Culture as Spectacle: China’s New Cultural Industry

January 2018 | Shanghai-Wuxi, Nanjin and Yiwu


China’s cultural industry is a $172.95 billion enterprise. See this new phenomenon on spectacular display in three locations: In Wuxi, explore a vast film set that re-creates historic epochs in the “towns” of Tang Dynasty, Three Kingdoms and Water Margin. On Gulangyu, near Xiamen, see how the island’s European architecture evolved from its history as an international settlement. In Shenzhen, visit theme parks that re-create Chinese ethnic villages, the world’s greatest heritage sites and China’s major tourist attractions on a 1:15 miniature scale.


Insights on Culture and Economy
Understand the emergence of culture as an economic engine in China. How does the cultural industry serve as a case study for China’s transformation from developing nation to successful economy? How do corporations manufacture these “cultural products,” and what social and political currents influence the development process? What effect does cultural spectacle have on perceptions of China as a world economic power?

Perspectives on Culture and Identity
Gain insights on identity in modern China, using the cultural industry as your lens. Consider how China uses cultural spectacle to project a national identity at home and abroad. Examine whether these presentations are authentic and consider to what extent they reflect social and ethnic differences. How do China and other nations—including our own—use culture to promote core values to their citizens?


Experiential Learning
Explore sites at the nexus of culture, identity and economy in China. Tour cultural spectacles, from theme parks to cultural/ethnic streets. Explore various sectors of Chinese society, from elite to working-class neighborhoods. Understand issues of cultural identity by comparing social classes and ethnic differences within and among the provinces you visit.

Reflection and Discussion
Delve deeply into the issues raised through your site visits. Lively group discussions, led by the program director, are held daily and often feature guest speakers who provide either local knowledge or larger contexts. Opportunities to attend lectures at Chinese universities may also be possible. Record your cross-cultural experiences and impressions in daily journals: these records inform both class discussions and final projects.

Final Project and Presentation
Complete and present a substantive final project that synthesizes all the issues discussed and observed throughout the program. Research the economic and business models behind China’s cultural industry and compare the divergent approaches taken by the companies that develop these cultural products. Analyze whether the cultural product presented to visitors is authentic, and examine the ways in which Chinese identity is constructed, displayed and consumed through the cultural industry.


Bai Di, PhD, Professor of Chinese Studies
With expertise in Chinese language, literature and culture, Bai Di focuses her work on preparing students for engagement with China and the Chinese-speaking world. She has been leading Drew’s short-term programs in China—one focused on Chinese language, one on Chinese cultural issues—since 2006.