June 20, 2016
Reaching Shanghai via train, each of us Global East Asia China students arrive at a shattering realization – our time in China is coming to an end. The cosmopolitan mecca of Shanghai amazed each of us, presenting an image of modernity, ease of navigation, and plentiful evidence for the workings of globalization within China. An architecture student would have a field day finding buildings emblematic not only of various historical eras in China, but also foreign influences, such as buildings found in the Bund. Our time in Shanghai was packed with marveling at the city around us, and seeing as much as we could with the time we had. Opportunities for fieldwork were plentiful; my team which included Anna and Jacob found no contradictory evidence for the use of celebrities in advertising, and a class meeting in Zhengzhou allowed us to test a working thesis and gather feedback for solidifying our argument. There was no shortage of shopping in all four cities we encountered in China, so we gathered plenty of evidence from the realm of in-store marketing at various mall locations.
Reaching the end of our time in China, I must confront the fact that I will soon return to the U.S. Traveling to China was a dream I have had from a young age – the massive icons I longed to visit were among the line items of our itinerary for the trip. Beyond that, there were numerous unexpected delights – experiences I never could have anticipated, and things I shall never forget. It is by mere happenstance that my chosen career field, the film industry, is also looking with great interest towards China. China has the world’s largest and most lucrative film-going audience at the moment, and I do not see that changing anytime soon.
Now I not only look at China with the fascination I’ve had for it since my childhood, I also look at it with hopes for my career – cracking their film market with a film of mine would not only be potentially massively lucrative, it could also be an opportunity for thoughtful cultural exchange through cinema. While Hollywood’s efforts to reach and appeal to Chinese audiences have succeeded well enough financially, with projects such as Iron Man 3 and Transformers: Age of Extinction, there has yet to be any thoughtful integration of China, or its culture, into these films’ narratives. A film that attempts this could top the successes of the blockbuster co-productions that have come before.
In keeping with this theme of film, it was important for me to key in to the movie-going experience while in China. I was able to observe many theaters across the cities we visited, and I noted the similarities and differences as much as I could. The vast majority of theaters I saw were in malls, on the top floor of the building, and each had an in-theater memorabilia store (something I greatly enjoyed). While in Zhengzhou, I made my way to an Oscar Cinemas location. Like the name would suggest, the chain is themed after the Academy Awards’ Oscar statuette. The theater lobby was packed to the gills, and this was a weekday night. The crowds may have had something to do with a film that opened the night before, this being Duncan Jones’ fantasy-epic, Warcraft, based on the lore and mythology of the online game series. On its opening night, Warcraft broke box-office records in China, and has continued to do so since its release.
I saw Warcraft at this theater location in Zhengzhou, and purchased the one seat available for my ticket. Assigned movie seating is popular in certain markets in the US (it is huge in Los Angeles) but the popularity of this film and the traffic at the theater on this night led all Chinese moviegoers to book their seats in advance – luckily, there was one left for me. Most of the showings of American films at the theaters I observed were with English audio and Chinese subtitles, while select showings were presented with dubbed Chinese audio. There were no previews for other movies before the film, and since the film distributors didn’t bother to translate the credits – no one bothers to stay for them (except for me, of course). It turns out that a huge percentage of the game’s fan-base is in China, and the film was made more so for fans of the game, armed with background knowledge which makes the film easier to digest. Mainstream audiences either gain an understanding of the worlds of the Orcs and humans as the film proceeds or get lost in the process – I myself enjoyed getting lost in the fantasy world, and learning the ins and outs of it as I went.
Turning away from the Warcraft evening, I must reflect on other experiences I found while in China. I dreamed of walking along the Great Wall since first learning of its existence, and got to do so on this trip. It was quite the struggle-filled ascent to the top – something I was less concerned with when I found out we climbed the hardest section to climb. Seeing Olympic venues at Beijing, walking through a rural village and shrines in the mountains of Hebi, (along with basically anything else in Hebi, which was equal parts odd and fascinating), navigating Zhengzhou by myself to the theater and back, and all the wonders which Shanghai had to offer, from the Bund, to the shopping and eating (both top-notch, I must say). There was no shortage of magical experiences to be had in China, and they ranged from things I had long been anticipating (nothing beats the Shanghai Maglev flying past you after having read about it for years) to completely unexpected (the train ride from Beijing to Hebi was a journey through so many terrains – it was incredible).
