May 28, 2015
By: Jon Peppin, Michelle Ngan, and Psalm Chang
As our trip to China draws closer and closer, I cannot help but be amazed at how rapidly our class has flown by. Although our course is labeled “Consumer Culture in China”, I feel as if I have learned an incredible amount about China’s history and political atmosphere in only 7 short days (information that normally entails a semester of study in other political science courses I have taken).
In terms of my own topic, I am extremely excited to study the reciprocal relationship between producer and consumer and all the characteristics of consumption in China on a first-hand basis. I plan to focus in on the electronics industry, with the domestic cellphone distributor, Xiaomi, being the center of my analysis. For my two page paper, I focused in on brand representation as a marketing strategy for the Xiaomi corporation, and the idea of consumption as a means of identity reinvention. It will be fascinating to examine the prevalence of this degree of consumption-induced identity in greater detail.
I am further looking forward to sharing and joining ideas with my group members; our objects of consumption span a wide range of interests, from the marketing of cosmetics, to the spreading of religious ideology. Although I am not absolutely certain as of now in terms of what area of emphasis we plan to hone in on––whether it be national v. international marketing, or the marketing of tangible v. intangible goods, I am looking forward to whatever adventures our studies will bring, and am extremely enthusiastic to be able to forge our own pathways towards our discoveries.
In our class thus far, we have read a variety of extraordinarily informative texts concerning consumer culture in China and globalization. I thought I had a good idea of what globalization was, but after the first day of class, I remember leaving the classroom not really knowing what globalization really meant. It’s really interesting reading these different texts and trying to develop an idea of globalization and determine its effects in China, particularly urban Chinese consumers. These readings, and our subsequent discussions of them, have really opened my eyes to what these consumers are like.
Throughout this past week and a half, we have been examining advertisements marketed towards these urban Chinese consumers, and analyzing them using techniques gained from our readings. It’s certainly helped me to look at an advertisement more objectively — not only the advertisements in class, but also the ones that I encounter every day here in the U.S. For my two-page paper, I focused on two advertisements released by Adidas as part of the transnational #mygirls campain: one during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the other in 2013. An interesting similarity between the two ads was the lack of marketing of clothing; rather, it appeared that Adidas was attempting to market the brand itself and the fact that its values aligned with the intended audience’s values of support networks.
This will be my first time traveling to China. I am really excited to travel to China and see all the tourist spots, as well as gather evidence for the final paper, for which I am focusing on clothing advertisements for local and foreign clothing brands. So far, it’s been great getting to know everyone and preparing for the upcoming trip!
Echoing the sentiments of my two group mates, I am amazed by how much knowledge I have learned thus far in less than two weeks of class. Time goes by pretty fast, as the subject of the globalization of China and consumer culture is of interest to me. To be honest, I have never studied anything close to the topics we have been examining, so everything I am taking in is new and I am excited to apply the information learned while conducting research. Although the readings are lengthy and sometimes dense, the various texts we read are all adding to the tools that I will take with me to China and after finishing the course. One thing I’ve especially enjoyed reading is Lianne Yu’s book, Consumption in China, as it presents recent research and case studies that look into how China’s rapid development affects so many aspects, even beyond consumer culture, of the people in China’s lives.
My two-page paper focused on two temples in China, Hanshansi Temple and The City God Temple of Shanghai. I looked into the different levels of appeal that each site presented, and how it was translated into different target audiences. The Hanshansi Temple is geared toward a broader audience, while The City God Temple focuses on those who practice the religion. Writing this paper brought me to realize that I will have to look further into religions, especially those practiced widely in China. To take a look at the websites I used, visit http://loading.hanshansi.org/index.html and http://www.shchm.org/
I’m sure our next post will find us intrigued by an even wider amount of knowledge and getting to know more about each other as we go off to experience China for ourselves!
May 27, 2015
By: Alice Kim and Chris Carpenter
As our two-week study session on USC campus is halfway done, we are excited to take what we’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to our explorations in China. For the past week, we’ve met up for 3 hours every morning from 9am-12pm in Von Kleinsmid Center (VKC) to learn more about the history and emergence of China as a superpower in the international community, the result of dynamic changes in social, economic, and political spheres, and enforcement of strict government policies such as the one child policy. All of us are extremely enthusiastic and passionate about learning more of China’s history and are amazed at the speed and intensity of growth within the past forty years. We all come from different backgrounds and majors, such as business, art history, and cinematic arts, but are connected through our desire to learn, dissect, and predict the economic changes of the world’s most populated nation.
