JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Joyce Cheng and Aimee Chan having fun speaking in English at a cosmetics counter in Off Pedder. They try to play with their bilingualism and identities as Hong Kongers who were raised in the West.

Ethnic minorities are virtually absent from the Hong Kong television screen. When they are represented, they are often placed in stereotypical roles. There is also little regard for ethnic differences. A Filipina actress plays the role of an African immigrant in Off Pedder.

A South Asian actor in a small role in one episode of Off Pedder.

Virtues of Harmony II capture the postmodern consumerist culture of contemporary Hong Kong. It deals with the lives of an ordinary, middle-class family who own a cha can ting, a typical Hong Kong style diner.

The characters in Virtues are always longing for the newest and most popular consumer products.

Virtues is highly intertextual, making frequent references to current events, advertisements, commercials, popular trends, and Cantonese popular culture. Here, one of the characters parodies another character from the famous and much more serious television serial, The Bund.

Characters in Virtues sometimes confuse real life with life on television. In this episode, they think they hear a ghost but it turns out someone forgot to turn off the television. The framing of the television set reminds viewers of their role as spectators looking at the scene, and the popular culture and historical moment it references, as objects of contemplation.

One of the characters plays an actor. Here, he re-watches a scene he recently acted in. The overly self-referential nature of Virtues renders an extremely self-involved media event that, as a surface gloss of signifiers, carries little meaning.

A little boy makes a scene, trying to get his father to buy him a toy. This “scene” becomes a lesson in social relationships that other characters witnessing the scene (like watching a performance) use to influence or change the dynamics of their own relationships. Relationships are often established architecturally through juxtaposition in this way; the causal link between the two scenes is illogical.

The set of the reality show Yummy Yummy as depicted on the television show Yummy Yummy. The TV fiction has a pseudo-documentary feel, giving us the impression that we too are a part of television’s (non)reality.

We are given the illusion that we have full access to the production apparatus. Here, we see the producers of the reality show in the editing room.

A clip of the reality show, reminding us of the constructed nature of our viewing experience.

From the opening sequence of Fantasy Hotel, a show about tour guides in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong as a global city must be understood in relation to greater China, the Pearl River Delta, and Southeast Asia. Businessmen in Gem of Life are constantly traveling around the world. They go to Macau frequently by helicopter.

Having lunch in Macau.

Trying to find spiritual solace in Tibet.

Misdirected love in Shanghai.

An overseas Chinese family who fled Vietnam after the war settles in France and builds a business empire. Their business associates and friends from Hong Kong come to visit them at their chateau.

A missed encounter in Paris.

A tour group visits the Loess Plateau in Shanbei in Dance of Passion. This final scene calls attention to the artifice of the serial. It acts out a touristic form of engagement, bringing to the fore the ways in which multiple frames – photographs, personal memory, tourism, and television media – are deployed to shape our historical understanding.

The tour includes an exhibition of photographs of the area.

The protagonist’s memory of her life in Shanbei is re-enacted as a moving diorama...

... that she walks through and looks at.

Her best friend and her husband gaze back, as if posing for a photograph.

Hong Kong television has been trying to tap into the China market. There are a growing number of Mainland-Hong Kong co-productions. Drive of Life, for instance, is filmed both in Hong Kong and Beijing (shown here).

Hong Kong television tries to define Chineseness and national culture by foregrounding the production of “Chinese” commodities. Drive of Life gives a fictionalized account of the creation of the first Chinese-branded car.

Classic “Chinese” commodities: abalone (Heart of Greed) ...

... and mooncakes (Moonlight Resonance).

 

Global Chinese subjects

The death of the traditional extended family in serials like Greed of Man sows the seeds for the inception of the small nuclear family cultivated by young professionals. The portrayal of their lives and the lives of young singles, who live by themselves or with friends, began to occupy more and more of television’s airways. While close to their extended families, they maintain a healthy distance. Hence, serials feature the story of young doctors, their careers, friendships and romances in Healing Hands (miao shou ren xin 1998),[41][open endnotes in new window] flight attendants and pilots in Triumph in the Skies (chong shang yun xiao 2003), service workers in the tourism industry in Ups and Downs in a Sea of Love (shi wan dun qing yuan 2002), and idealist volunteer doctors in The Last Breakthrough (tian ya xia yi 2004). These young people aspire to cosmopolitan lifestyles and outlooks; many have been schooled abroad. These kinds of characters were predated, however, by female protagonists in family melodramas who, fed up with the perverse loyalty the men in their lives have towards their families, simply packed up and moved abroad.