A sense of awe overcame all of us upon our landing in Beijing – the bus ride from the airport to our dinner and hotel was an interesting sight – each of us were glued to the windows of the bus. All around us was a land new to each of us (well, perhaps not new to Professor Sheehan, but he certainly saw it through the eyes of the nine of us who were taking it in, many for the first time). Professor Sheehan’s guidance was an invaluable part of the trip. His confidence and familiarity with China rubbed off on all of us in the best way possible – none of us ever worried about venturing off on our own to see the sights. We all were able to get around with ease throughout the whole trip. We all had favorite sights and moments during our voyage, but each student had one thing in common. We all loved China, and we all know that while this was our first trip there, it shall not be our last.
June 9, 2016
By: Cindy, Anbar, Rowan
Our two days in Zhengzhou provided us the opportunity to devote more time to field work, while honing in our research focuses and enjoying the city. The nearly endless traffic meant we relied on public transit, namely the Zhengzhou metro which is currently in the process of expansion. We all started field work at Erqi Square, the main monument in Zhengzhou, which a few energetic members of our group climbed. For our group (Team C.A.R), the ubiquitous nature of electronic stores around Erqi Square was certainly advantageous. While the mobile phone advertisements were very similar to Hebi, the special organization of stores, as well as brands carried differed in interesting ways. Other groups had similarly valuable experiences, with team Bingbing finding sports stores they hadn’t seen before, and team Momo locating a large street devoted entirely to street food.
All the groups and Professor Sheehan rallied together for a group lunch, and for simplicity’s sake (and a sense of curiosity to see if there are any differences), we all settled for McDonald’s. At this time, many of the teams started seriously inventorying evidence acquired from fieldwork, and working on developing frameworks for arguments and final projects. Team C.A.R arranged all of our advertisement photos, and created a chart that reflected different categories based on price and reputation of the smart phone producer, and price of the actual models. After meeting with Professor Sheehan, almost all teams were struck with ideas over the framework of our projects, which we recorded on impromptu paper (McDonald’s place mats).
After having the opportunity to have Professor Sheehan join us on field work to an electronics mall, the class headed for an excursion to Haagen-Dazs. While pricey, the ice cream at Haagen-Dazs was fantastic, and some even considered ordering a second ice cream dish. Dinner was a similarly elaborate affair, with the class heading to hot-pot, where we were able to cook our own meats and vegetables in boiling broth, and see the process of noodles being prepared at our table. With full stomachs, we all retreated back to the hotel, to relax, work and prepare for the next day.
Wednesday was one of the few days on our trip without planned meals and excursion, which gave us the opportunity to further explore areas of interest and conduct field work. It was also our only class meeting on the trip, where each group made a presentation that included a preliminary argument, and analysis of evidence related to our arguments. While some students took the opportunity to sleep in, others chose to explore a series of underground shopping areas in Central Zhengzhou, as well as preparing presentations. After nearly getting lost trying to find a Walmart, we returned and all gathered on the 23th floor for our presentations- with a fantastic view. Our team’s tentative framework reflected differences in advertising based on the tier of the smart phone company and prices of phones, suggesting a move from a consumer driven focus on basic functionality to a focus on lifestyle and finally aesthetics. Team Momo’s presentation focused on experiential and spatial differences in snack foods, while Bingbing focused on the use of celebrities in advertising sports clothing in both Chinese and international companies. A main aspect of the presentation was the ability to get feedback and questions from Professor Sheehan and the rest of the class, which was particularly valuable in considering the direction and focus of our projects. The journey to Shanghai will be bittersweet because while we are all excited to get to explore and experience Shanghai, it marks the last stop of our trip.
- Team C.A.R
June 7, 2016
June 5-6, 2016
By: Brandon, Jonathan, and Jasper
Greetings for the last time from Team MoMo! We’ve just arrived in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province. Here’s the run down on what we’ve done over the last two days:
Yesterday (Sunday, June 5) was our final day in Hebi. We spent the morning exploring the ancient city of Xunxian about an hour outside of Hebi. The city was built around a bell tower that stood at the intersection of two perpendicular, intersecting main streets. We walked the entire length of the city’s main road and took pictures under both of the city’s main gates, which were flanked on each side by ancient city walls. We were also able to get a good look at the Grand Canal, which passed right by the city’s main gate. The weather was the coolest it had been for our entire trip, hovering around the low 70’s with a light drizzle. It was a refreshing change from the heat and smog that we have become accustomed to here!
