Three Tough Questions of Cultural Studies
There were two driving forces behind this phenomenon .The first was a need generated within the academic and university establishment From the early 1980s, the academic establishment in China became a faithful follower of European and US academic trends .This narrowing of international focus was relatively new: while the Chinese intellectual world has been influenced by the West since late 19th Century, until the 1940s “the West” was understood to encompass more than simply “Europe and the USA” and in the early 1950s there was even a mood for upholding the Soviet Union and downplaying the importance of Western Europe and the US.
Three Tough Questions of Cultural Studies
Creativity and Academic Activism: Instituting Cultural Studies
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Cultural studies as an academic and intellectual activity only began to flourish in the Chinese mainland near the end of the 1990s and at the beginning of the new millennium, thus lagging at least ten years behind Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the mid 1990s several keen scholars such as Dai Jinhua were adopting research methods similar to Cultural Studies in their research on film and urban popular culture, and there were those like Li Tuo who openly advocated the development of Cultural Studies. These efforts did not generate widespread echoes at first. However, when Cultural Studies finally arrived it quickly gathered enormous momentum. By 2004 universities around the country, especially those in Beijing and Shanghai, were busy organizing open lectures and courses, translating and publishing Cultural Studies works from Europe and the USA, starting different research projects and establishing special institutes for the teaching and research of the subject. These activities combined into a so-called “cultural studies fever” that continues in China today.
There were two driving forces behind this phenomenon. The first was a need generated within the academic and university establishment. From the early 1980s, the academic establishment in China became a faithful follower of European and US academic trends. This narrowing of international focus was relatively new: while the Chinese intellectual world has been influenced by the West since late 19th Century, until the 1940s “the West” was understood to encompass more than simply “Europe and the USA” and in the early 1950s there was even a mood for upholding the Soviet Union and downplaying the importance of Western Europe and the US. However, the fascination with the latter became even more pronounced after the mid-1990s and by that time Cultural Studies was the only Euro-American “popular discipline” that had not been introduced systematically to the Chinese mainland. Therefore, from the perspective of academic knowledge production (or an academic politics that was eager to create a new dominant discourse), Cultural Studies seemed to be very important and drew much attention.
The second and more complicated driving force was a need stimulated by social reality. After twenty years of “reform” China’s society (especially in the southeast coastal region and in many middle- to mega-size cities) has changed tremendously and to an extent that renders it unrecognizable. This transformation has elicited different interpretations among scholars of the humanities and social culture. Some argued that, as China entered the era of consumer society and popular culture, Western capitalism was becoming the dominant force in shaping society. There was a therefore need to introduce theories from Cultural Studies – mainly, American theories developed after the 1970s – in order to affirm this new reality. Others were not so optimistic. They were, in contrast, disturbed by the great change in Chinese society. China is utterly different from what it was in the 1950s-1970s period; politically and economically it is no longer the old “socialist” society, certainly, but in the past twenty years it also has not come much closer to the model of European or American capitalist society. The Chinese government still practices collective authoritarianism; it still controls the media; and it has even become more corrupted. It seems that China is following a path that is still very much beyond the scope of current human understanding[i]. Where is China going? What will it become? What kind of impact will this changing China make upon the world? These big questions puzzled this particular group of scholars.
Under these circumstances this group was, first, resistant to taking an optimistic view of China’s present reality and towards its future; they chose instead to look at reality critically. Second, they thought the most urgent task was to begin the study of social reality; only through such study could we achieve an understanding of this great change. Third, these scholars believed that this kind of study should cross the boundaries of current academic arenas, not only to analyze cultural reality in a holistic and comprehensive manner but also to combine the study of culture with that of politics and the economy, given their internal linkages with cultural life. It was with this understanding that this second group of scholars found their way out in the Birmingham school of Cultural Studies. What attracted them most to the Birmingham school was the kind of critical social studies they encountered there. However, given China’s unique situation in which the rigid binary theoretical divisions beloved of the Chinese intelligentsia in the 1980s (modern /traditional, socialism/capitalism, project economy/market economy, communist authoritarianism/liberal democracy) had ceased to be effective, what they needed apart from new theoretical resources was a new name to work under. Given these considerations they thought that “Cultural Studies” was the name they could borrow, although they were cautious not to follow the mode of post-1990s Cultural Studies in the US that had become too entrenched in academic institutions and gradually lost its influence on society.