Such women and young professional characters are representative of Hong Kong’s new transnational subjects, figures who allegorize the experience of contemporary Chinese global modernity. Like subjects of global Chinatowns, these transnational and cosmopolitan figures must mediate the relations marked by postcolonialism, neocolonialism, and Chinese transnationalism. The prominent families featured in Gem of Life are Shanghainese in origin, representing an important facet of Hong Kong history. Many of the first refugees to Hong Kong were businessmen who fled from Shanghai to Hong Kong during WWII and the Civil War in China. They were instrumental in helping to industrialize Hong Kong. Early in the serial, we learn that Martin, one of the richest characters, and his good friend, Melissa, laid the foundation for their business empires in one of Indonesia’s Chinatowns. They later wanted to build a resort on an island in Indonesia but when that venture failed, the two kept the island, a place they went periodically to sort out personal problems. Hong Kong, in this narrative, stands as a city that sits at the crossroads of the Chinese diaspora, built from the capital generated from diasporic business endeavors.

Martin often lets Philip, a fellow businessman he met in Indonesia, take advantage of him in business dealings, a cause of frustration between Martin and his son, because the father feels indebted to Philip for helping him out in Indonesia. Within the multicultural context of postcolonial Indonesia, Chinese Indonesians turned to each other in the face of discriminatory policies against the Chinese resulting from their dominant presence in Indonesia’s economy. From Shanghai to Indonesia to Hong Kong, the lives of Chinese migrants or the “global” Chinese are thoroughly molded by the racial and class dynamics of postcolonial relations.

Since the 80s, anxieties about the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 have led to an emigration craze well-documented on drama serials from the period. Although these stories are not explicit narratives about living abroad as, for example, Chinese Americans, they project Hong Kong’s fantasies and apprehensions about being Chinese in the West. For instance, many incidents in family melodramas show an unhappy family member coming home after migrating to the United States or the UK. Not only do we hear the sob stories about the harsh life in Chinatowns and the abuses these characters endured, we later find out that these same characters have become mentally unstable. They end up becoming a menace to their Hong Kong families. In other instances, characters considering the prospects of migrating are frightened by the specter of Chinatown life.

Even today, these narratives still ring true for overseas viewers. In Moonlight Resonance, produced in 2008, a wealthy but uneducated family sends the youngest son to Manchester for boarding school. His father and stepmother, neither of whom speaks English, are fairly uninvolved in his studies and social life. When his birth mother goes to visit him, she finds out that despite his wealth, he spends all his time hanging out in Chinatown and thus has never been able to learn proper English. He is clearly unhappy in England, a mood brought out by his dark and depressing apartment. The lonely and harsh life of a Chinese student in London is further visualized by an image of his mother slowly struggling her way to his apartment in a bitter snowstorm to bring him his favorite Chinese dish. Another character in the serial, a doctor whose father saved all his money from selling ice-cream as a street vendor to send him to school in the UK, falls into a depression when he gets to England and instead of studying, spends his time gambling his tuition away in Chinatown dens.

Juxtaposed against these explicitly harsh representations of Chinatowns and life as Chinese immigrants are the stories of the socially mobile, cosmopolitan women who move abroad because of unhappy relationships. In Healing Hands, for example, one of the female doctors leaves Hong Kong because her boyfriend is unable to commit to their relationship. Her departure and eventual return forces him to realize his love for her. They are comfortable in any environment that will allow them to lead a Westernized, upper middle-class, and independent lifestyle. Nor do they remain stuck in one place, like the Chinatown migrants, but are highly mobile, often making frequent trips back to Hong Kong.

These are the truly flexible citizens mentioned by Aihwa Ong in her book Flexible Citizenship. According to Ong, flexible citizens are

“individuals…[who] develop a flexible notion of citizenship and sovereignty as strategies to accumulate capital and power.”[42]

Thus, Hong Kong businessman may stay in Hong Kong trying to accumulate capital from one of the world’s freest and most successful economies while their wives and children try to establish citizenship in Western countries where they can shield their capital in case things sour under the new Chinese leadership. While these practices do not exactly describe the situations of the traveling women in Hong Kong serials, they have put in place a culture of mobility, displacement, and flexibility that enables and encourages these women to travel in the first place.