Though we only spent about an hour in this small city, this excursion was yet another valuable experience for all of us. In witnessing the startled looks on the faces of most people we passed (who were shocked at the sight of foreigners, especially those of us who are not Asian), we were reminded that this—which was incredibly far off the tourist’s beaten path—was the China that most of the outside world has never seen. This speaks to the invaluable role Global East Asia plays in exposing students to foreign peoples and places, and more importantly, in immersing them in the everyday life of those peoples and places.
Following our excursion to Xunxian, we drove back to Hebi and had another lovely meal in our hotel. The pork belly dish of the day (we’ve had pork belly literally every day that we’ve been in China—no complaints here!) was a variant that utilized tea leaves as the primary garnish and source of flavor; it was delicious!
The afternoon was dedicated to fieldwork, so each of the three groups split up to conduct our final field research in Hebi. Team MoMo was fortunate enough to have PaPa Sheehan first, and we were very satisfied with the observations we were able to get in during the course of roughly two hours. Jasper and Brandon concluded our field work with a celebratory round of remote control boat racing, which was located on the children’s level of the mall (and which was incredibly exhilarating—the Professor will concur). We then met up with the other groups at Hebi’s “Big Ben” clock tower (albeit a much smaller, humbler version), and handed off PaPa Sheehan to Team CAR.
Our team met up for dinner at Pizza Hut—a highly anticipated endeavor ever since we touched down in China. Pizza Hut is a nicer, sit-down restaurant on this side of the world, and many of us were excited for the experience. PaPa Sheehan, Cindy, and Brandon had a dinner date set for three, while the rest of the group shared a few pizzas and starters family style. While the food certainly wasn’t anything phenomenal, it was a bit of a welcome respite from the same kinds of dishes we have been having for the past week—and a warm reminder of home. After a group outing to Wal-Mart for dessert, most of the group went out for karaoke. The karaoke system didn’t have songs later than 2010, so we enjoyed the many throwbacks to our middle school days.
The following morning, we were up bright and early to board our luxury bus to Zhengzhou. Before getting completely on our way, we stopped in the newer part of Hebi, which contained a brand new sports arena, apartment complexes, and impressive skyscrapers—almost all of which were completely unoccupied. This gave us quite a tangible on-the-ground experience with the “build first” development policies many local governments around China have undertaken in the last decade or two.
After roughly one-and-a-half hours on the road (which included an underwhelming crossing of the Yellow River), we arrived at the Yellow River Scenic Area, where we climbed what Brandon called “Chinese Mount Rushmore”: impressive stone faces of famous Chinese historical figures carved into the mountainside near the Yellow River. Most of us made the climb up, which provided quite a beautiful view of the entire Scenic Area. After leaving the scenic area (half an hour late, because a few unnamed group members decided to take a detour and go on a mountainside toboggan run), we had a late lunch and then checked into our hotel. Following a few hours of much-needed down time, we had dinner and celebrated Jacob and Anna’s birthdays with a wonderful birthday cake, courtesy of PaPa Sheehan and our fantastic tour guide Johnson. Dinner was followed by an optional excursion to the subway station and nearby mall, and everyone was quite ready for bed by 10PM.
Our remaining days in China are entirely fieldwork, with no set excursions planned. We are all in disbelief at how much we have gotten done during this trip—the places we’ve seen, the knowledge we’ve gained, and the lasting friendships we’ve made. Team MoMo can confidently speak on behalf on the entire group in saying how grateful we are to USC and the East Asian Studies Center for this amazing opportunity, and encourage anyone reading this blog to strongly consider enrolling in this program!!
June 5, 2016
By: Jacob Lokshin, Anna Lipscomb, and Zachary Kennedy
Although our esteemed fellow adventurers in team CAR (Cindy, Anbar and Rowan) reported thoroughly, academically and eloquently on our entrance into the minuscule 1.5 million strong village of Hebi, that was only the beginning. Several hours by train from the bustling streets of Beijing, lies the rural curiosity of Hebi. The first things we noticed as we boarded our bus were the looming vacant carcasses of apartment skyscrapers herded together into identical clusters, and the remarkably ostentatious hotel – which included fliers for massages that may be a little too full body for some. That, and the collective stares of every man, woman and child in Hebi, shocked by the spectacle of multiple mysterious tourists who have appeared in their midst without explanation.
