Creative Freedoms and Implicit Fears in Post-TVIII China: Technologically Empowered Production Cultures in Chinese Television Industries

Lisa Lin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This study investigates the shifting production cultures and convergence strategies among Chinese media institutions, and how these inform the daily production practices of Chinese television workers in the digital television era. To understand the shifting production practices and strategies, three media institutions that have originated from three different periods of Chinese television – CCTV (the era of scarcity), Hunan Broadcasting System (the era of availability) and Tencent Video (the era of plenty) – have been chosen as case studies. This thesis adopts production studies as the main research method in order to fill the research gap on Chinese television micro-level production practices, combining ethnography with policy and textual analysis of screen forms and digital interfaces. In particular, to provide a ‘thick description’ (Geertz, 1975) of working conditions, production practices and relations operating at different levels within Chinese production cultures, I conducted in-depth fieldwork including 25 formal and informal interviews, two participant observations (a CCTV primetime programme and a Mango TV reality television series), archival collection of governmental documents and the annual official policy proclamations from the SAPPRFT as well as related screen forms between May 2016 and December 2017. Informed by ethnographic data, this thesis analyses the key discourses of Chinese television’s convergence-era production cultures which have been shaped not only by the duopolistic forces of a market economy and ideology, but also by China’s national and institutional innovation strategies. The current moment of Chinese television, termed here ‘post-TVIII with Chinese characteristics’, is an ideological, cultural and financial paradox between party ideology and commercialisation, between digital technologies and institutional backdrops. I argue that each institution must navigate these tensions at the national, corporate and individual levels, and that they do so in ways that are intimately connected to the distinct historical periods in which they were born. The various courses navigated by the institutions I study reveal how the current Chinese television landscape is marked by a series of almost impossible binaries that operate at all levels, between innovation and stasis, fears and freedoms, financial rewards and political obligations, and between corporate strategies and daily practices. Within the navigation of these binaries I argue that whilst much of post-TVIII production strategies, practices and cultures are marked by the kinds of ideological controls and fears found by scholars such as Keane (2001, 2009, 2015), Curtin (2012, 2015) and Fung (2008, 2009), there is also space for individual workers to find creative freedoms and sites of resistance: but not always on terms that would be recognised by western scholars of production cultures and media work. This study suggests that innovation strategies and digital technologies have fostered conditions for new production cultures of creativity which produce what I term technologically empowered screen (TES) forms. I argue that these TES forms represent a technologically-deterministic production and regulatory culture that aligns creativity with the incessant march of technology, and this is unique to the Chinese capitalist socio-economic conditions that shape the production cultures of Chinese television. This project reveals how Chinese producers have resided their creative freedoms within these TES forms which can at once demonstrate compliance with state ideology and corporate strategy but also leave room for resistance and resilience to one-party state ideology: what I term the practice of playing edge ball. Paying attention to the specificities of how TVIII plays out with ‘Chinese Characteristics’, therefore, allows the thesis to develop a nuanced portrait of a fast-evolving television landscape that is only likely to become more influential in a global era of convergence cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bennett, James, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Chinese Convergent TV
  • Production Studies
  • Convergence Strategies
  • Production Cultures and Practices
  • Technology
  • Internet-distributed TV
  • Creativity

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