I was one of those who felt puzzled. Against this background, I became involved in Cultural Studies research and teaching activities that began to flourish in Shanghai, accompanied by the development of supporting institutions. In 2001, Shanghai University established the first Cultural Studies institute in Mainland China: The Center for Contemporary Culture Studies (CCCS). In the following four years, institutes of a similar nature mushroomed in different universities in the city, such as Shanghai Normal University, East China Normal University and Tonji University. These attracted scholars from different disciplines, such as literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and media and film studies, who were interested in pursuing Cultural Studies research. The academic faculty working at different institutes sometimes overlap; for example, the staff of the Cultural Studies sub-division of the E-Institution of Urban Cultural Studies at Shanghai Normal University are mainly from CCCS. The latter includes not only fulltime scholars from Shanghai University itself but also more then a dozen scholars from other universities who work in CCCS as part-time researchers.
These research institutes began initiating their own research projects, and those organized by CCCS were on the biggest scale. In 2003 a five year research project was launched with the overall title, “A Cultural Analysis of the Shanghai Region in the 1990s”. It included eight sub-projects involving topics such as media (television), the real estate market and its advertising campaigns, visual images of the street, “workers’ new villages”, the cultural history of factories and workers, literature websites, urban new spaces, and fashion. Research arising from these sub-projects has been published in monograph form by CCCS and Shanghai Shu Dian publishing house since 2008. In that same year, CCCS started another, even bigger, ten year research project: “An Analysis of the Contemporary Cultural Production Mechanism.” The project was again divided, this time into two parts: namely “An Analysis of the New Dominant Cultural Production Mechanism” and “An Analysis of China’s Socialist Cultural Problems.”
In Europe, the US and some Asian countries (for example, Japan and South Korea), Cultural Studies scholars have ordinarily been reluctant to subordinate the subject to the agenda of the prevailing academic establishment. In China, however, there was an urgent need for Cultural Studies to expand its teaching space in universities. In the second part of this article I will consider the major reason for this, but here is a minor reason: relative to the vastly ambitious mission of Cultural Studies, there are simply too few young people in Mainland China (including active regions for Cultural Studies like Shanghai and Beijing) who are capable of undertaking any kind of Cultural Studies research. In this context, university education is an effective channel for training students. From 1999 on, several universities in Shanghai (such as East China Normal University, Fu Dan University, Shanghai University, Shanghai Normal University and Tonji University) started to open elective courses on Cultural Studies for senior undergraduates. In 2002 and 2003, the Department of Sociology and Department of Chinese at Shanghai University enrolled PhD students who proposed to do research on Cultural Studies. Then in 2004, Shanghai University set up the “Program in Cultural Studies” which was the first teaching and research institute on Cultural Studies in Mainland China.
In 2006, Cultural Studies scholars from five universities or institutes including Shanghai University, East China Normal University, Shanghai Normal University, Fudan University, and the Literature Research Institute of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences joined hands to establish a joint Master’s degree program in Cultural Studies. The program, which is still running, consists of a variety of courses (such as “Literature/Video Text Analysis,” “Selected Readings in Cultural Studies Theories,” “Cultural Problems of Chinese Socialism,” “Reform and Problems of Chinese Modernity”) and each of these courses has its own special discussion forum on the “Program in Cultural Studies” website (www.cul-studies.com) to enhance discussions among students, teachers and interested individuals[ii].
Joint-school teaching programs and related exchange schemes on a larger scale followed. Let me take Shanghai University’s Program in Cultural Studies as an example of this kind of cross-institutional activity. In 2007, the department organized a summer seminar on “Cultural Studies in the Chinese World”; eleven experienced Cultural Studies scholars came from Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai to spend five days discussing their work with more than thirty young teachers and PhD students from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China[iii]. Then in 2008 and 2009, the department worked with the Institute of Chinese Literature and Culture at Waseda University in Tokyo to create discussion platforms among PhD students from both sides. Starting from 2010, the department is taking part in the planning of a multilateral regional Asian Cultural Studies postgraduate program in “Inter-Asia Cultural Studies.” Further, it is organizing a two-part summer seminar on ”Cultural Studies Methodology", with the first meeting taking place in August 2010 in Haikou, capital of Hainan Province, and the second projected for summer 2011 in Harbin, capital of Hei-long-jiang Province.