After an amazing dinner including the Hebi specialty kettle corn and a woman who grabbed burning metal without hesitation, most of the group crashed back in the hotel except a few daring individuals (winning much sought-after Sheehan “trooper points”). These audacious few ventured with Prof. Sheehan to the mall neighboring the hotel with cautious optimism as to what may lie ahead in this strange land. What we discovered was as surprising, odd and wonderful as its preceding dinner.
Under the awed stares of local Hebians we wandered the floors of the mall, following Prof. Sheehan as he bounded with youthful enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity from ice cream shop to ice cream shop, to ice cream shop (11 in total) to a particularly fascinating cultural artifact: remote controlled bulldozers. Practically indistinguishable from the 3 feet tall children, Prof. Sheehan and we – his loyal pupils – frolicked.
What we discovered as we lay to rest that night however was not quite the glittering and charming Hebi we had come to know. To the collective terror of the group, bed bugs were discovered in one of the rooms (Brandon let out an incredibly manly squeal and sprinted from the room upon seeing the unwelcome insects). Although the hotel staff did not seem to share our sense of urgency or concern, the issue was soon resolved and the GEAC family drifted peacefully to sleep – with the exception of Anbar who managed to sleep soundly through the whole event, including a bug check of her own bed with her still in it.
The following morning our trusty guide Johnson led us to a temple deep in the mountains around Hebi. As the eclectic countryside metropolis of Hebi receded into the smog, wheat farms emerged. Since we visited during the harvest our bus barely squeezed onto the road as lanes were filled with drying wheat. We stopped briefly to tour a small village along the road – much to the general confusion of the population – finding derelict cars, rundown houses, feral animals, warmly welcoming locals fascinated by the foreigners, and basketballs because ball is life.
Rising through the smog we ascended into the arid mountains. What we discovered nestled into the mountains was amazing: winding paths clinging to the mountainside, dotted with Buddhist shrines, temples and their worshipers. We climbed up one set of steps, lined with trees which were filled with prayers that looked like fluttering red leaves, accompanied by the pounding of ritualistic drums and volleys of firecrackers. At the top, a large temple emerged towering over the main temple structures at the bottom. After a brief period of curiosity impaired by shyness, a local child asked for a picture on his glistening smart phone with the foreigners (us). This quickly cascaded into dozens of pictures with locals, including a wonderful selfie by our resident tall person Jasper.
After a meal that included perhaps more hair than typically expected in Chinese dishes, we collapsed, exhausted, on the bus. We finished the day with some fieldwork in the Hebi city center, and a dinner at the hotel. In conclusion: Hebi is cool, people here don’t see many foreigners, temples in mountains are cool, GEAC is cool, check in with us soon for the next chapter in our adventures.
June 3, 2016
By: Anbar Aizenman, Rowan McEvoy, Cindy Wang
Although we were exhausted from climbing the Great Wall and visiting the Ming Tombs, we visited different electronic shopping malls in Beijing. Our plan was to focus on the main Chinese phone brands. However, during our field work, we found that the domestic Chinese phone market is shared by many different brands and each domestic brand has its own app store. This discovery might shift our future research focuses. We also discovered that high-end shopping malls in China don’t sell phones, even the high-end brands like Samsung and Apple. During our visits in Beijing Zhongguancun (Chinese Silicon Valley), we found that there are many fake or stolen phones sold in regulated shopping malls. Hence, the Chinese phone market is much more complicated than American market and is extremely dispersed among different consumption groups.
After several days of touring and field working in Beijing, we are headed up to Hebi today. We took a 3-hour Gaotie (bullet train) to Hebi. This was our first time in Beijing West Station. Beijing West Station looks like a typical Chinese train station, with crowds and yelling. However, we enjoyed our time on the bullet train. We were amazed by the northern Chinese plains and agriculture industry. Around 6 o’clock in the afternoon, we finally arrived in Hebi. Unlike Beijing, the capital of China, Hebi is a relatively small city in Henan province. But to our surprise, Hebi has a well-protected landscape and huge amounts of tall buildings. Most importantly, they have amazing Chinese food, like pork belly bun, peking duck (Yes! They have it in Hebi!), chicken noodle soup and delicious desserts! We look forward to exploring this small unique city in China more in the following days!
