This study will examine the popular culture of the late imperial period in China in comparison with the popular culture of China in the early 1990s.
As imperial power disintegrated at the end of the 19th century in China, the popular culture was thrown into great turbulence. One important difference with respect to the two crises which marked the end of the imperial era (the Boxer Rebellion) and the beginning of the 1990s in China (the Tiananmen massacre) is that the end of the imperial era and the Boxer Rebellion involved intense foreign forces, while the Tiananmen Massacre involved primarily Chinese-against-Chinese forces. This difference in the origins of the two periods is important because of the impact of that difference on the nature of the popular culture of those two periods. The post-imperial era saw remarkable changes in the popular culture, because of the influx of foreign influences and because of the basic changes in the government of China after the Boxer Rebellion. In the 1990s, on the other hand, after the Tiananmen Massacre, the government remained basically unchanged (at least in short-term consideration) and the culture similarly underwent only minor changes, mostly in terms of increased sociopolitical repression.
As Duiker writes, with respect to the general chaos of the popular culture in China at the end of the imperial era, "The rapid disintegration of power in China had not only whetted the appetites of the great powers, but also had increased their fears that their rivals would profit from a dismemberment of the empire.
On a local level, Western residents in China --- missionaries in the provinces, merchants in the treaty ports, diplomats in Peking --- had reacted to the land-grab with increased contempt for the Chinese people and their institutions. Their demands for special privileges were a local counterpoint to the large-scale land seizures by the great powers on the national level" (Duik...