These activities have induced a series of difficulties, or “tough questions”, in both practice and theory. In what follows I will elaborate three of these, still using the Shanghai University Program as an example.
1. Cultural Studies and the university establishment
Historically, to be anti-establishment is one of the basic standpoints of Cultural Studies. But in contemporary China centralization of state power is still the norm; nearly every major social resource is in the hands of “the establishment”. If Cultural Studies did not enter the established university order and utilize its resources (for example, the means to circulate information and secure financial help), it would have no hope of surviving. On the other hand, school education plays a heavy role in a mature modern society where unequal social structures may have an intensified impact on students through the formal education process. In China today, children from the lower income stratum are experiencing a severe “intellectual retardation.” Schools have become the major sites for reproducing, instead of breaking down, unequal social structures. In literary education, for example, there has been a decline in subjects such as “Modern Chinese Literature,” “Literature Studies” and “Comparative Literature” that were outstanding in the 1980s for nurturing critical thinking among students; in the 1990s, one by one they became rule-abiding and lost their luster. At the same time, the viewpoint that university is merely a place to gain a ticket for high-paid jobs is becoming more popular. After the mid-1990s, the sharp rise in tuition fees and an emphasis on so-called “quality education” led to a more frightening phenomenon: children from low-income families are finding it harder and harder to study in universities. Under these circumstances, how could Cultural Studies abstain from the university education system which defines the future of society?
But there are risks to consider. When you try to make use of the establishment, the establishment has its own agenda for making use of you. When Cultural Studies gradually entered the university system and set up departments, we had to ask whether it would face the same fate as, say, the Comparative Literature that was introduced to China thirty years ago but subsequently faded as a critical and socially active discipline? As Cultural Studies reluctantly struggled into the university establishment (not an easy task)[iv], our corresponding strategy was to remain fully alert to the risks involved and to try to develop and maintain the subject’s inter-disciplinary characteristics. In 2004 when the Shanghai University “Program in Cultural Studies” was in preparation, we upheld one key principle: Cultural Studies is not a specific profession or discipline like “Modern Chinese Literature”. It is more like an approach, a research method towards culture and society, or a broad vision that must be free from rigid disciplinary boundaries.
There are different ways to implement this principle. First, the department doesn’t offer undergraduate programs in Cultural Studies; only undergraduate elective courses are offered[v]. We encourage students to receive a systematic academic training in a particular profession or major before they pursue the programs in our department. Second, our master’s and doctoral programs are not offered under one discipline but under many different disciplines[vi]. From 2008 on, the department opened a core course “Introduction to Cultural Studies” for first year master students from a variety of majors. In this way, it is treated as a kind of general education unit; for example, we opened a general education course on “Cultural Studies and Problems of Chinese Modernity” for first year master students from five streams of the Department of Chinese (“Chinese Modern and Contemporary Literature,” “Chinese Ancient Literature,” “Literature Studies,” “World Literature,” and “Comparative Literature”). In future, the department is going to come up with more such differing arrangements and let our postgraduate students continue to break away from their monotonous specialist training.
Then, in order to match up with the “multi-disciplinary” characterization, the Program in Cultural Studies maintains a comparatively small fulltime faculty. Thus in September 2009 the department had only three full time professors with PhD research areas in, respectively, Literature, Sociology and Gender Studies. Eleven members of the department committee, including the department head, are from five different departments or schools of the university: the Department of Chinese, the Department of Sociology, the Department of Video and Art, the Department of Media and the School of Intellectual Property. We hope that this structure can overcome the tendency towards narrow professionalization which is the common practice in China’s university education system.
Finally, the department continues to push Cultural Studies education beyond the physical boundaries of the university and to enable it to enter the expansive social sphere. Alongside our participation in the joint Master’s degree program and the “Inter-Asia Cultural Studies” postgraduate program mentioned above, the Cultural Studies forums on the “Contemporary Cultural Studies” website also have great potential for further development. At my time of writing there are ten BBS forums for ten Cultural Studies courses (mainly postgraduate courses, although some are senior undergraduate courses) offered by different universities[vii]. Excellent discussions are uploaded to the website’s major forum (“Re Feng”) as soon as possible in order to reach a wider readership and attract more criticisms. Through this method, the Cultural Studies education based in a particular school can link up with a global readership. That expands the openness of Cultural Studies education.
