Inventing the 'Authentic' Self: American Television and Chinese Audiences in Global Beijing

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Invited Academic Talk/Lecture

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This research examines the ways educated urban Chinese youths seek out and engage American scripted television to help manage their identity ambiguities in transitional China. Based on 81 interviews with college students in Beijing who regularly watch US TV, I have found that these youths are drawn to American programming primarily because it portrays ways of being that they perceive to be more “authentic.” In scrutinizing this authentication of foreign television, I contextualize respondents’ “authenticity narratives” within the socio-cultural milieu they inhabit, focusing in particular on the tension between China’s relatively recent neoliberal transition and its deep-seated collectivist culture. Drawing on theories of modern reflexive identity, I analyze the ways Chinese youths perceive and interpret US TV images, from which they tease out messages about how to live a spontaneous, non-conforming, and fulfilled life while simultaneously remaining properly Chinese. By showing the ways these youths strategically incorporate foreign symbolic materials into their identity “tool kits,” to which they resort to both circumvent old restrictions and tackle new challenges while navigating everyday life in the global city of Beijing, this article illuminates how transnational cultural consumption informs lived experiences for China’s future leaders. It thus sheds new light on the crucial and yet still understudied implications of China’s massive social transition and its relationship to the West.


Asian Studies | Broadcast and Video Studies | Sociology of Culture

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Asia Research Institute Seminar Series

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