The classroom schedule goes as follows: roughly two hours of announcements, answering questions about the overseas trip, and lectures and another hour of discussion on the assigned articles and books we’ve read. Our class was able to read several anecdotes and scholarly papers to gain knowledge about the past and presently changing consumer cultures in Beijing and Shanghai. Our main course readings come from Lianne Yu’s Consumption in China, a fairly short and easy read that contains 7 chapters. Lianne Yu focuses her attention on the middle and upper-middle classes of consumers in China as they are deemed the most dynamic and receptive of changes in their society. She highlights how conspicuous consumption has dramatically shaped and created various identities among consumers and how communication among neo-tribes, or groups of people affiliated with a common interest, has developed meaningful spaces of consumption and discussion in both the virtual and real worlds. Some chapters included the different lifestyle changes, increase in awareness, and change of status from the previous socialist society to the now capitalistic one.
Our lectures allowed us to receive background information on the formation of the government, different political ideologies, and nationalism in China. We look forward to the next two weeks of information gathering and ad analysis in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kaifeng as well as exploration of these historic and culturally rich landmarks in China.
In structuring our research projects, we’ve had to equally weigh the ideal with the practical. We’re a diverse and passionate group of students who come from divergent areas of academic interest, but the reality of the project (and the key to the best, most solidified thesis) is to consider the in-country field research. Our group has decided to investigate the role of the fast food-style restaurant in China, a transplantation of a Western model to food and service that has taken hold and provided Chinese consumers with new and, as we’ve come to find out, valuable experiences. The strength of our project will be determined by our investigation of available sources and pieces of evidence regarding how the fast food industry has proliferated across Chinese urban spaces. It will be a wealth of information.
In class we had the opportunity to practice our analytical and critical thinking skills by comparing and assessing two or more images from various advertising campaigns across the Chinese market. Two of the most prevalent brands in the Chinese fast food market – KFC and McDonald’s – are both exports from the United States, but have taken hold and created interesting opportunities for culturization in various forms. Neither are pure, facsimile exports; they consider and employ tactics, images, phrases, and sensibilities that cater to and entice the Chinese consumer. For example, KFC is capitalizing on the Korean wave (Hallyu) that has impacted the consumer markets of east Asian nations, especially China. As seen in the ad below, Korean pop idols and actors are often used as celebrity endorsements to bring awareness of a new product for fast-food restaurants. McDonald’s, on the other hand, utilizes a sense of “foreign-ness” and globalized sensibilities to sell its products. Offerings such as the “Frappe Blend” and “Apple-a-la-Mode” are advertised in a way that makes no attempt to deculturize their Western origins or reculturize to its Asian market; rather, that sense of worldliness is what makes them valuable.
Ultimately, we are ecstatic to travel to China with the East Asian Studies Center and the Global East Asia program, and we can’t wait to delve into the world of advertising for fast food restaurants in the Chinese market to come to understand Chinese consumer culture and its relationship to the world a little better.
July 8, 2014
By Eri Aguilar
Our study of globalization at the margins has taken us through northern and western China. We stopped in Beijing (the national capital), Xi’an (a culturally significant ancient city that sits between China’s east and west), Lanzhou (the capital and largest city of Gansu Province in Northwest China), and lastly Dunhuang (a county-level city in northwestern Gansu Province). As we continued on a path deeper into China from the city of Beijing it became evident to me that we were entering the margins of China when the presence of skyscrapers was immensely reduced. Growing accustomed to being surprised I had high expectations for this trip.
Upon our arrival in the city of Beijing we made our way through the Tiananmen Square into the Forbidden City. The heat was tiring, but with every step I took through Tiananmen Square, I could feel my curiosity and enthusiasm overpower my feeling of exhaustion. It was incredible to contemplate that I was walking on the same land where one of China’s more controversial events occurred. I could envision the multitudes of students and common folks occupying the space to express their political opinions 25 years ago (in 1989). After walking through a metal detector, providing a fingerprint and gladly availing myself to a pat down I proceeded to enter the Forbidden City. At the gates of the Forbidden City I was stupefied at the sight of its architecture. The gates were truly magnificent with their 81 golden rivets shinning as the sunlight struck them.