These initiatives are all arrangements secured within the teaching system, but these alone cannot completely resolve an even tougher question: if one wants to establish an independent working area for Cultural Studies in the university system, then Cultural Studies needs first to be accepted as an independent discipline. In order to gain this status, one must be able to confirm that Cultural Studies has its own specific research topics that cannot be grasped by other disciplines, and one must also provide corresponding analytical theories and methods. To say “cultural studies is an approach” cannot fulfill these requirements. In my opinion, this may be the trump card of the university establishment. It forces us to solidly define the academic content of Cultural Studies as an independent discipline, and it is exactly during this process that the establishment tries to tame it. The university’s demand to make Cultural Studies a subject is closely related to the pressure of the so-called “manpower market.” When they ask “what is the academic content of Cultural Studies?” they are in effect asking “what kind of jobs can Cultural Studies graduates do?” As teachers, we must pay attention to the employment prospect of students, it is not an easy task to fulfill this need and at the same time to avoid Cultural Studies becoming another manpower-production profession under the double pressure of the current university establishment and the Chinese-style market mechanism. Therefore, we must choose for Cultural Studies a specific academic content that serves two purposes. On one hand, it could, at least partially, fulfill the formal requirements of the establishment, but at the same time it could preserve or even develop a kind of potential energy that can break through this formality.
Two decisions were made with respect to this problem. The first was indeed to confirm the basic research object of Mainland China’s Cultural Studies. One important aspect of the great social change over the past 30 years has been the formulation of a new dominant culture that is utterly different from the “Maoist thought” entrenched from the 1950s to 1970s. Based on a highly idiosyncratic mechanism for formulation, operation and dispersion, the new dominant culture has saturated nearly every aspect of the society, from the value system to material life, and it has become the major channel for the reproduction of the whole society. It is worth paying attention to the relationship between this new dominant culture and “socialist” history during the 1950s to 1970s. If the latter did not exist, it would be difficult to conceive of the formation of the current phenomenon. In a sense, the current culture is the product of the socialist phase. On the other hand, one of the key functions of today’s dominant culture is to control the public understanding of the past era (no matter whether someone has experienced that past or not). From this perspective, the “socialist” history now in the minds of numerous Chinese is to a large extent a product of the new dominant culture.
In the light of this understanding, we affirmed both “the production mechanism of the current dominant culture” and “the relationship between this culture and ‘socialist’ history” as the major objects of Cultural Studies in the Chinese mainland today. These objects, or a full outline of them, could only be scrutinized clearly through the window of Cultural Studies as we understand it. We do not even hesitate to say that it is this window of Cultural Studies that gives forms to these objects. We believe that no researchers who bind themselves within a singular discipline (including Cultural Studies) can have an adequate insight into these research objects. Only when they determine to cross over the boundaries between disciplines and borrow from different trains of thought can they really move forward.
The second decision was to confirm the outline of a methodology for mainland China’s Cultural Studies. The basic purpose of Cultural Studies in China not only rests on the critical analysis of the cultural situation in the society and the oppressive mechanism behind its production. There is another mission that is at least equally important: to enhance the possibilities for a positive reform of the society and the cultural situation in general. This purpose is based on a judgment: while a new social structure which is seriously twisted has already taken shape in China today, it is still not totally stable. Turbulence in economy, politics and culture continues and is delaying the settlement and self-perfection of this new structure. Reality is worrying but not without hope; if there are enough positive elements ready to intervene, the society may change in a positive direction. Based on this understanding, a bilinear structure is used to outline the methodology of mainland Chinese Cultural Studies, one in which “critical analysis” and “proactive intervention” are undertaken at the same time. To borrow a pair of political concepts from the 1950s, it involves “destruction” and “construction” at the same time; these work together and survive reciprocally. Hopefully this methodology can help Cultural Studies to continue its breakthrough work not only among different disciplines but across academic circles, the wider society and culture, and even social movements.
This formulation of the academic content of Cultural Studies should work with the teaching strategies described above to fight against the strong assimilationist power of the university establishment[viii]. But the results are not yet clear.
