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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Chinese Television in the Postsocialist Era: A Modern Medium for Everyday Life
1: The Story of the Monitor: Dream of the Red Chamber and New Era Materialities
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of California, Berkeley, United States
This paper traces the emergence of color television as one of the most significant indexes of New Era (1978-1989) modernity and futurity in China through an analysis of the 1987 television adaptation of Hongloumeng (Dream of the Red Chamber). In “Baoyu’s Multimedia Classroom,” Ling Hon Lam argues that not only does the 18th century vernacular novel foreground intermedial experiences but that successive film adaptations of the text interrogate the limits of media specificity and reflect the political desires and anxieties of their historical moments. Applying Lam’s insights to the 1987 television adaptation, we find that the thirty-six-episode program was not only a spectacular showcase of color television technology but also offers insight into how television mediated social change in early postsocialist China. The collective viewing of small, black and white television sets that characterized the late 1970s in the last days of Maoism gave way in the 1980s to desires of private ownership and private viewing of larger, “newer” televisions that could render sumptuous period pieces in color. In approaching this televisual text, I am attendant to several layers of televisual materialities: the careful design of sets and costumes that would appear on the new medium, the flickering light of the electronic image on glass screens, the plastic casing and wiring of this unfamiliar domestic object, and the domestic socialist spaces that are restructured to accommodate television.