Hope against hopes: Diana Zhu and the Transnational Politics of Chinese Popular Music

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Born and bred in the Netherlands, Diana Zhu, at 15 years of age, won a Chinese singing contest in Amsterdam in 2006. Subsequently, she got a contract first from Warner Music Hong Kong, then from Warner Taiwan. Relocated to Shanghai, her parents' 'home' city, Diana was working on her hope for a future in the Chinese pop market. This essay is my inquiry on the problematic of hope engendered by and embedded in the intersubjectivity between Diana and me. Taking my cues from Lash and Lury's method of 'following the object', I followed one person. I followed Diana and started to see her entanglement - particularly over her language, music and body - not only with Warner Music, but more fundamentally with the wider dynamics that seeks to configure and maintain a sense of hopefulness in the same Chinese society where inequality, injustice and inhumanity are threatening the 'harmonious society' the political establishment has been campaigning for. Through this journey with Diana, I aim to do two things. First, I aim to show, if we are to understand the complex relationship between the diasporic, the popular and the political in contemporary China, one possibility is to recuperate two sets of narratives - migration and modernity - and read them side by side in connection with hope. Second, I take this metonymic account as part and parcel of a critical Cultural Studies project that has such inequality, injustice and inhumanity in the heart of its politics and practices. I am trying to underwrite this story about Diana's hope with my own hope, against other hopes, that are constructed, circulated and transformed to serve the interests of the state and the capital. Hope management, I will argue, is a key site of political struggle if we want to see a better China in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-808
Number of pages26
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese diaspora
  • hope
  • modernity
  • popular music industry
  • the Netherlands
  • transnationalism


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