, containment policy toward China, and the US support for Taiwan, in which the authors believe some Chinese elites are complicit. A few months later, the authors issued the sequel China Still Can Say No, attacking Japan as “even more wicked than America” (Gries, 2004). The two books symbolize China's popular nationalism and its strong resentment toward the US and Japan, as well as a deep-rooted fear that the West does not welcome a rising China.

An important part of popular nationalism is “economic nationalism” and a hope to establish an economically strong China (Zhang, 2001). Zhang (2001) argues that nationalism in China results from the market reform that has encountered a global context “mediated, filtered, and sometimes blocked by the nation-state” (p. 42). Zhang continues:

Apart from an enhanced sense of geopolitical and economic interest and a more assertive cultural self-identity vis-à-vis the West, this popular nationalist sentiment is little more than a reflection of a renewed national confidence based on the continued growth of the Chinese economy.

(2001, p. 42)

Consumer nationalism in China has also become an important part of popular and cultural nationalism (Li, 2008, 2009; Jian Wang, 2005, 2006). Chinese nationalism since the 1990s has become a middle-class consumerist phenomenon, and a widely shared sentiment associated with global capitalism. Jian Wang (2005) defines consumer nationalism as “the invocation of individuals' collective national identities in the process of consumption to favor or reject products from other countries” (p. 225). A nationalistic consumer base is reflected through consumer ethnocentrism that stresses the virtues of buying domestic products and the rejection of foreign products in general (Shimp & Sharma, 1987; Wang, 2005) or through animosity expressed toward brands of specific countries (Klien, Ettenson, & Morris, 1998). Given that China has benefited enormously from its open-door policies, these nationalisms do not necessarily contradict globalization; rather, they represent different responses triggered by China's perceived unequal footing in the global community.

Cosmopolitanism, in contrast with nationalism, is another response to globalization. Diogenes the Cynic (404–323 BC) is credited as the first to think about cosmo-political identity as a focus on the “inner life of virtue and thought” (Nussbaum, 1997, p. 57). Emmanuel Kant (1795) developed the idea into a moral philosophy that concerns universal humanity and community. In his treatise Toward Perpetual Peace (1795) Kant argued that our sense of right and wrong should encompass not just what happens to ourselves or to those within our own communities but also to the universal community. Nussbaum (1997) argues that cosmopolitanism is an identity whereby people can “see themselves not simply as citizens of some local region or group but also, and above all, as human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of recognition and concern” (p. 10). Cosmopolitans make a conscious and self-critical move to encompass all people in their moral concern, even those who live beyond the boundaries of their national identity (and other domains of identity) (Goman, 2015). Cosmopolitans reject “exclusive attachment to parochial culture” and promote cultural diversity, multiculturalism, and the rejection of nationalism (Kleingeld & Brown, 2011).

Cosmopolitanism can also be understood as produced by a postmodern condition characterized by interactions among various local and global forces. Cosmopolitanism results from particular media systems that produce cosmopolitan values (Norris & Inglehart, 2009). While this may seem to equate cosmopolitanism with globalization, there is an important distinction. Globalization does not necessarily lead to cosmopolitanism. An increasing body of literature documents how globalization triggers parochial identities such as fundamentalism and nationalism as reactions. For example, Manuel Castells (1996b) discusses how identity politics (“legitimizing identity,” “resistance identity,” and “project identity”) is reconfigured through opposing globalization processes and “systemic disjunction between the local and the global” (p. 11). Globalization can result in nationalism and/or cosmopolitanism.

Taken together, cosmopolitanism and nationalism are different constructions of communities and shared meanings in response to globalization. While cosmopolitanism is produced by openly embracing border-crossing activities, which can be physical, symbolic, or imaginary (Clifford, 1992; Kelsky, 1996), nationalism represents an inward retreat defined by existing boundaries. While cosmopolitanism often has favorable connotations, a common critique of cosmopolitanism is that it is not sustainable because it privileges rich travelers. Another critique is that the concept is imperialistic and hegemonic, given its Western origin.

Nationalism and cosmopolitanism do not necessarily oppose each other; rather, they may occupy “poles in a dialectical relationship” (Van der Veer, 2002, p. 10). De Kloet and Jurriens (2007), in the edited collection Cosmopatriots, propose the concept of cosmopatriotism as one's quest for “the double articulation that is placed and displaced, territorialized and deterritorialized” (p. 12). Cosmopatriotism simultaneously captures the openness and rootedness of one's geographic and cultural identity. Indeed, there are popular cultural examples that conflate Chineseness and cosmopolitanism (de Kloet, 2007). Cosmopatriotism is not necessarily shaped by the nation, however. It may also be “an affect rooted in memories and shared experiences of the familiar and the everyday” (Leung, 2007, p. 22).

Since the 1990s the import of foreign media, products, values, and ideas in China has occurred in conjunction with a revival of traditional culture, leading to the use of cosmopolitanism and nationalism as a business strategy. Specifically, in the corporate context, Chinese advertisers and advertising agencies attempt to sell both nationalism and cosmopolitanism in a way that resonates with dominant Chinese values. While selling nationalism often relies on the appropriation of Chinese symbols, images, rituals, historical heroes, and China's anti-imperialist history, promoting cosmopolitanism celebrates the country's imagined integration with the West, which will be discussed in greater detail in chapters three to five.

Just like nationalism, cosmopolitanism has become central to middle-class consumer culture (Rofel, 2007). Chinese cosmopolitanism encompasses two aspects: “a self-conscious transcendence of locality posited as a universal transcendence, accomplished through the formation of a consumer identity; and a domestication of cosmopolitanism by way of renegotiating China's place in the world” (Rofel, 2007, p. 11). Rofel calls this “cosmopolitanism with Chinese characteristics” that both opens and closes the conceptual horizon. Further, it is in line with a transnational imaginary that is produced by a wide range of media images, domesticated in specific locality, and interpreted by historically and spatially situated consumers (Wilson & Dissanayake, 1996).

Cultural globalization is often embodied in postmodern pastiche and bricolage. Yet a central concern is whether cultural globalization produces and is produced by unequal power relations. This concern requires us to closely examine globalization as products and processes. The following sections will discuss cultural homogeneity, heterogeneity, and hybridity, which will further lay the groundwork for understanding how Chinese advertisers and advertising agencies deal with local, regional, and global forces.