2. Cultural Studies and positive reform of society
Another tough question follows: if Cultural Studies is not to be equated only with research activities in universities but also wants to intervene and change reality, then one needs to consider the potential forces for positive social reform. In present-day China, urbanization is taking place at enormous speed and “winner takes all” becomes the norm under severe social stratification; where, then, are these potential social forces for positive reform? Outdated theories of revolution cannot provide an effective answer. We must do the analysis ourselves.
At present, scholars in the Cultural Studies circle suggest two answers. The first answer points to the middle-income stratum (not “the middle class”) in the cities. This stratum is a very complicated one and a large part of it—for example, the white collar management staff of industrial and commercial enterprises and the many below-middle-level civil servants—is deeply influenced by the dominant culture and think of themselves as the lucky ones who continue to benefit from the “market economy reform.” Therefore they choose, consciously or unconsciously, to stand beside the “new rich”, a new stratum that appeared together with a “lower stratum” during China’s social stratification over the past thirty years. At present the majority of the new rich consists of three types of people: the so called “civil entrepreneurs,” the “middle to upper level civil servants” and the senior management staff of different industrial and commercial enterprises. (In fact this stratum has become the ruling class of today’s China). But there is also a group of people in the middle-income stratum who understand their real social position and have a certain amount of cultural and economic power. They are the ones who have the will and energy to reform.
The second proposed answer is that the major force for reform can still come from the lower income stratum in cities and villages, mainly the poor city dwellers, migrant workers and poor farmers who live in villages (the majority of rural population), because they are the most oppressed people. According to Maoist thinking, one finds the biggest resistance where there is the biggest oppression. Currently, however, I agree with the first answer. In a highly modernized society like that of China today, it is not possible for the public to retain their own political, economic and cultural space and people from the lower stratum have been deprived of their powers in many respects. In this situation, although they are indeed facing huge oppression, they severely lack the energy to resist and their many vigorous actions do not actually constitute a strong disruption of the present social structure. For this reason, I am afraid the lower stratum cannot be the major potential force for reform.
However, the dispute between these two answers generates further analysis of the corresponding political, economic and cultural conditions of the urban middle income stratum and the lower income stratum. At the same time, it also stimulates reflection upon the teaching methodology of Cultural Studies. The question is whether Cultural Studies education in mainland China today should focus on the middle income stratum through university programs, newspaper articles, websites, lectures and academic papers, or on the lower income stratum through non-regular educational means such as night schools, schools for the children of migrant workers and village construction campaigns[ix]. It is difficult to choose between the two. However, since we are in the city, the teaching activities of the Program in Cultural Studies have been following, at least up till now, the middle-income oriented set of educational means.
The second answer may not be correct but there is no reason to overlook it as it brings out another important related issue: the relationship between Cultural Studies education and the Chinese village. Despite pervasive urbanization and despite 200 million migrant workers working in cities, villages still occupy the biggest part of China and the majority of the Chinese population are still farmers. However, at least up to this moment, mainland Chinese Cultural Studies basically focuses on “cities” and to such an extent that there is little difference between Cultural Studies and “urban Cultural Studies.” There are many reasons for this, one being a near “innate” theoretical restriction: European and US Cultural Studies theories were generated in the social conditions of highly urbanized societies and when these theories were introduced into China they naturally led research to focus on the cities. There is also the real stimulus that while China can still be treated as an agricultural country it is dominated by cities and if you want to see China clearly you cannot avoid those cities. Moreover, Cultural Studies scholars usually work in universities and live in cities and they are also bound to their own life experiences. However, the lack of understanding in Cultural Studies circles of rural reality and the wide range of false imaginings derived from this lack (for example, the idea that most Chinese villages still retain a ‘village’ culture that is clearly distinct from urban culture) are worrying. How should we teach Cultural Studies in this situation? Is it reasonable to simply evade the rural area and its cultural conditions and talk about the cities alone?
Over the past six to seven years, a considerable proportion of the postgraduate students in Cultural Studies programs came from the rural area, or had teaching experiences in village schools beforehand. They had first hand experiences of contemporary rural reality, and this is true not only of Shanghai University but other universities as well. However, to have lived in the village does not mean that one understands the village; the key is rather how to handle one’s life experiences. For example, villages in the east of the country have long been absorbed by the urban dominant culture. Young people there are classified legally as farmers, but their perceptions towards themselves and their life world are mostly “urban.” They are eager followers of urban popular culture and during class discussions we found that those who came from the village are more attached to urban popular culture than students who actually grew up in cities[x]. Villages in China today have long been incorporated into the social network led by big cities, therefore both ends of the domination chain actually form part of the one urban-rural system. It follows that if Cultural Studies education only focuses on cities and overlooks the villages, it is no different from restricting one’s horizon or seeing things with one eye shut. Teachers with their eyes shut cannot train students to perceive and grasp the full picture of the society.
