In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chinese Television

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History of China’s TV Industry
  • Chinese TV and Marketization
  • The Internationalization of China’s TV
  • Research Centers and Consultancy Companies

Chinese Studies Chinese Television
Xiaoling Zhang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0082


Chinese TV broadcasting started in 1958, with three stations established during that year: Beijing Television, which was changed to Central China Television (CCTV) in 1978, Shanghai Television, and Harbin Television. Although many other provincial capitals attempted to follow suit in the ensuing years, the young industry fared poorly due to a profound economic crisis in the early 1960s. From its inception it was to play the role of mouthpiece for the Party-state. However, since the economic reform that began in the early 1980s, television as an industry in China has not only grown to be the largest and one of the most complex such systems in the world but has also managed to establish itself as the dominant medium of the new marketized China. Dramatic developments in macropolicies, technology advancements, radically diversified program offerings, partial opening to allow the entry of foreign television networks, and the “going out” project as a major component of China’s strategy for the promotion of China’s soft power—all part and parcel of China’s unique and drastic transformation from a planned economy to a market economy—have transformed Chinese television as well. Over the years television has evolved from a purely propaganda instrument of the ruling Communist Party to a thriving commercial enterprise, although still within the orbit of the authoritarian system. This polysemic or hybrid nature of Chinese television—whether as a communication channel, a cultural and educational institution, or an entertainment system—is emblematic of the economic, political, and social changes that have taken place in China over the last three decades. It mirrors, and sometimes leads, these changes. The small screen is considered a site of tensions and contradictions in the changing social and economic relationships of the society, where rapidly commercializing media industries confront the slowly changing power relations between political, social and economic spheres. The resulting well-established but still growing literature documents and scrutinizes the transformation of the TV industry both as a causal factor and an outcome of the whole process of transformation in China. It explores the political, economic, and cultural forces, locally and globally, that have shaped the evolution of Chinese television, and the way that Chinese television in turn has actively engaged in these changes.

General Overviews

Little scholarship in English can be found on Chinese television before the 1990s. One obvious reason is because of its short history, but also because it was rendered the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and there was nothing to write about beyond propaganda and control. Since China has opened up, however, a number of works have been published that document the rapid development of Chinese television, each focusing on a specific aspect from different angles. Lull 1991 is the first book to examine Chinese TV solely with a humanistic approach, and to deal with the audience and programming aspects of Chinese television. Guo 1997 is a Chinese monograph that provides an informative and detailed account of the development of Chinese television. Hong 1998 describes the first impact of globalization on Chinese television and provides, along with a great deal of other data, useful statistics on program importation. Almost ten years later Kops and Ollig 2007 presents viewpoints on the impact of globalization on the internationalization of the Chinese television sector. Zhu and Berry 2009 successfully bring together in one volume various approaches to the study of Chinese television as a cultural phenomenon which is at once national, transnational, and diasporic. Zhong 2010 throws much light on the controversies and intellectual anxieties underneath China’s state-regulated, profit-driven model of television consumption in the post-reform era. Zhu 2012, focusing on CCTV, illustrates the role of media in the complex development of China, and Schneider 2012 explores the politics of culture in China through the lens of the television drama serial.

  • Guo Zhenzhi 郭镇之. Zhongguo dianshi shi (中国电视史). Beijing: Wenhua yihu chubanshe. 1997.

    An informative and detailed account of the development of Chinese TV. It also gives a brief introduction to the history of TV in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The second part is devoted to the evolution of different programs including TV News, Dramas, popular entertainment programs, and reality shows.

  • Hong, Junhao. The Internationalization of Television in China: The Evolution of Ideology, Society, and Media since the Reform. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.

    Based on first hand data and interviews, Hong offers insights into the tremendous changes of the TV industry within the wider context of government policy changes and the evolution of society. Data on China’s import and export of TV programming during the first two decades of China opening up to the world is of particular interest.

  • Kops, Manfred, and Stefen Ollig, eds. Internationalization of the Chinese TV Sector. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2007.

    Both businesses with an interest in the Chinese advertising market and academics will find helpful the authors’ explorations of the different aspects of the Chinese TV industry within its political, economic, societal, and cultural contexts—including structures, regulations, policies, and legal frameworks.

  • Lull, James. China Turned On: Television, Reform, and Resistance. London: Routledge, 1991.

    Although published more than twenty years ago, this monograph is significant in being the first book-length study of Chinese television in English. It captures the nation and the television industry enjoying a relatively relaxed period politically and ideologically from 1980 through 1989.

  • Schneider, Florian. Visual Political Communication in Popular Chinese Television Series. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004221499

    By employing semiotics and discourse analysis, Schneider explores the production of political discourses in TV dramas, arguing that the process is shaped by four interlinking factors: organizational practices, political constraints, ideological imperatives, and market dynamics.

  • Zhong, Xueping. Mainstream Culture Refocused: Television Drama, Society, and the Production of Meaning in Reform-Era China. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010.

    Zhong draws our attention to the complexity of Chinese TV drama’s melodramatic mode and its various subgenres—including “Emperor dramas” “anti-corruption” dramas, youth dramas, and “family-marriage” stories—against the backdrop of China’s century-long pursuit of modernity.

  • Zhu, Ying. Two Billion Eyes: The Story of China Central Television. New York: New Press, 2012.

    Based on interviews with CCTV workers at all levels, this book provides a look into the working mechanism of this influential player within and outside of China. A must-read for understanding how TV professionals in China deal with the tensions among their own professional aspirations, commercial priorities, and the Party’s control.

  • Zhu, Ying, and Christopher Berry, eds. TV China: A Reader on New Media. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

    Twelve diverse chapters covering the introduction of the Chinese television industry and analysis of TV programs, policies shaping the TV industry, and audiences in the PRC, Taiwan, and the Chinese diaspora.

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