The presence of Chinese American and Chinese Canadian actors and actresses on Hong Kong TV serials provide indirect representations of Chinese diasporic subjects. Two of the younger actresses, Joyce Cheng and Aimee Chan, in Off Pedder (bi da zi ji ren 2008-2009), were both born to Hong Kong parents but raised in Canada. Joyce Cheng was introduced to the Hong Kong entertainment industry at a very young age through her parents, Lydia Shum and Adam Cheng, well-known celebrities in Hong Kong. Aimee Chan got her initial contract with TVB after winning the Miss Hong Kong 2006 beauty pageant. In Off Pedder, Cheng plays a cheerful and naïve newspaper reporter who left her studies in the States to follow her boyfriend back to Hong Kong. Chan also plays a magazine reporter but she also leads a double life as an undercover police officer. Like Cheng, she grew up abroad, in her case in South Africa.

Throughout the series, both Cheng and Chan’s characters are good-humoredly teased for their limited Chinese. In one episode that describes how they become best friends, the two of them go shopping and show off their impeccable English at the cosmetics counter as a playful act of performance. On the one hand, this scene highlights their privilege as cosmopolitan subjects able to traverse different spaces and cultures. But most significantly, in a city that views fluency in English as a necessary condition of upward mobility, their proficient bilingualism is a likely source of envy and admiration for many viewers. On the other hand, they are able to bond as diasporic subjects due to their ability to play with their identities. If Hong Kong’s return to China poses an impending trauma and identity crisis for Hong Kongers pre-1997, then this episode foregrounds the light-hearted performativity of identity in post-1997 Hong Kong. By inserting humor back into the identity game, the serial wishfully seeks to equalize the field for both local and diasporic Hong Kongers by developing characters who can participate in Hong Kong society without the burden of the colonial system’s practice of assigning privilege to cosmopolitan, educated, and English-speaking subjects.

Finally, recent serials feature stories of transnational workers, such as flight attendants and international doctors, who no longer migrate for immigration purposes or for any significant length of time. Even as emigration from the colony has fizzled out, these new transnational journeys have generated new ideas about Asian modernity and globalism. The new mobile figures portrayed on Hong Kong television, for instance, usurp the role played by earlier migrants (e.g. coolies, low-wage workers such as waiters and seamstresses) and pose a different, more idealistic and skilled version of a global Chinese labor force.

As Hong Kongers take the spotlight on the Chinese global stage in these serials, negative imagery of the mainland Chinese as conmen, mistresses (er nai), and prostitutes (bei gu) circulate widely in dramas such as Loving You II (wo ai ni II, 2003). These images have waned as Hong Kongers have become more comfortable with integrating Mainlanders and Mainland culture into Hong Kong’s social terrain. As for other ethnic minorities (such as the Nepalese) and migrant workers (e.g. Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers) who live and work in Hong Kong, they are virtually absent from any form of cinematic and televisual representation except for marginal roles, signifying the impossibility of integration in Hong Kong culture and society for these subjects, as opposed to Hong Kong’s ethnic Chinese kin across the border and beyond. One actress who consistently plays a Filipina maid in Hong Kong serials was recently cast in a minor role in Off Pedder as the African wife of a Hong Kong man, thus emphasizing the entertainment industry’s lack of sensitivity to cultural differences.

Postmodernism, history and popular imagination

Many recent Hong Kong television programs, hybrid in form and generously quoting from other popular television shows and films, are exemplary of a postmodernist sensibility. According to Simon Malpas, postmodernism can be characterized by a suspicion of metanarratives, otherwise known as “grand narrative[s] of progress.”[43] Postmodernism signals the death of grand narratives by calling literary forms and genres into question, thus marking a different relationship to conceptions of historical change, knowledge and truth. This breakdown in form can be characterized by certain tropes:

  • fragmentation
  • pastiche
  • priority of space over time
  • intertextuality (thus erasing the boundaries between high and low culture)
  • the death of the unitary subject
  • an emphasis on the image (or simulacrum, i.e. a photographic negative of the world).[44]

As a result, signifiers and images are emptied of meaning and allowed to circulate freely.

If family melodramas, and the family-run corporations they usually feature, are rehearsals of Hong Kong’s grand narrative of modernity, then more recent television shows — which emphasize the banal, the everyday, a global migration of cultural forms and people, an intertextuality that attends these movements, and the priority of surface aesthetics and style over content — work to problematize this narrative. The diasporic imaginaries they forge, in turn, are increasingly politically and emotionally neutralized into expressions of the banal, everyday world of consumer capitalism.[45] Granted, this account of postmodernism has become so commonplace that it actually renders another grand narrative for Hong Kong. Analogous to melodramas about the romance of Hong Kong capitalist growth cultivated by hardworking families and visionaries are serials about the everyday lives of ordinary people in Hong Kong, obsessed with popular culture, consumer goods, and materialist desires.