But how can students use Cultural Studies methods to discuss rural cultural issues in the classroom? In 2004, under the influence of nation-wide discussions on “the three-dimensional rural issues” (namely, agriculture, rural villages, and farmers) we started to organize students, mostly postgraduate, to work as volunteer teachers (zhi jiao) in villages—for example, in poor regions in Shandong and agricultural regions in Hubei—and to do cultural and social surveys at the same time[xi]. Some of the students also went to teach in schools for migrant workers’ children in the Shanghai suburbs until 2007, when the Shanghai municipal government began allowing the children of rural migrant workers to study in local schools and at the same time closed all specialized schools for these children. These activities had good effects on our students. For example, when students acquired a direct understanding of the reality of rural culture it usually helped them to understand better the working mechanism of urban popular culture; some students even stepped forward to help set up specialized organizations and planned long term involvement in the reform of rural cultural conditions.
Nevertheless, there were many obstacles and difficulties. Local officials tried to obstruct students from doing surveys, the headmasters of village schools exploited the “teaching volunteers” for their own benefit and, in some cases, even the national security authorities stepped in. The biggest problem, though, is that without the full support of relevant research resources we have to ask whether it is really an effective way to open up the village dimension of Cultural Studies education through these short visits. From one perspective, to work in the village is a trial to test the validity of the second answer to the question above about the potential forces of positive social reform (remembering that as early as the 1950s, and as part of the “education revolution” advocated by Mao Zedong, many universities organized students to go to villages and even have classes in the fields). But from another perspective, the practice itself is immature; it is no different from building a bridge without having a deep foundation on both sides (i.e. university and village); the bridge built will surely be unstable and unsafe. A great deal of work is necessary if we really want to open up Cultural Studies to village experience and explore the issues of rural culture. It is still very difficult to tell how the teaching of Cultural Studies can become part of positive social reform.
3. The “glocal” sensibility of Cultural Studies
A reality confronts us. On the one hand, after a process of “passive modernization” that lasted for 150 years, China is now deep in the massive current of modernization /globalization. Nearly every corner in this country is closely linked now with that current. On the other hand, China remains a unique country for many historical reasons (of which four of the most important are its huge population and territory, its geographic position, the timing of its encounter with the imperial West, and the sheer historical momentum carried by 5000 years of uninterrupted civilization), and its modern history and current social situation clearly differ from those in the West. Therefore, Cultural Studies in the Chinese mainland should develop “glocal” characteristics to accommodate this complicated reality. “Glocal” here means developing an intellectual horizon or a comprehension ability capable of combining the “global” with “China”. This would be a capacity simultaneously to identify the Chinese influence on the world and the global elements active in China, for only if it is equipped with this glocal awareness can Cultural Studies in the Chinese mainland develop both a real and effective global horizon and a sense of care towards the world. In effect, one of the reasons that we chose “Cultural Studies” to name ourselves is that the subject has developed a strong politics of locality.
How to develop this glocal sensibility? The first thing to do is to confront the daily experiences of contemporary Chinese. We have achieved this in two ways at a teaching level.
First, starting from 2006, the content of the introductory class of Cultural Studies was adjusted so that it no longer began with the conventional history and concepts of Cultural Studies as these presuppose a lot of European and North American social conditions and include theoretical terms that are far away from the students’ life experiences. The course now begins with their everyday lives as contemporary Chinese: their past, their current sources of stress, their worries and hopes. Then the conditions of Chinese society are introduced in general terms, and these become the basis of their life experiences. Afterwards we raise the challenges that this reality poses in and for our critical intellectual lives; what major issues does the reality of Chinese society impose on intellectual circles? Finally, Cultural Studies is introduced as an important way for Chinese intellectuals to respond to this reality. The course then also introduces some of the historical and theoretical resources that Cultural Studies inherits, and the basic strategies for analyzing reality. While this introductory class limits the content of theories coming from Europe and the US, it clearly strengthens the students’ understanding of the local significance of Cultural Studies, and this understanding can in turn encourage their participation later on.
