Kev’s Thoughts On… China’s Cultural Development Part II

Posted: February 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , | No Comments »


I call this posting Part II because I wrote in September about China’s changes in media consumption in the past decade, and how it has changed an entire generation (and its sub-generations). This edition is less media and more social, but goes hand-in-hand with the media consumption changes experienced in China the last decade. I do recommend going back and checking out the earlier posting, if only to give more context and substance to what I write here.

Melody was reading a Chinese movie magazine the other day and commented on an article comemorating the 10 year anniversary of the movie Titanic (it came out in 1997 if you can remember). What the article said and what Melody and I went on to discuss was to me very revealing. For the mainland Chinese, Titanic represented a milestone or turning point in China cinematic-viewership history. While Chinese had access to foreign -Hollywood- films before 1997, it was Titanic that really experienced widespread popularity and put American movie-making in the hearts and minds of Chinese citizens.

Titanic as a watershed event is several-fold:
1) It was the first major hollywood movie to be shown nation-wide in Chinese theatres, thereby giving the entire Chinese populace full exposure to the ‘splendor’ of Hollywood film making, and creating a precedent for future Hollywood films to be shown nation-wide in Chinese cinemas
2) Through the Titanic story, a clear Western “Love will conquer all” theme (rooted in 19th century French Bohemianism) was projected to the minds and pragmatic culture of the Chinese
3) Titanic auspiciously opened right when mass-market China began purchasing Personal Computers for home entertainment consumption (this is where reading my posting in September comes in with context). The rise of PCs in China creates a boom in the derivative VCD and later DVD markets, and ensures that a Titanic VCD can be found on sale within 100 metres of wherever you stand in China for the next few years. The Titanic VCD also gives way to China’s burgeoning fascination with Hollywood cinema, and is in part a factor (I won’t say how big or small) to the issues we have today with China’s counterfeit movie market
4) It made Leonardo DiCaprio, and yes, Celine Dion, a household name.

While all these points can in of themselves evolve into lengthy discussions, I was most intrigued by the idea that it is this newest generation — the generation that grew up with the PC and the emerging media channels that followed it — is the same generation that grew up with the rise of American popular movie culture. It is this same generation that has spent a lot more time observing, scrutinizing, and oftentimes absorbing the norms and idealistic dreams that we ourselves have grown up with. And while most of us will nod our heads in agreement and say this is an obvious observation, I find this Titanic issue a very convenient marker for further differentiating what I had earlier labeled the “Transitional Generation”. For me, this Transitional Generation (this year aged 21 to 31) is not only the post-TV culture (aka PC culture), but the post-Titanic culture. To emphasize the importance of the Titanic marker, consider that before this movie came out, the only commonly-known American actor was Arnold Schwartzenegger, and the major influence on popular culture from movies came from the Hong Kong studios rather than from Hollywood. Those I call the Transitional Generation were young enough (i.e. still in school) that they had enough time and exposure to post-Titanic Hollywood films to have a chance at incorporating some of the Western ideas and themes into their own personal and sub-group culture.

The bottom line from all this talk about Titanic, is that we are beginning to see a whole fundamentally different generation emerge into the workplace. One that not only uses media differently, but one that is drawing on a much higher reliance –and perhaps alliance– on American culture. And now the most interesting questions can be asked: 1) how much of western culture has this Transitional Generation really absorbed 2) what part of western-movie themes enamours this generation (ie. bohemianism, happy-endings, freedom, unity, etc.) 3) what role has the infusion of western-movie themes had in the incorporation with traditional Chinese culture?
These questions I don’t think anyone can diffinitively answer, although they are each perhaps billion-dollar questions business-wise, and questions I am certainly trying to answer for myself. As I learn more, I will share it with you here on my blog.

So while most of us can barely believe its been 10 years since Titanic came out, give it another thought and think about all the movies and new culture we have incorporated into our lexicon and contemporary society. Remember that it is only these relatively new films and cinematic themes (like Matrix, Star Wars Episode 1, 2, 3 but NOT 4, 5, 6; Mission Impossible, Men in Black, Lion King, Saving Private Ryan, the American Pie franchise) that are having profound impacts on contemporary Chinese culture.