Faking China, Faked in China: Nation Branding, Counterfeit Culture, and the Postsocialist State in Globalization

Fan Yang

Advisor: Paul Smith, PhD, Cultural Studies Program

Committee Members: Michael Chang, Timothy Gibson

Johnson Center, Meeting Room A
May 18, 2011, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


This dissertation examines the operation of China’s postsocialist state in the first decade of the 21st century. I engage the interactions between two socio-cultural objects, nation branding and counterfeit culture, to discern the workings of globalization qua cultural imperialism. Nation branding in this context refers to a state-initiated campaign, “From Made in China to Created in China,” which emerged not long after China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. This national policy intends to transform the nation’s global profile from a manufacturer of global brands to a creator of the country’s own brands. Counterfeit culture, on the other hand, encompasses the transnational making, selling, copying, imitating and buying of unauthorized global brand-name and audio-visual products. It is manifested in cross-media forms, from the mass consumption of pirated DVDs to Internet spoofs of state television shows, from the use of fake brand-name mobile phones by rural migrants to the reconstruction of an urban counterfeit bazaar in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Through analyses of several artifacts of counterfeit culture whose formations are dialectically entwined with nation branding, I argue that the postsocialist state after WTO is increasingly reconfigured in a global-national imaginary. This imaginary is made visible in the discursive formation of nation branding, which conceives the national subject in and through its object status as a globally circulated brand name, “Made in China.” In conforming to the neoliberal logic of consumer citizenship, the state’s project to upgrade the nation brand into “Created in China” manifests itself as a cultural counter-production. This counter-production of culture is precisely the effect of cultural imperialism; it delimits the imaginary production of the state in such a way as to blind it from the alternative visions presented in counterfeit culture. Nation branding, in the name of producing “culture,” indeed depletes rather than generates cultural resources for the nation’s citizenry.