Second, we simultaneously restructured the Cultural Studies theory class. Apart from offering selections from important theoretical works, there is now a series of courses called “theory and practice” targeting postgraduate students of different types and different grades; the courses have different titles, but all contain the words “theory and practice.” The class template has two parts, the first being a special introduction to current cultural and social studies theories, mainly from Europe and the US, while the second part is an analysis of cases taken from mainland Chinese Cultural Studies. If the situation allows, lecturers invite related researchers to share their ongoing or newly-finished research with the class.
If it works well, a theory class that includes practical analyses can be beneficial to students in two ways. Combining “theory” and “practice” in this context is similar to bringing the idea of “Europe and the US” together with “the glocal.” From the sites and situations in which these two formations work well together we can understand the universal conditions of the contemporary world, and from those where the two conflict with each other we can grasp the crucial importance of local reality and perhaps find a breakthrough point for future theoretical development and practical analysis. Therefore, this is a good way to enhance the development of local characteristics in Cultural Studies at a teaching level. Mainland Chinese Cultural Studies has only a short history; there is a lack of well-tested examples and this hinders the development of broadly similar courses. However, some rough frameworks are in place right now and the development continues.
There is another rich resource that a glocalising Cultural Studies in China can provide: Chinese revolutionary thought and the history of revolutionary practices. China began its modern history and developed its modern ideas under the pressure of invading Western imperialist powers. In these circumstances, China’s modern ideas were developed from the perspective of the oppressed. Chinese thinkers strongly expressed the view that China did not accept the modern order’s “law of the jungle” and should seek to create a more democratic social structure than that of the West. From the end of 19th century to the mid-20th century, this broadly speaking leftist ideal dominated modern Chinese thought. This same ideal inspired different parts of the society and generated social reforms and liberation movements that lasted for at least half a century. This is what I mean by the “Chinese revolution”[xii].
After reflecting on present reality and reviewing modern Chinese history, we have come to believe that this “Chinese revolution” represents a most precious tradition for Chinese intellectuals today, providing both spiritual resources and a social legacy still traceable in real life. Over the past twenty years it has seemed that the revolution has been driven underground but, as Lu Xun once wrote, its flame has not died out but still burns somewhere in the dark as a “subterranean fire[xiii].” In fact, the academic activities of the self-proclaimed “cultural studies” circle are among the results of this subterranean fire. Marxism and the different Western critical theories and practices of the Birmingham school give us important intellectual resources but, comparatively speaking, the Chinese revolutionary tradition is the spiritual pillar that is at once more substantial and closer to us.
From 2007 the department added a new core course to the Master’s and doctoral programs: “Special Topics in Modern Chinese Thought”[xiv]. The result so far is not bad: students have discovered many new details of intellectual and social history and widened their understanding of such common constructs as “modern China,” “Chinese revolution” and “socialism.” More importantly, their capacity to focus on and envision our reality becomes more substantial with the guidance provided by that part of our history, and they are less misled by superstitious belief in Western theories. This is very important if the new generation is to develop an ability to produce precise analysis and to intervene in real situations. In fact, over the past ten years we have noticed a global shortcoming of critical thought and intellectual activities: it is difficult to develop new paths, new concepts and new methods apart from the commonly circulated canon of critical theories from Europe and the US. The development of Cultural Studies in the non-Western regions is already enveloped by theories from Europe and the US to varying degrees. Despite advances in concrete analysis the development of theories, concepts and research methods is falling behind or sometimes is not even visible at all. As a result, the theoretical education offered in the name of Cultural Studies in these regions easily slants towards the Euro-American canon. Of course, structural factors may have a role to play here: perhaps it is not that regions beyond Euro-America are lacking distinctive developments in critical theory but rather that, due to the structural imbalance in global knowledge production and circulation, these developments cannot easily shared by Cultural Studies scholars in different places.
