Academic journal article China: An International Journal

From D.D's to Y.Y. to Park 97 to Muse: Dance Club Spaces and the Construction of Class in Shanghai, 1997-2007

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

From D.D's to Y.Y. to Park 97 to Muse: Dance Club Spaces and the Construction of Class in Shanghai, 1997-2007

Article excerpt

This article explores the development of an internationalised dance club scene in Shanghai between 1997 and 2007, focusing on four clubs. It examines how clubs have become a conduit for dance and music to enter China, while also exploring how both local and international clubbing practices are negotiated. The roles of owners, managers, DJs, and patrons in constructing the clubbing experience are discussed as well as the tendency for clubs to promote social and sexual interactions between local and overseas Chinese and foreigners. Clubs also provide separate and distinct cultural and social spaces for these groups to create their own social and class identities.

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As sites of creativity, interaction, contestation and community, dance clubs are fascinating spaces to study the flow of transnational urban cultural forms and their reception and transformation in contemporary China. (1) As socially segmented, culturally distinctive and economically selective environments, they are also excellent spaces to examine how people coming to Shanghai from abroad to live and work accommodate themselves to the city and help build its elite leisure and social culture, thereby participating in the construction of class differentiation in the modern Chinese metropolis in the age of market reforms. Yet with the exception of James Farrer, no scholar working in the English language has published a study of dance clubbing in the People's Republic of China, and even Farrer's work says relatively little about the actual space of the dance club and how it is constructed to promote class identities. (2) This article examines the evolution of dance clubbing in Shanghai from 1997 to 2007. Drawing on a decade of personal experiences in the clubbing scene as well as interviews and discussions with several managers, DJs and patrons of clubs in Shanghai, I trace the development of a transnational clubbing scene in the city during this period. (3) An article of this length can not do justice to the variety and range of night-time leisure establishments that have developed since the 1990s. Nor do I propose to survey all of the activities that take place in clubs. (4)

I concentrate on the construction and operations of four dance-oriented clubs opened at different times within the broader context of the rapid development of the city since the 1990s. (5) These clubs have catered to an upscale market of clubbers ranging from Western expatriates to overseas Chinese to locals. While prices and other factors ensure an elite clientele overall when compared to the average Chinese resident of the city, the variety of social and economic backgrounds of patrons is nevertheless enhanced by certain cultural practices common to China, such as the tendency for wealthier men to invite others of lesser socioeconomic status to clubs and pay for their expenses. In other words, while elite and "foreign" in orientation, these clubs have exposed a broader spectrum of Chinese urban society to the internationalised clubbing culture, introducing them to new varieties of music, dancing, social interactions and sexual mores, and to the concept of "eliteness" in a cosmopolitan setting.

Clubbing in Shanghai began in the early 1990s with the rise of a small number of discos in or around some of the international hotels. Over time this number grew, while bars and pubs catering to Chinese and foreign clientele also grew in number and variety. (6) One of the first clubs to arise was J.J.'s, a disco dance club that could hold up to 2,000 people. Other clubs such as New York New York, Galaxy and Casablanca, also reflect the early years of clubbing in China. These disco clubs provided the foundation for clubbing to develop, but they followed a rather simple model. Early discos were large, cavernous spaces. They were dark and simply decorated. The music played by Chinese and foreign DJs was mainstream American or Chinese pop. They catered to overseas businesspeople, foreign students and locals looking to experience the exciting new world of discos in China. …

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