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American Ethnologist

Yearnings: televisual love and melodramatic politics in contemporary China

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Abstract

To trace the complex “passion for meaning” (Barthes) that animated the consumption and interpretation of Yearnings, a television melodrama that aired in China just a year and a half after the Tiananmen demonstrations, requires moving beyond a dichotomy between “the political” and “the popular.” This article argues that Yearnings became a nationwide controversy because it allegorizes post-Tiananmen dilemmas of national identity in relation to socialism and in relation to the diverse class and gender positionings of the characters as well as the viewers. Textualist and reader-response analyses of popular culture need to be broadened by an ethnographic approach that asks sociodiscursive questions about the operations of popular culture as a site for the constitution of national subjects, one that offers complicated possibilities for oppositional practices. [China, national identity, popular culture, gender and class, politics of representations, the state]

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