Though there was forecast for rain, the Trojan family nevertheless decided to fight on and continue with our plan to climb the Great Wall. Not surprisingly a light drizzle evolved into a heavy downpour with rain droplets the size of water balloons! Fortunately, the heaviest segment of that storm came about the moment we reached the top of the Great Wall. Our tour guide expressed her skepticism in our abilities to persevere, but we all climbed up and made it down safely. As I felt the rain soak into my Air Force Jordan’s I could also feel a moment of spiritual replenishment when I stared down from the top of the Great Wall to our starting point and contemplated the effort that it must have taken to construct such a structure. The thought imbued me to continue striving towards building my own legacy. After climbing The Great Wall of China we had lunch and conveniently found a hand dryer that served as clothes dryer for the group.
The search for globalization at the margins of China exposed us to The Mogao Grottoes. It was incredible to have read about this site earlier in the week and to actually have the opportunity to study it trough firsthand experience. The article we covered in class gave us the context to better understand and appreciate the images and statues that were being preserved at this location. I was astounded when I tried to take in the 3rd biggest Buddha in the world. I had to adjust my head all the way back to be able to get a good view of the statue. Looking at the craftsmanship on the Buddha, I began to contemplate the patience that the artists must have possessed to be able to produce such detail. The location is so humongous that we could not see all of it because we ran out of time and also only some segments are open every season.
Spending a majority of my youth living the city life, I was taken away by the sight of Echoing Sand Dunes. Its postcard-like scenery makes it easy to step outside of reality for a moment. We had arrived early so the heat was not intolerable. I recall that my feet breaking though the warm sand gave me a soothing sensation and I will also never forget being so close to camels. We all had fun climbing up the sand dunes and either running or sliding down. Looking around I could envisage merchants interacting in this oasis along the Silk Road. I will never forget these experiences.
July 1, 2014
By Jeff Levine and Ethan Levin
Wednesday was the second-to-last class, and after the presentations of the Shanghai margins project, we realized we only have one more day of lecture upon us. The end was coming up fast. Along with this end was our final project – it was a marathon of a week! The freedom afforded to us in the prompt of this last project was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because we could talk about anything within the realm of globalization; a curse, because the vague parameters caused some soul searching among the GEA participants: What was the most relevant of topics that we should discuss for this last thesis? We spent much of the rest of the day attempting to figure out what it is that we should be talking about.
On Friday morning, we had our final class. It was a bittersweet moment. On one hand, we were excited to be done with the marathon week of presentations and be finished with work; while on the other hand, it would be the last time we would be meeting to watch and root each other on. We’ve come a long way from where we started. We have a clearer understanding now of just how unclear the word “globalization” can be, and can better examine the complexities that revolve around it – especially when it comes to China.
After class, we had some afternoon free time to explore, nap, or do whatever before the banquet. We decided to take the opportunity to go visit the Shanghai Science and Tech Museum – conveniently a stop along the subway lines (a subject on which, by now, we’ve become experts). We’ve already explored the incredible shopping center underneath; however, we (embarrassingly) had yet to check out the actual museum. We were glad we did. The museum was incredible. Each floor housed a few different exhibits, each one emphasizing intimate interaction and participation. The first floor, my favorite, featured a recreation of the Yunan Rainforest. It was an elaborate array of (fake) animals and plants, complete with bamboo bridges, waterfalls, and caves – plus even more exhibits within the exhibit, devoted to insects, birds, molecular studies, and more. This was only the beginning, though it had the greatest impact. The other floors featured body and health, the universe, information technology, and robotics.
After the museum, we got back with just enough time to prepare for the banquet. After a 40-minute taxi ride, as well as some sleuthing for the right building, we arrived at the restaurant. The banquet was course after course of delish food, such as fish, egg rolls, cabbage, duck, tofu, and more. Our stomachs were long satiated before the waiters (or fúwùyuán) stopped coming. Just writing about it now makes me hungry again! While the food was superb, there was, yet again, a bittersweet mood to the dinner. We were all so happy to be feasting on this deliciousness together, but we all knew that this would most likely be the last time we were all together (already one of our comrades had left us, shout out to you Steven!). We concluded the night with one final tour around the neighborhood.
