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Benson, Carlton, “From teahouse to radio: Storytelling and the commercialization of culture in 1930s Shanghai” (1996)

Title : “From teahouse to radio: Storytelling and the commercialization of culture in 1930s Shanghai”

Author(s) : Benson, Carlton

Year : 1996

Type : Dissertation

Subject : History

Keywords : culture;entertainment;media;music;radio;broadcasting;

University : ph.D., University of California, Berkeley,

Language:Name : English

Support : Unknown

Abstract : How was popular culture used by commercial and political elites to control and mobilize ordinary urbanites in Republican China? And how was it used by ordinary urbanites to resist manipulation? This dissertation sheds light on both questions by focusing on the transformation of tanci, a popular storytelling genre, in 1930s Shanghai. Originally a popular form of entertainment that was performed in teahouses for an audience of neighborhood men, tanci became the predominant form of radio entertainment in the 1930s. With a city-wide audience that now included female as well as male listeners, the genre also became an effective medium through which entrepreneurs, politicians, and petty urbanites promoted, condemned, or negotiated the city's increasingly commercialized culture. Local entrepreneurs were early masters at manipulating the genre. They broadcast tanci to mobilize the city's residents for a new role as self-indulgent consumers, and thus promoted the birth of consumer society. The Guomindang quickly followed in the footsteps of entrepreneurs, however, and manipulated tanci to condemn consumerism and promote patriotic self-sacrifice. Thus storytelling was partly reshaped by industry and the state for an audience of consumers with less cultural authority than listeners in the traditional teahouse venue. Radio, however, was subject to the marketplace. Entrepreneurs broadcast popular programs to attract listeners, and storytelling continued to serve popular agendas. In particular, the audience employed tanci to deliver anti-commercial messages and negotiate a safe course through an emerging consumer society that generated unprecedented dangers. Listeners recognized the dehumanizing potential of consumerism and captured this threat in the concept of xurong, or vainglory. Individuals in Shanghai who were captivated by vainglory, often women, sacrificed two fundamental human qualities: qing and bao, or sensitivity and the will to reciprocate acts of kindness. Listeners also transferred their traditional appetite for derisive humor onto the radio, and identified women who practiced modern consumption as laughingstocks who inverted natural patterns of behavior. A culturally conservative audience thus created scapegoats against which to articulate a new local identity as fully human survivors in a modernizing city.



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