2014 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Belmont University
Commodification of China’s New Cultural Industry
Mentor: Qingjun Li, Foreign Languages
Students: Anna Croghan ’16, Samantha Hubner ’16, Joseph Minga ’16, John Pino ‘15
The Belmont University research group visited five different cities (Beijing, Wuxi, Hangzhou, Hengdian, and Wuhan) across China and investigated a number of signature cultural industry products in these locations including “The Legend of Emperor Qin” cultural show in Xi’an; the Wuhan Central Cultural District, which highlights well-known historical figures from Hubei Province; and the Wuxi Cultural Tourist City, which includes a Three Kingdom City, City of Tang Dynasty and Water Margin Town. Our research focused on the economics of how these sites were developed and the actual cultural products and projects being implemented. Key questions included how the Shaanxi Miracle Achievements Development Co., the Wanda Group, and Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment created these cultural enterprises, and whether or not the culture being presented to visitors is authentic or not. The team surveyed a large number of Chinese tourists at these sites and interacted with a diversity of Chinese people. We had interviews of the executive leaders and officials at every place visited including the Wanda Group Program Directors in Wuxi and Wuhan, as well as the Director of Human Resources at Songcheng Group. We also visited the Institute for Cultural Industries of Beijing University (ICIPKU 北大文化产业研究院). The team is currently in the phase of analyzing our findings and developing papers and presentations.
Our research trip goal was to research what cultural industries are and what impact they have in China. My part of the project was to discover what effects cultural industries have on local communities and if any changes have been made to the culture by the presence of the cultural industry businesses. We further divided the research by each city. I am working on writing reports for both Wuxi and Wuhan. One of our major foci in each of these cities was the business, Wanda. We focused on Wanda because of the magnitude of its presence and future plans in creating theme parks to promote Chinese culture. We are each currently writing and analyzing portions of the research project. We will have meetings to finish up our paper and analyze some of the finer details of our project.
This research trip has been my most adventurous and enriching summer by far. My favorite part of this trip was being able to travel though the Southern part of China. It was interesting to see the different cultures portrayed in each city. As we traveled from city to city, we learned about the Chinese cultural industries at selected research sites by interviewing company employees and surveying tourists. On this trip, I was able to learn about several Chinese companies and the process of doing business in China. While I knew I wanted to have a job that would allow me to work in China, I did not have any specific companies in mind. Now, I have some Chinese companies to consider for future job opportunities. As I did my research, I grew in confidence in my abilities. This trip greatly improved my Chinese speaking and listening skills. I also had a wonderful team whom I was able to learn from. Because we each had diverse leadership gifts, we were able to accomplish many goals quickly.
The journey of this research project started long before we left for China in May. In fact, it was a direct consequence of the careful planning by Dr. Li, in coalition with calculated and concentrated group cooperation during our trip that allowed us to work productively on our research while still traveling abroad. Before returning to America, each of the research team members was delegated one or more of the cities visited to commence a more finalized compilation of notes, observations, and statistics for the beginning of a comprehensive research report on the commodification of Chinese culture. It was decided that I would focus on the city of Hengdian, colloquially referred to as “China-wood”, the Chinese version of Hollywood. In addition to this, I am also responsible for the creation of a video featurette on each city, using the footage I shot throughout our three weeks of travel.
Our research team was comprised of four students: Anna Croghan, Joseph Minga, Ryan Pino and myself, each chosen by our professor, based on our knowledge of different areas of study that would contribute to building an interdisciplinary understanding of the commodification of Chinese culture. Anna and Joseph are international business majors, whereas Ryan is an Asian studies major with a minor in philosophy and Chinese. As the resident political science major, I often felt that my discipline was the most integrated with all of the other areas of study as we learned more and more about the commodification of culture. Though China’s official definition of “soft power” is hotly disputed, I felt that my focus as a member of this research team was to observe and evaluate the domestic versions of soft power being expressed as cultural industries in the various cities and parks we visited throughout central and southern China. Beyond that, this trip challenged me to integrate my understanding of a world community, as I grew to learn about, understand, and further admire the Chinese nation and its people.
Before and during our time in China, I held several responsibilities related to our project. Some of these were organizing the research portion for all Beijing locations, creating a database for all survey responses, and photographing the entire research program. In addition to my assignments, I also played a role in assisting other team members to adjust to the new environment of China. My specific analytical role within our project was to examine the economic size and scale of the selected cultural sites. To find this information, we met with representatives and analyzed reports produced by the selected organizations in each city. At this time, I am editing my section of the report and developing a presentation for our University’s convocation program, which will be delivered to the school this fall. Our group is anticipating speaking at the ASIANetwork conference next spring and sharing our findings from our travels at our university and in other forums.
My time in China this summer was shaped by the excellent leadership of Dr. Qingjun Li, the friendships of Ryan, Sam, and Anna, and the daunting task of our goal of understanding the Chinese Cultural Industries. ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows program allowed our group to gain meaningful experiences that we can all bring back to the United States for years to come. Everyone in our group would agree when I say that our research trip on the “Commodification of Culture in China’s New Cultural Industry” has sparked new energy and passion for Asian Studies and the relationship between China and America.
John Ryan Pino
My specific role as a member of the team was to research the cultural figures, events, values, and practices portrayed or marketed at each site we visited. Thus, my goal was to provide a base line of accurate scholarship on the cultural components portrayed in the various industry forms for the rest of the team. I was instructed to rely on the best evidence, facts, and interpretations about the cultural elements at the sites. By examining the implications of thinking about culture as a means to monetary gain instead of an end in itself, I was able to assist the team in reflecting on how culture is used, as well as the possible ways in which it is changed, for economic and entertainment-related purposes. I have gathered together all the information and data pertinent to this issue and have shared that information with the others in the group to aid them as they proceed with their own aspects of post-research writing. As the writing continues to be fleshed out, I will see if more information is needed by my research team colleagues. I am also in the process of writing an in-depth analysis of two cultural industry ventures, “Impressions of West Lake” and Songcheng, which are both in the city of Hangzhou.
When reflecting on this entire summer research experience, the very first thing that comes to my mind is the group with which I had the wonderful privilege to travel and work. Dr. Li, our faculty advisor, was a fantastic leader whose constant guidance was invaluable. The other student fellows—Joseph, Samantha, and Anna—were all terrific travel companions, and each member brought his or her own unique strengths to the team, which resulted in an enjoyable trip and a productive research project. In seeing how each team member benefitted the group, I learned the tremendous value of teamwork in accomplishing large goals. I also gained a better understanding of Chinese culture and the ways in which that culture is being used by businesses and the entertainment industry for economic purposes, as well as how creators of new culture—such as young entrepreneurs, investors, and artists—play a part in Chinese society. In addition, the trip reaffirmed my interest in studying China, and I believe the professional experience I gained will be invaluable in pursuing a future related to China. All in all, the trip was fruitful, enlightening, and full of adventure. I am extremely grateful to ASIANetwork and the Freeman Foundation for making this project possible, for it was an experience that I will cherish for a lifetime.