Take for example the comedy, Virtues of Harmony II (jie da huan xi 2003-2005),[46] which effectively captures the postmodern consumerist culture of contemporary Hong Kong. Virtues of Harmony II depicts the everyday life of an ordinary, lower middle-class family in Hong Kong. There are no dramatic plot-turning events in the show; conflicts are minor in comparison with those found in melodramas. Instead of running a company, as in most family-driven dramas, the family members are employees in a corporation. The family also owns a restaurant (cha can ting), which typifies many of the Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong. In general, they are disgruntled workers who are always trying to find ways to do less. Through the use of humor, Virtues depicts a general atmosphere of cynicism towards the value of work in a consumer-driven society. Work in Virtues of Harmony II is only a means of keeping up a certain middle-class, bourgeois consumer lifestyle rather than enacting one’s personal values or ideals.

The show is highly intertextual, using examples from current events, advertisements, commercials, popular trends and Cantonese popular culture to frame its stories. Current events are often alluded to without in-depth attention. For example, someone might crack a joke about the avian flu or mention the new KCR West Rail on the serial when these were popular topics of conversation in Hong Kong. Although the serial does not provide any thorough commentary on the current events the characters reference, it creates a space that invites its audience to reflect on these everyday events. Characters often make allusions to the latest consumer electronics (i.e. cameras, cellular phones) and films such as Dumplings and 2046 almost as soon as they are released. In this way, the serial enables and sustains the transnational circulation of commodities.

For viewers in Hong Kong, the serial dovetails smoothly with current events and everyday life and is indistinguishable from the aesthetic flow of mass media and popular cultural forms. For diasporic viewers, the show provides the experience of this daily televisual flow, which cannot be reproduced in the ways in which shows are packaged for overseas distribution (i.e. as single products). Even if the serial is distributed as a contained product, the experience of watching Virtues is anything but contained; that is, the show functions as a synecdoche for the more general flow of Hong Kong popular culture.

Virtues also reference old television shows and films, often by inserting characters into well-known scenes reconstructed from these old productions. For example, a character may fantasize about a possible love affair by imagining herself as Xiao Long Nu, who has a torrid and forbidden love affair with her disciple on the widely acclaimed TVB adaptation of Return of the Condor Heroes (shen diao xia lu 1983). Meanwhile, scenarios from the older legendary program are reenacted by the cast members of Virtues. We are invited to watch these scenes through the frame of a TV set within the serial. The framing of the TV set is significant because it essentially turns the present moment into an object of spectatorship and contemplation. Since it is often difficult to achieve a critical enough distance from the present in order to analyze it as a historical moment, the framing of the TV set and the circulation of the serial overseas create a spatial distance, one that allows us to recognize a particular moment as an object of analysis. Moreover, it demonstrates how Hong Kong history can be sutured into the audience’s imagination through popular culture.

The comedy often parodies the seriousness of the events and dramas it mentions, for instance, by re-staging certain famous scenes from highly acclaimed or internationally successful films such as Dumplings (e.g. eating dumplings at a teahouse). In Virtues, such a scene is over-dramatized under circumstances that don’t merit the amount of seriousness that was given the original. Or characters imagine that the tragic news stories they hear on television have befallen family members or friends. In this kind of parodistic restaging, these scenes offer an implicit critique of the sensationalism that popular culture and journalism have lent issues such as prostitution, urban angst, piracy, and Chinese migration, leading to oversensitive reactions on the part of the public.

Yet, these issues, already highly mediatized, do not have lives of their own outside the media, outside a show like Virtues. In other words, by deploying these events and other forms of popular culture, Virtues displays an extreme form of self-reflexivity, a kind of overly self-involved media event. The issues themselves become non-issues; that is, they don’t carry any kind of discursive weight. The show only provides a surface gloss, the naming of the signifier. In sum, it brings together an endless play of empty signifiers — a news story invokes a suspicion on the part of a jealous husband, who then fantasizes about the tragic end of his marriage by projecting himself into a scene from a 1950s melodramatic classic. Or, in another example, a dinner with an emotional character reminds the others of the dinner in an old soap opera, Looking Back in Anger, where an evil brother tries to poison his entire family. Empty of depth and lost in a series of frames, these associations are architectural and spatial but not causal; as such, there is no deeper meaning that can explain why these associations are made. These formalistic traits are not unique to Hong Kong television but are perhaps illustrative of a more general trend in global television.