Regarding to our group project, we found many individual retailers on the street in the downtown area on the way heading to our hotel in Hebi. Hence, we already have a generally vague plan on our works in Hebi. We hope to visit more electronic areas in Hebi and have a more comprehensive idea about the Chinese phone market!
June 1, 2016
By: Brandon, Jonathan, and Jasper
This blog post is brought to you by Team Momo. When we last left off Team Momo and company were preparing for their flight to China…
Luckily, the flight went off without a hitch: no spontaneous combustion, no emergency landing, and no casualties! The flight was incredible. We started in San Francisco, flew through Alaska, over Russia, and then finally arrived in China. Aboard United Flight 888, we were provided a robust selection of of in-flight entertainment. In addition, we were offered two meals: dinner and breakfast. The dinner options were either chicken and rice, or vegetarian. The breakfast options were either an omelet, or stir-fried noodles. For Papa Sheehan enthusiasts, let it be known that he selected the chicken and rice, as well as the omelet!
Upon landing, the first thing our class did was pick up our bags. We then found our Converse-loving tour guide from Super Vacation and boarded the bus to our first Chinese dinner! Though slightly underwhelming, Papa Sheehan assured the class that the best was yet to come. We re-boarded the bus, and finally made our way to the hotel. At this point, most of us were battling jet lag; however, we managed to make it to our rooms and a local convenience store before crashing.
Since most of us had passed out before 9:00 PM China time, we were all up and about by around 5:00 AM. We had our first hotel breakfast, and were pleasantly surprised! We can’t speak for everyone’s experience with complimentary hotel breakfasts; however, ours, in the words of Zachary Kennedy, was “spectacular.” As our first planned day of research, we had plenty of work ahead of us. We left the hotel at around 9:00 AM after we were each given a brand new Chinese SIM card. Our first stop was the Forbidden City! Unfortunately, Tiananmen Square was closed for the day, but Papa Sheehan insisted we would still have fun. As always, Papa Sheehan proved himself right, and the Forbidden City was nothing less than incredible!
Afterwards, we drove to our first field site, and met our student helpers from Beijing Capital Normal University! Each group was assisted by either one or two students, all of whom were women, and left to start their research: Team Momo went on a snack food exploration, Team BingBing left to investigate celebrities, and Team C.A.R. went to investigate electronics.
After our research, the teams rendezvoused at a restaurant 5 subway transfers from the initial location. The meal was amazing! Brandon Cheung was thrilled by the pork belly and xiaolongbiao (dumplings), and insisted that he will definitely go again! After dinner, we once again split up and explored one of the Beijing malls. The architecture was stunning, and the food looked incredible!
At around 10:00 PM, everyone was in bed and ready to sleep. We had a long a day ahead of us, with the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall of China the following day, and we were all ready to head to pass out!
Team Momo out!
May 30, 2016
By: Zachary Kennedy, Anna Lipscomb and Jacob Lokshin
We can’t believe that these two weeks in LA have passed by so quickly! It seems like just yesterday we walked into VKC 154, spilled a few pretzels, and debated who is the best Bing Bing (Li Bing Bing or Fan Bing Bing? Choose your side. It’s also worth noting that this debate produced our group name – Team Bing Bing).
As the name suggests, Team Bing Bing will be examining the presence of celebrity endorsements in China. We will be especially focusing on foreign celebrities. We don’t know what exactly we will find in China, but we predict that there will be a mix of both foreign and Chinese celebrities used to advertise products. We also believe that foreign and western celebrities will be more popular and visible in more westernized, metropolitan cities such as Shanghai and Beijing than in Hebi and Zhengzhou. We also anticipate foreign brands to use foreign celebrities more frequently than Chinese brands. We will examine how these stars are used to advertise products related to their areas (movie stars advertising films, sports stars advertising sports products, etc) as well as products unrelated (food, technology, luxury goods, etc.).
Although Friday was our last official class, it’s only the beginning of Global East Asia.
After reviewing our trusty toolbox of knowledge about things such as deculturization, reculturization, and acculturization (a term whose definition is still being debated by the entire class), we discussed our readings on Shanghai and Zhengzhou. We also went over general travel information such as packing and currency.
Although we come from a generation famous for being exceptionally tech-savvy, we were faced with our first challenge of many to come: installing the USC VPN on our phones and portable computers. Nevertheless, we put our minds together and overcame this obstacle.
