Cultural-Moral Governance and Television Entertainment: The Transformation of Talent Shows in Postsocialist China

  • Sheng Qu

Student thesis: Phd


This dissertation concentrates on the transformation of China's talent shows in the context of postsocialist China. It explores how the official censorship and regulation of this Western-inspired genre has dynamically responded to the expanding and deepening media commercialisation as characterised by today's cultural globalisation and advancing digital technology. By analysing a decade of media policies, representative talent shows and derivative discourses, including public intellectual discussions and online spoofs, I attempt to establish a conceptual framework of 'cultural-moral governance' to comprehend the changing talent show culture and its implications through a broader examination of conflict, negotiation and compromise between the party-state, market, media institutions and elite artists. I argue that talent shows have developed into products striving for political correctness while simultaneously attempting to maintain mass market appeal. Since its phenomenal popularity in the mid-2000s, the authorities have been deliberately intervening in the remaking of the Western-invented genre so as to make it more accommodating to China's cultural-political environment by resorting to managing its social moral construction. Such a continuous concern is exposed to a dual governing intention of rectifying talent shows per se and manipulating public opinion. At the discursive level, the genre has broken away from its original meaning as a 'democratic' and 'grassroots' form of entertainment. This point can be evidenced in an increasingly recurring narrative of ordinary people's talent show dreams echoing the official propaganda of the 'China Dream' (Zhongguo meng), as well as an aesthetic pursuit of exquisite professionalism in which the genre is revalued. Meanwhile, media enterprises have colluded with party-sanctioned cultural and moral agendas, and have begun dictating the style of spoofing used by online users, thus seizing the discourse power of evaluating talent shows and weakening the public's voice. The evolution of the talent show genre and its cultural-political implications suggests that the party-state can strategically employ a flexible and resilient moral ruler to regulate television entertainment discourse, and remould the corresponding political implications. This cultural-moral governing process reflects the party-state's high adaptability in the face of ideological, economic, and technological forces.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorChristopher Payne (Supervisor) & Heather Inwood (Supervisor)


  • cultural governance
  • television entertainment
  • talent shows
  • Chinese media

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