Virtues effectively undoes the boundaries around a singular television set to enable a seemingly infinite flow of images, references, and information. In the process, the audience is thoroughly implicated and inserted in the televisual text. The same effects can be observed in two other recent TV serials, Yummy Yummy (2005) and Fantasy Hotel (ka ixin bing guan 2005). Yummy Yummy is a television show about another television show; it tells the story of several young contestants from Hong Kong and Singapore who participate in a reality game show. The reality show and the television show of which it is part take place partly in Hong Kong and the rest of the time in Singapore. Again, the framing techniques are worth mentioning. While the multiple frames introduced in the show would appear to produce a feeling of distance, the effect is quite the opposite. To watch a TV show about a TV show creates the illusion that we are behind the scenes, with full access to the production apparatus, the hidden origin of meaning. The fact that the reality show aims to achieve a reality effect produces a pseudo-documentary feel, hence giving us the impression that we too are a part of TV’s (non)reality.

Fantasy Hotel is about a group of tour guides who also run their own guesthouse in Hong Kong. They take mainland groups on tours of Hong Kong and put them up in their guesthouse at a discount. Like Yummy Yummy, this show creates an atmosphere that invites audience participation. As the tourists are taken on a tour of Hong Kong, we too are taken on a tour, a form of travel-in-dwelling.[47] While the transformative power of capital allows for the process of circulation to take place, a process likewise enabled by the postmodern aesthetics of recent Hong Kong TV serials, the difference with shows like Fantasy Hotel lies in the consequences. Whereas the self-referentiality and self-involvement of family melodramas have an insular (and hence destructive effect), the aesthetic tactics of these postmodern TV texts expand the frame. Whereas family melodramas move inwards, postmodernism allows the narrative to expand outwards across time and space. As a result, the excesses of capital are successfully distributed and absorbed outside domestic and intimate spaces, so that both capital and the family have a chance of surviving. Yet, at some point, this expansion will begin to feel insular itself, when the question of the survival of capitalism will again be raised.

The intertextual use of popular films and shows from the past results not in nostalgia but a light-hearted engagement with the past, a past that has become an eternal present. Our eternal present has no teleology. Everything exists at the same time thanks to a play of infinite frames, the spatial logic of a postmodern global condition marked by an endless parade of consumer, capitalist and popular flows rolling across borders instantaneously. Virtues, along with an increasing number of TV shows filmed overseas, such as Split Second and Yummy Yummy (2005), attempts to map relationships through space rather than through history.

The most recent grand production from Hong Kong, Gem of Life features numerous scenes in Paris, Shanghai, Macau, Zhuhai, Indonesia, and Thailand. Hong Kong in Gem of Life cannot simply be understood as a unique city-state under the dominion of China but must be understood in relation to its position within Greater China, the Pearl River Delta, and Southeast Asia. The priority of space over time is a clear sign that historical changes in Hong Kong are now tied to a larger global system, which is rendered indecipherable by teleological narratives of history.

To understand history in Hong Kong, one must get a grasp of this system, by perhaps first developing a framing technique that can help us break up and decipher its infinite flow of information. At the end of Dance of Passion, one of the protagonists returns to her hometown, the Loess Plateau in Shanbei, as a tourist traveling with a tour group. We later find out that her purpose in returning is to spread the ashes of her dead husband. As she walks around reminiscing, the visual scene becomes populated with people from her past engaging passionately in everyday life, whether it be playing with a child, taking a walk with a partner, or competing in a sports game.

Unlike the classic flashback, which offers a historical frame to explain certain factors that led up to the present moment, this last scene from Dance of Passion is staged in such a way that its artifice is brought to the fore. For instance, as the protagonist looks around, she sees her friend who smiles at her as if posing for a photograph. Like a diorama that came to life, the scene acts out a touristic form of engagement. As added effect, before we enter this scene, the tour guide gives a brief history of the area in a voiceover. Looking upon this scene with the gaze of a tourist may be a facile way of approaching history. Nevertheless, it considers the ways in which historical understanding is necessarily filtered through the multiple frames of personal memory, tourism, and television media.