June 30, 2014
By Coleman Monroe and Christmas Myers
The day after we returned from Dunhuang was a free day, and many of us used it to explore the city of Shanghai. This photograph was taken at Yu Garden, in the City God Temple area. The Yu Garden is a breathtaking oasis within the city that is filled with koi ponds, jade rock formations, and pagodas. The garden was constructed in the Ming Dynasty by a wealthy minister and had an important role in the history of Shanghai. The garden played many roles throughout its history: merchant guild, British headquarters during the Opium War, and a meeting place for the leaders of the Taiping rebellion. However, we could never truly forget about the big city around us, as the tallest building in Asia protrudes into the skyline.
Today we took our final group field trip to the world famous Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower. Standing at 1,535 feet, gazing at the tower from below is astounding. It is no wonder the tower has become the landmark symbol of Shanghai. Our tour guide took us to two observation decks. The first one was an enclosed orbital viewing deck that provided 360 degrees of breathtaking views of Shanghai. It was shocking to see the sea of buildings that seemed to stretch as far as an ocean’s horizon, which poignantly depicted Shanghai’s rapid urban development. The second observation deck consisted of a glass floor, which gave the impression of walking on air. For those of us who are afraid of heights it was a chilling reminder of just how high up we really were. Since we had a considerable amount of time on each observation deck, some of us indulged in snacks while absorbing the glorious views surrounding us.
June 27, 2014
By Amanda Heston & Aissa Castillo
Exploring Lanzhou (Aissa Castillo)
After flying into Lanzhou, the group was understandably tired but determined to enjoy the mysterious wonders Lanzhou might have in store for us. Some were excited by the prospect that at last in the western area of China we might encounter the seedy margins. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the margins brought to you by a tour guide are never as seedy as you might imagine.
The group was able to enjoy an early outing exploring the area around the Yellow River. In this picture we are posed in front of the river, about to explore the area’s many Buddhist temples as well as the famed bird’s eye view of the city.
While climbing the many steps leading to the bird’s eye view of Lanzhou, the group was treated to a constructed water wall that actually offered passersby the opportunity to run behind to feel the spray of water. Most of the members of the group took advantage of this given the heat that surrounded us. (Some of us, including Professor Sheehan, resisted the impulse to run and simply walked across.)
After a 20 minute or so hike consisting mainly of stairs, the group was able to reach the top. We were treated to a panoramic view of Lanzhou and the Yellow River that made the steep hike more than worth the wait.
After returning from the bird’s eye view, the group was then taken to see the statue of the Mother River. This is a depiction of the river that was created in the 1980’s and many tourists come to take pictures with it and to absorb its cultural symbolism.
Still feeling the effects of our early flight departure and the multitude of steps that led to the bird’s eye view, many of us opted to take in the scenery of the river and enjoy a local shop’s offering of “Muslim Tea.” This was a delightfully refreshing concoction of longan, dried dates, tea, and rock sugar. For many of us this was a lull in a busy schedule that would see us all boarding a 14 hour sleeper train to Dunhuang before the night was over!
You might not think it by looking at the photo but this is the group directly off our sleeper train to Dunhuang, a sandy city in the Gobi Desert. I think it’s fair to say that sharing enclosed bunks, a few sinks, and one very suspicious squat toilet made us all a little closer together.
June 26, 2014
By Chip Becker and Sean O’Leary
Today we caught the 7:30AM high-speed rail bound for China’s glorious capital, Beijing. The train’s top speed is capped at around 300 km/h, which is roughly 186 m/h. Needless to say, we zipped through China’s countryside at a mesmerizing pace. It only took five and a half hours! Ultimately, we all seemed to have found a good balance between sleep and sightseeing in preparation for all the wild adventures to come in Beijing and Xi’an.
After lunch, we promptly made our way to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City smack dab in the heart of Beijing. It was hot out but that didn’t stop us from seeing what we came here to see. Indeed, the history of this location is rich and formidable. However, to some extent, it felt as if we helped make some more of its history just by being there today. Fight On!
Earlier this evening, we took a side-trip down to Beijing’s Bei Hai area to enjoy a rather interesting and energetic Kung Fu show. Giant, acrobatic pandas seemed to be a common theme throughout the performance and they managed to pull a few Michael Jackson moves near the end, which was truly icing on the cake. You don’t see a show like this every day!
You simply cannot come to Beijing without making a trip out to see the mighty Great Wall. As we climbed, the rain began to fall. But much like with the heat yesterday, the downpour did little to stop us from reaching our goal! We endured the weather, bonded with some of the locals along the way, and eventually reached the top. What a spectacular and rewarding view! All in all, it was an experience Global East Asia of 2014 will not soon forget.
