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To applaud or not to applaud : governance and the (re)production of identity through high-cultural consumption. Xu, Fang


This research investigates high-cultural consumption in urban China during the last decade, looking in particular at attendance of Western classical music concerts. By studying the audiences, I intend to explore the reasons behind the popularity of this cultural consuming practice in a market economy with Chinese characteristics. Situated in Shanghai, a 'global city’ in making, I also view this phenomenon from a post-colonial perspective – given the city’s semi-colonial history in the early 20th century. In this paper, I try to bridge Foucaultian governmentality in the sense of self-cultivation and governmental intervention in the cultural market, with Bourdieu’s capital conversions by illustrating how urbanites in Shanghai appropriate high-cultural consumption in the process of their identity (re)production. I argue that Shanghairen’s attendance at, and interest in, Western classical music concerts is an epitome of the local’s response or coping mechanism when encountering the ‘modern’ global in its historical and contemporary forms. This cultural consumption practice promoted by the municipal government – based on its manipulation of Shanghairen’s aspiration towards the modern West – in reality contributes to the formation of both the local residents’ identities, and the urban culture. Furthermore, the appreciation of Western classical music concerts closes up the perceived distance between Shanghai and the advanced West, meanwhile, enlarges the ‘quality’ (suzhi) gap between Shanghairen and people from the rest of China.

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