We spent our Saturday scrambling to buy our sunscreens and bug spray (because it’s better to be safe than sorry, and Chinese insects are flying harbingers of death according to the USC Health Center), stuffing our suitcases full, emptying out our refrigerators, and contemplating the effects of globalization on our human existences.
On Sunday morning, we literally rised and shined. Between the times of 4-5 am, those of us on the group flight Uber’d to the airport (We encouraged Papa Sheehan to join the Uber bandwagon. Uber is now a Sheehan-approved mobile application). Since we got there early, we had to entertain ourselves.
The 45-minute layover in San Francisco was quite an experience. Although our flight was only about an hour, we spent roughly half an hour sitting in the plane at SFO because we couldn’t get off since another plane was still at our gate. When we finally got off, we dashed to the international terminal – it was extremely close, but we made it!
Since we wanted to get adjusted to China time, most of us pulled all-nighters before (or we were frantically trying to pack our bags and figuring out where we put our passports). Therefore, most of us spent the 12-hour flight sleeping and watching movies/TV shows on our mobile devices. Some of us stretched our legs and walked around the airplane looking for snacks.
When we finally got to Beijing it was May 30th (thanks to the 15 hour time difference)! Although we may be a slightly jet-lagged, we can’t wait for all the adventures and stories and crazy experiences to come!
May 27, 2016
By: Anbar Aizenman, Rowan McEvoy and Cindy Wang
We are coming to the end of our time here at USC and class is starting to wrap up. Professor Sheehan finished lecturing on Chinese history, so we have moved on to analyzing our the sites we will be visiting (Beijing, Zhengzhou, Hebi and Shanghai). The readings have also tapered off a little as we move away from analyzing scholarly articles towards less dense materials.
Over the past couple of days, we have been extensively reviewing our toolkit of useful concepts related to globalization as introduced through our various readings. The ideas should be a good way to analyze sources we find through our fieldwork in China. Here are some of the ones we have come across:
- Spaces as places to be consumed
- Having a flexible identity relating to consumption
- The relative nature of tradition, as all traditions were invented at some time
- More specific ways of defining hybridization
For our group’s project, we plan on looking at the cell phone industry in China. We want to figure out the differences between domestic companies and foreign ones in advertising strategies and marketing. Furthermore, we want to analyze middle-end and high-end phones in the same fashion. In terms of phones, the market is large enough that we implemented some limitations in order to give our project a better sense of scope. We decided to only focus on smartphones, and within the smartphone industry, specifically we want to look at those from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi. Given the prevalence of these four brands, we should have plenty of data to work with.
In terms of locations for researching, we plan on visiting electronics malls, middle and high-end more general malls, individual retailers, and possibly even flagship stores. In addition to browsing the areas and looking at advertisements, we also intend on speaking with sales staff. Although Anbar knows very little Chinese and Rowan has taken merely a semester of it, Cindy is fluent in the language as she grew up in Hangzhou, China. We are therefore counting on her to get us through some interactions and make sure Anbar and Rowan do not make fools of themselves.
We leave for China on Sunday and look forward to keeping you posted on our exploits.
May 25, 2016
By: Brandon Cheung, Jonathan Kim and Jasper McEvoy
More than a week into the East Asian Studies Center’s Global East Asia program, we’ve already learned so much about Chinese consumer culture, and are excited to experience it firsthand when we fly to Beijing on Sunday. Unfortunately, that means jet lag and a lot of it! Just as soon as we’ve settled into our daily routine of preparing for class at 9:00 AM, we’ll be adjusting to the fifteen hour time difference between Los Angeles and Beijing. Nevertheless, the time we’ve spent in class so far has been a truly stimulating and enjoyable educational experience. During this time, we have immersed ourselves in the study of Chinese consumer culture. We read Lianne Yu’s book on the consumption patterns of China’s emerging upper-middle class, Consumption in China. We also read an article written by Eric Hobsbawm on the nature of tradition and customs, as well as a number of other thought-provoking readings relevant to our study of consumer culture in modern China. Our enthusiastic, board-game loving Papa Sheehan (as we affectionately call him) has provided us with captivating lectures on the history of globalization and China since the 1850’s–specifically, how we’ve come to identify how the nation has developed alongside as well as through consumerism. Some of the more relevant history we’ve studied includes: the power struggle between The Nationalist and Communist Parties, the rise of Mao Zedong and Communist China, and the emergence of capitalism after Mao. We have also discussed earlier Chinese history such as the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion, and the effects of Japanese imperialism. In addition, we’ve learned how to identify key features of Chinese geography (for example, what distinguishes North from South and East from West, as well as the Chinese border). We have also learned about international trade networks, such as the Silk Road and the Triangle Trade. However, most importantly, we were taught Sheehan’s Eight Rules for Historical Analysis:
