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.