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The Making of “Concubines”: Media, Audience, and Social Change in Contemporary China


The Making of “Concubines”: Media, Audience, and Social Change in Contemporary China

Chen, Fang (2014) The Making of “Concubines”: Media, Audience, and Social Change in Contemporary China. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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This dissertation examines marriage and sexuality in contemporary China through the lens of media and audience, with a specific focus on audience interpretations of the media discourse of “keeping a second wife” (bao ernai). The emergence of this discourse, one that can be traced back to socialist condemnation of concubinage in Maoist China, is an awkward and unexpected finding at a time when the state has purportedly retreated from private life, and the media is increasingly globalized. Even more unexpected, perhaps, is the startling diversity with which this discourse has been deployed, re-appropriated, and resisted by working and middle class women. The Dissertation draws on discourse analysis, digital ethnography, and individual and focus group interviews to argue that the relationship between the media and audiences in contemporary China is dynamic and mutually transformative. Moreover, the ways of interpretation link to audiences ’social positions and subjectivities that help to conceive individuals’ perceptions of self and society in relation to marriage and sexuality.
The first part of the dissertation draws on content analysis of news accounts to analyze how the media has consistently coded “keeping a second wife” as an instance of “family crisis,” and in so doing re-affirm a Maoist-era idea of marriage and sexuality. The second part of the dissertation draws upon reception analysis to investigate three dominant themes that emerged in the interviews and social media: managing marriage, sexuality, and corruption. The dissertation argues that “managing marriage” is a key phrase deployed by women, with subjectivity breaking down along class lines: indeed, while middle class women employ new discourses to perform gender within the household, working class women understand the management of marriage through Maoist-era vocabulary and ideology. A reception analysis also allows new insight into contemporary practices of sexuality; in contemporary China the transformation of sexual norms is a complex process, in which the dominant, the residual, and the emergent are intertwined to constitute a fuller picture of sexual culture in China. Finally, the dissertation highlights a link between “keeping a second wife” and official corruption through story-telling and instances of “talking back” to the media discourse. I argue the audience’s own narratives and the ways in which they contest the media’s narrative illustrate that the media discourse of corruption has encountered vigorous resistance.

Divisions:Concordia University > Research Units > Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Chen, Fang
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:April 2014
ID Code:978674
Deposited By: FANG CHEN
Deposited On:12 Jun 2014 19:50
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:47
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