June 24, 2014
By Steven Luong and Olivia Chui
A few hours were spent in Hangzhou, a city a few hours west of Shanghai. The group took a boat ride around West Lake and strolled around the picturesque lake. The place was bustling with tourists and locals alike and the group witnessed many people enjoying their weekend afternoon. Afterwards, the group bused back to Shanghai.
On a rain-filled Sunday, a day of rest and fun was in order. Many students stayed around the Fudan University area, taking time to recoup from the exhausting travels of the previous few days. Others decided to brave the wet weather and venture to other parts of the city like the popular City God Temple Area, a vestigial landmark of old Shanghai.
June 23, 2014
By Aleen Mankerian and Eri Aguilar
Day 1 (Aleen)
After a weekend spent settling into Fudan University and exploring the surrounding area, on Tuesday afternoon, we hopped on a bus for a 6-hour drive for our first trip to the city of Huangshan. It was a long and tiring commute but we were excited and had no idea what to expect upon our arrival. An interesting aspect about the ride was that we had the chance to see a drastic difference between urban Shanghai and the villages and small towns right outside of the city. We finally arrived in the main city of Huangshan, and it definitely wasn’t hard to miss because neon lights flooded the downtown area. They must not worry about their electricity bill! After stopping in the city for a delicious traditional Chinese meal, we drove another half hour to one of the most luxurious hotels we’ve ever seen. Our first night in Huangshan was spent at the Howard Johnson Macrolink Plaza, or what we liked to call “The Bellagio” because of its resemblance to a Las Vegas resort. Perhaps the strangest part about the hotel was the fact that it was completely empty. It was quiet and a bit creepy but we still had fun running through the huge halls and bonding with one another during our stay. We finished off the night in our comfortable, spacious hotel rooms with exciting adventures to look forward to the next day.
Day 2 (Eri)
The trek to the top of Huangshan Mountain, the fifth wonder of the world, began with our departure from this amazing hotel. The lobby was decorated with marble floors, the rooms were opulent, and the service men and women prided themselves in offering us a high degree of hospitality. This being my first time ever traveling abroad, my expectations did not have a standard for comparison. But I was definitely eager to be exposed to novel experiences. I can vividly recall being unable to sleep the night prior, as I imagined the immense beauty of standing on the top of the mountain. Growing up in the city, the only view of nature that I had ever experienced were the hills that are behind the skyscrapers in Los Angeles when driving down the 110 North.
June 5, 2014
By Diane Um and Scott Hung
On Thursday night, most of our group met at LAX to board a plane to Taipei, Taiwan. Our excitement only made the 13-hour flight feel longer, but we busied ourselves with napping, watching movies, and enjoying our two provided meals. Upon arriving in Taipei, it felt surreal to be surrounded by Chinese characters and food. A few of us indulged in Taiwanese drinks and learned about currency exchange. Finally, we endured the short flight to Shanghai, where we happily met our TA Carlos.
The second that we stepped out of the airport, we experienced our first taste of Chinese humidity. Carlos and Professor Sheehan promptly assured us that it would only increase as the summer went on. Nonetheless, we eagerly drank in every sight of China as our tour bus traveled towards Shanghai. On the way, we stopped at a restaurant to share our first meal, where Professor Sheehan explained some dining etiquette, including how to use the lazy Susan. Even though we had just met, it felt like a real family meal as we sampled the same dishes and poured each other tea. We were really surprised at the hospitable servers, or “fu wu yuan,” especially after realizing that tipping is not a custom in China. They seemed to genuinely care about providing the best experience for their guests. Full and content, we ended our bus ride at our dorm in Fudan University.
Afterwards, we left the hotel and we encountered perhaps our greatest intercultural hurdle we have faced in China yet: buying cell phones. The army of cell phones lining the display cases and walls of the tiny store, combined with the bustling action on the streets behind us, had many of us at a loss of words. Thankfully, having skillful interpreters like Professor Sheehan and Carlos saved us from relying on body gesticulations that tend to dominate such cross-cultural exchanges. We were ultimately able to successfully purchase and activate cell phones without too much running around. It was reassuring to know that despite being in a foreign country, we will be able to stay connected to each other thanks to technology.