In this context, the mainland intelligentsia’s emphasis on “Chinese experience” is particularly meaningful. “Chinese experience” is a wide ranging term that can be claimed by different parties—including right wing forces such as narrow-minded nationalism. But this term also provides a spacious area for in-depth Cultural Studies research and for at once more introspective and more expansive contents. The boundaries of this space have not yet been determined and because they are still changing all the time the contents of the space may be rewritten and supplemented; it is, in fact, a space full of new possibilities. What, then, is “Chinese experience?” It is to confront people’s feelings towards daily life, to inherit the rich memories of Chinese revolution, and to look into the internal oppressive structures active in our reality. Once “Chinese experience” of this type becomes public on a wide scale, the “glocal” characteristics of our Cultural Studies will come along with it.
[i] I develop this argument further in Wang, Xiaoming, “China on the Brink of a ‘Momentous Era’”, positions: east asia cultures critique 11: 3 (2003), pp. 585-611.
[ii] These courses are taught by Cultural Studies scholars from the five universities/institutes mentioned above. Proposed new courses are “Selected Readings in Modern Chinese Thought,” “Analysis of the Modern Dominant Culture” and “Methodology of Cultural Studies.”
[iii] An anthology of the seminar’s reports is published as a teaching resource: Cultural Studies in the Chinese World, Shanghai: Shanghai Bookstore, 2010.
[iv] To this day, the Ministry of Education in China does not include Cultural Studies in its “first class subjects” list.
[v] There are three elective courses in this category: “Introduction to Cultural Studies,” “Introduction to Selected Cultural Studies Theories,” “Theory and Practice of Cultural Studies.” These courses target year three and year four undergraduate students. From 2009, another undergraduate version of “Introduction to Cultural Studies” became one of the four core courses for all Art Faculty undergraduate students of Shanghai University. The “elective” nature of the course remains as students are only required to choose two from the four core courses.
[vi] The master’s degree programs offered by the Program in Cultural Studies are subordinated to five majors : “Chinese Modern and Contemporary Literature,” “Literature Studies,” “Anthropology,” “Film and Television Studies,” “Media Studies”; the PhD programs are subordinated to “Sociology” and “Chinese Modern and Contemporary Literature.”
[vii] The number of forums varies according to real teaching schedules. Usually, lecturers post the lecture outlines and reading list on the corresponding forum; some would post the lecture notes too. Students’ posts are mainly reflections on the lectures (including questions) and electronic files of some readings.
[viii] Apart from research objects and methodology you must have an outline of the analytical theory in order to establish Cultural Studies as an independent “subject”. Our preliminary efforts in this regard are outlined in section four of this essay below.
[ix] For example, from the late 1990s to the mid 2000s Wen Tiejun and others set up a “Village Construction College” in Ding County of Hebei province.
[x] ) Modern society is highly permeated by ideology. A young person from a village in Eastern China might not know a term like “modernization,” but none the less acts and treats his or her daily experience according to a vulgar version of modernization theory acquired from television and secondary school textbooks: the city equals progress, the village equals backwardness, the meaning of life is to escape from the village and enjoy the life of a city dweller ...
[xi] “The three-dimensional rural issues” include agriculture, rural villages, and farmers. From 2003 to 2006, discussion of these issues overwhelmed the whole country and finally led to the abolition of the agriculture tax. Zhi Jiao is short for “village education support,” and this program is mainly about organizing university students, including postgraduates, to teach in village schools for short terms and to help establish schools and libraries.
[xii] The establishment of the people’s republic of China in 1949 is the first epoch-making triumph of the “Chinese revolution.” During the 1950s, the many radical policies implemented by the Chinese communist party to remake the society continued this revolution. However, from the mid 1950s the “socialist” project led by the Chinese communist party gradually turned sour. Conflicts within the society became serious and led to the beginning of the Cultural Revolution; the failure of the Cultural Revolution triggered the “Reform” in the 1980s and this resulted in the “Fourth of June” tragedy in 1989. By this point, all energy for the intellectual and social movements of the “Chinese revolution” was used up and society as a whole turned to the right. China entered into the first “anti-revolution” or “post-revolution” phase dominated by the right wing in its modern history. From this perspective, the 1950s to 1970s was the period when the Chinese revolution started to decline. Therefore, this article fixes the end of the high tide of the Chinese Revolution in the middle of 20th century.
[xiii] Lu Xun, Wild Grass  trans. Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2003, p.2.
[xiv] Anthology of Modern Chinese Thought ed. Wang Xiaoming and Zhou Zhan-an, Shanghai: Shanghai Bookstore, forthcoming 2011.