1. It’s all about the sources;
2. Sources lie;
3. Bad sources are better than no sources;
4. Evaluate sources carefully;
5. Explain, don’t describe;
6. Don’t read the present into the past of the past into the present;
7. Don’t romanticize the past;
8. Think spatially as well as temporally — know your geography.
Using our daily reading assignments, Papa Sheehan has encouraged us to stock our metaphorical “analytical toolboxes” with terminology relevant to the course. For example, in Lianne Yu’s book, Consumption in China, as well as other sources, we’ve drawn important words and phrases like “neo-tribe,” “imagined community,” “glocalization,” and “deconstructed/reconstructed culture.” With these terms, we have discovered ways to precisely analyze consumer culture that we never thought possible, and some group members have even invented new terminology that has been useful in class discussions. The discussions themselves have been invaluable as well. It’s been great to hear everyone’s unique takes on the readings, and how we can find so many ways to relate a new concept to ones from previous days, to anecdotes from our lives that compare and contrast China and America.
As we learn more about China, we have begun to prepare for our upcoming research. We have split into three research groups: one focusing on cell phones, one focusing on entertainment, and the last (our group) on snack food. In order to prepare for the field, we have taken time this week to meet with our groups and, using what we learned from lecture and discussion, discuss potential findings and other expectations. For our research, we plan to look at snack foods in the shopping malls and convenience stores of cities throughout China, specifically analyzing foreign influence on sweet snack foods.
Lastly, since meeting for the first time, our class has come to know each other and develop a close-knit sense of companionship inside and outside of the course. As a class, we’re on the smaller side (only nine students!), but what we lack in size we make up for in energy and enthusiasm… and Cindy — our only Mandarin speaking classmate. We’ve had an incredibly rich and memorable experience and look forward to many future Korean Barbeques! We are leaving for China in four days and absolutely cannot wait.
June 16, 2015
By: Yunwen Gao
Now that all the Global East Asia (GEA) scholars are flying over the Pacific Ocean back to LA, when I am organizing the photos I took along the trip I still can’t believe our summer program has come to an end. As Professor Sheehan’s metaphor goes… “coming to China is like going through a worm hole, time is both elongated and shortened.” It feels like our GEA family has been living together for more than a year, and yet we have only been together for a month. I can’t describe how immensely this summer course has reshaped many of our assumptions about Chinese consumerism and globalization, for both the scholars and myself as well. As someone born and brought up in China, this trip to Beijing, Kaifeng, and Shanghai is a process of rediscovering China through a fresh lens.
The final day consisted of the final project delivery and farewell banquet. Despite the last minute rush, as any last day of USC courses would have, our amazing scholars delivered their final projects at a high level of professionalism and insightfulness. The Foodies (Christopher Carpenter and Alice Kim) examined fast food restaurants and food courts in shopping malls in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kaifeng with our course tools, and compared the fast food industries in first tier cities versus a third tier city like Kaifeng.
The Skins (Phoebe Yin, Megan Lee, and Ashley Szydel) focused on the cosmetics industry, in particular, face masks produced internationally and domestically, and formulated their observation of the three prevailing models of marketing strategy, the luxury, mainstream, and niche models supported by extensive research and interviews.
The Arhats (Jonathan Peppin, Psalm Chang, and Michelle Ngan) took the issue of the commodification of religion in China and enriched the dialogue of globalization greatly. Their visits to jewelry stores, Buddhist and Daoist temples, restaurants, etc., provided us with a new picture of how religion has been commodified to convey the sense of piety, pragmatism, and playfulness. With the help of Professor Sheehan, all three teams successfully elevated their observations and analysis of Chinese consumerism and globalization to a whole new level.
As we were waiting to be checked in at the Pudong airport, some of us started analyzing the advertisements around us. Looking at each other, we realized that walking out of this class, none of us could view advertisements or commercials as we used to do without examining what’s behind them. As the TA of this class, I feel proud of everyone in this program just as Professor Sheehan does and look forward to seeing each of them succeed in the future.