In the sense that Hong Kong popular culture has come to characterize Chinatown culture, I see shows such as Virtues of Harmony II as producing a certain kind of global Chineseness. Through television, Hong Kong produces a cultural Chineseness that resonates with the Chinese diaspora. The popularity of Hong Kong television amongst the overseas Chinese ensures a diasporic intimacy with Hong Kong popular culture and current events. While historical claims and myths of origins may wane in forging a collective imaginary, the global circulation of Hong Kong popular (and consumer) culture upholds affective links between audiences and Hong Kong Chinese identities. The history of popular culture, therefore, becomes the shared history between members of the Chinese diaspora. The intertextual and intercontextual nature of recent TV serials, borrowing from international (i.e. US) televisual forms and filming in disparate locations, not only helps these serials travel well; they also help to establish diasporic ties where they don’t already or no longer exist.

In short, the glaring presence of Hong Kong TV serials and other cultural forms in Chinatowns asks that we revisit the idea of Chinatowns as insular, traditional, backward ghettos and that we consider Chinatowns as spaces that are decidedly imbricated in the global, popular, and contemporary. Hong Kong and Chinatowns, as translocal entities networked through television and popular culture as well as economic and familial ties, constitute what I call global Chinatowns.

We should not underestimate the impact of cultural products from Taiwan and Mainland China on the Chinese diaspora. A comparison between diasporic interests in Chinese cultural products from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Chinese communities would be an interesting supplement to this paper. I focus on Hong Kong television because Hong Kong’s roots as a global city, Hong Kongers’ acute histories and experiences of emigration and immigration, and Hong Kong television’s outreach to global markets from the very beginning have lent a particular diasporic and global resonance to Hong Kong televisual narratives, making them particularly apt case studies. For diasporic viewers, Hong Kong television’s production of urban and cosmopolitan identities and fantasies of mobility is in a sense liberating especially when contrasted to China’s nationalistic and socialist projects, from which many of them have fled.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong television is now trying to tap into the China market (and its diasporic followers), acknowledging Hong Kong’s increasingly elaborate interconnections with the Mainland. All TVB productions are now subtitled in standard Chinese although dubbing the shows over in Mandarin is still a popular practice. On the whole, there is more collaboration between the entertainment industries in the Mainland and Hong Kong. The Drive of Life (sui yue feng yun 2007), which coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Handover, is co-produced with CCTV and features Mainland actors. Scenes on the Mainland are produced using Mandarin. When the serial was broadcast in Hong Kong, all the Mandarin dialogue was dubbed over in Cantonese. Meanwhile, the Cantonese dialogue was dubbed over in Mandarin in China’s broadcast of the serial. Hong Kong’s reintegration with China has given cause for television producers to think about Chinese globalism vis-à-vis an integrated China.

The Drive of Life tells the story of one family’s effort (a family that is split between Hong Kong and Beijing) to build China’s automobile industry by designing China’s first brand of automobiles. Instead of simply being capitalist driven, the Hong Kong tycoons in this serial want their businesses to further the national cause. Chinese globalism, in this sense, is inevitably a nationalist project. If China’s relation to the world has largely been defined by its production of commodities for the world market and if Hong Kong was founded on a dispute over that most notorious commodity of all, opium, then Hong Kong television’s troping of Chineseness through commodity culture not only highlights this history but demonstrates the ways in which Chinese national culture is built on the history and circulation of commodities.

Heart of Greed and Moonlight Resonance both end with contestations over the ownership and control of family businesses — a Chinese dried seafood chain (e.g. abalone), in the case of the former, and a chain of bakeries selling mooncakes, traditional Chinese pastries usually filled with lotus seed paste and egg yolks eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, in the case of the latter. These serials bring to the fore the triangulation that must occur between family, nation, and capital in order for China to enter the world stage as a national and economic power. Only by valuing Confucian family ethics over individualism are characters in these serials able to run successful businesses based on “Chinese” products, certainly not an insignificant source of national pride. The protagonist in Moonlight Resonance has a grand plan to package mooncakes as souvenirs for tourists, which would not only bode well for the family business but would identify something that is uniquely Hong Kong for people to bring home. While mooncakes are not unique to Hong Kong, the plan is to create and market a brand that would indelibly associate them with Hong Kong. Commodities, therefore, function not only as objects of capitalist exchange but also as cultural exchange, a form of cultural ambassadorship.

Go to page 5


To topPrint versionJC 52 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.