Anita Mui: Paper for Chinese Culture Class

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Anita Mui: Not Exactly the “Madonna of Asia” Popular Modern Culture in China April 27, 2006 Kathleen Fitzgerald 2 In the 1980’s, the political and economic cultures of America and China were growing more similar with each passing day. In fact, the two nations had been progressing along paradoxically similar trajectories for the previous two decades. For instance, beginning in 1967, Chinese President Mao Zedong implemented his Cultural Revolution program, which was a campaign, intended to puri
  Anita Mui: Not Exactly the “Madonna of Asia”Popular Modern Culture in ChinaApril 27, 2006Kathleen Fitzgerald  In the 1980’s, the political and economic cultures of America and China weregrowing more similar with each passing day. In fact, the two nations had been progressing along paradoxically similar trajectories for the previous two decades. For instance, beginning in 1967, Chinese President Mao Zedong implemented his CulturalRevolution program, which was a campaign, intended to purify China’s artistic productions and change them into political vehicles. It was a clash between traditionalChinese artistic expression and modern artistic repression. Ironically, at that same exacttime, the United States was struggling through its own traditional-modern clash: theyouthful, hippie culture against the traditionally conservative parents of the day. 1 Twodecades later, neither country had changed much, except for one main thing— conservatism had become the status quo amongst the majority of American youth,whereas it was still despised by many Chinese youth. At the time, America had already begun its transition from the disco-crazed 1970’s into the Members-Only youth elitism. 2 “Like the 1960’s, [the 1980’s] was an era of frantic change, characterized by political andeconomic decentralization [for the U.S.].” 3 From 1981 to 1989 (“the Reagan Years”),this conservatism became “the dominant creed in American political and cultural life.” 4 Concurrently, China was under the control of Deng Xiaoping, Zedong’s successor, and itwas undergoing a similar “de-collectivization of the countryside [and] industrial reformsaimed at decentralizing government controls in the industrial sector.” 5 For the first time, 1 America’s involvement in the controversial Vietnam War was splintering the nation, and America’syouths (who were being drafted into the war) began rebelling like never before. 2 Members-Only was a brand of preppy outerwear that conservative youths enjoyed wearing throughout the1980’s. 3 Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. www.wikipedia.com. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. A measure of Xiaoping’s Economic Reforms and Openness ( Gaige Kaifang  ) policies. 2  China was allowing foreign investment to enter certain Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s)without government restraints. Thus, the 1980’s began on a politically conservative yeteconomically liberal note for both countries. 6 Spending was encouraged, but liberalismwas forbidden.This dawning of conservative capitalism in America and China, however, wasaccompanied by the publicity births of two female cultural counter-agents: Madonna inthe U.S. and Anita Mui in China. Both women pushed the envelope when it came tolyrics, costumes, and performance, but each was also a subtle reflection of her own youthculture—Madonna emerged as a punk agent who was trying to alter American culturalstatus quos from entirely outside the conservative establishment, while Anita Muirebelled for democracy by keeping one foot inside the traditional Chinese culture.Despite similarly rebellious concert styles, Mui possessed an underlying traditionalfemale sexual identity that Madonna did not, and this enabled her to relate better to her culturally adjusting Chinese audience. Madonna was against everything her conservativeculture stood for at the time. Instead of preppy, she was pop punk. In place of thetraditionally pure female, she stood flaunting her ironic lack of virginity. In lieu of agood singing voice, she possessed a knack for controversy and spectacle. She wassexually liberal and completely outside the American social norms of the day.Antithetically, Anita Mui confronted Chinese 1980’s culture in a manner that placed her outside acceptability for the most conservative Chinese, but within the realm of acceptability for the majority. Her rebellious costumes and lyrics aside, she continued to possess an inherently feminine quality about her. She desperately longed to be a mother,even retiring in 1991 in order to facilitate a possible marriage; however, it never panned 6 A popular 1980’s movie, “Wall Street,” even carried the tagline, “Greed is good.” 3  out, and Mui soon returned to her first love—the stage. Thus, where Madonna’s songsand fashions completely bucked the system and were usually confrontational in nature,Mui’s lyrics tended to possess a mournful, loving element that linked her to the Yellowmusic of the early 1900’s. Madonna’s most famous song was a satirical take on her lack of virginity; Mui’s notable song was about a woman always wanting love but never finding it. One can see the difference in degree of scandal. But while Madonna’s radicalcelebrity image was situated in an America that had just experienced two decades of rebellious youth culture, Mui’s image had to find a niche within the tightly controlledPeople’s Republic. While Mui and Madonna shared a similar modus operandi whenit came to image, it was the subtle differences in costume, lyrics, and overall messagethat allowed Mui to thrive in a Chinese culture where Madonna would have failed. Madonna’s image as the over-sexed anti-virgin who would eat a man alive beforesubmitting to the traditional wife role was similar to Anita Mui’s “Bad Girl” image;however, Madonna continued to play that controversial, anti-wife role throughout her career, while Anita Mui always relished the idea of marriage and motherhood and wasnot afraid to sing about it. The lyrics to Madonna’s hit, “Express Yourself,” convey a lotabout her intended gender role: “You deserve the best in life / so if the time isn’t rightthen move on / Second best is never enough / you’ll do much better baby on your own.”As Karyn and Donald Rybacki of Northern Michigan University (Madonna’s homestate!) wrote in their essay, Cultural Approaches to the Rhetorical Analysis of Selected Music Videos , “Madonna’s attempted embodiment of female power and the message thatattempt sends to her fans can be best understood through a Marxist interpretation of ‘Material Girl.’” In that song, Madonna “has created a female persona that dominates4
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