Media, Market, and Democracy in China: Between the Party Line and the Bottom Line

Article excerpt

Media, Market, and Democracy in China: Between the Party Line and the Bottom Line. Yuezhi Zhao. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1998. 255 pp. $44.95 hbk. $19.95 pbk.

Since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union around the early 1990s and amid its continuing reform and openness even after the heavy-handed crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square prodemocracy movement, both the academic and journalistic communities have been searching for new concepts and ways of making sense of the structure and processes of mass media in China, the last stronghold of communist ideology and the world's fast emerging economic power. By all measures and through various accounts, China's changing media landscape within the larger socio-political context continues to defy conventional wisdom and contemporary conceptual fixation.

With a variety of approaches, numerous articles and books have attempted to determine, either quantitatively or qualitatively, how the Chinese media system strives to strike an uneasy balance between the unyielding political control dictated by the necessity of state domination in an authoritarian system on the one hand and the unrelenting momentum unleashed by the market forces on the other hand. This book by Yuezhi Zhao, a native of China and an assistant professor of communication at the University of California at San Diego, represents an insightful and challenging addition to a significant body of literature on China research in social sciences in general and in mass communication/ journalism in particular. It presents a skillful synergy of what is and what should be in the Chinese media system in both the political and economic sense.

For anyone who follows the spirit and practices of Chinese journalism, the book makes a fascinating, and to some extent provocative, reading of the tension, negotiation, and accommodation of the willing bedfellows between the highly politicized Communist Party and the increasingly commercialized mass media in China. Its approach is a combination of historical description and critical analysis of the form and content of the Chinese media system over time and across space. Relying heavily on such publications as books, academic journals, and trade magazines, however, the author provides little original or systematic data. The book is nevertheless full of useful anecdotes and circumstantial evidence culled from Chinese sources not readily available to mass communication researchers outside China. They are helpful in story telling, but are insufficient in theory building, especially when the book argues for a new mass communication model in China. …