Growing up in China: Television

Onwards from the 1950’s, the television reached the mass market in many Western countries and created the ‘family room, a space integrated into domestic living that allowed for the unification of a family around a TV set.

This was not quite the case for my parents who were born and raised in Shen Yang, the capital of Liaoning Province, China. Being born in the 50’s, my dad was brought into a new era in Chinese history. Leader Mao Zedong reigned and when the People’s Republic was founded in 1949, the telecommunications systems and facilities in China were outdated and rudimentary, and many had been damaged or destroyed during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The country momentarily experienced an increase in technological advancement but that growth in telecommunications soon halted due to the economic collapse after the Great Leap Forward (1958–60). This was quickly revived in the 1960s when radio-television service was installed in major cities during these years.

Unlike most children these days who go through their young childhood watching television, my father didn’t have his first interaction with a TV until he was 15 years old and even then his 9 inch, black and white television set is not comparable to the smart, 3D and interactive TV sets of today. Growing up in a humble city apartment with his parents and older sister, they shared one television set located in his parent’s bedroom where they would watch it together as a family unit as a form of entertainment. Dad explains the sense of excitement he felt, how he felt “fancy” and his favourite program was a weekly animal documentary series called Animal World. Like the academic and intelligent being he is, the reason he loved this telecommunication advancement was due to it enabling him to view different and exciting things around the world, the news, and documentaries which “opened his mind”. He said that he was also for the first time able to watch foreign TV programs from countries such as Japanese and Brazilian. Despite this enthusiasm, he was unable to watch a lot of TV as there was limited programs and they were only broadcast at certain times.

His excitement regarding television these days is very different, “TV doesn’t seem as attractive now as before. There are now more comprehensive sources to gather information and news like the internet.” He has limited time now to watch television and prefers the internet for its immediacy and access to news sites, online papers – especially for up to date news in China. This view is shared by my mother so although we currently have 3 TV sets in our home, only one is watched and even then only for a couple of hours at night when the news is on and my parents are cooking, the family is eating dinner and when washing the dishes. The family comes together at night to share a family meal and the TV happens to be on, we don’t come together for the purpose of watching the television like my father and his family used to.

I loved listening to my dad talk and I loved being able to learn about him and how he grew up, about China at the time and my heritage. It is interesting how someone so close to me, someone who has been there for literally my entire life and has shaped who I am today, I know so little about their life and what shaped them and their perception of the world. The topic of television wouldn’t necessarily be something I ask him about but I’ve learnt so much from asking about it. This conversation definitely consolidated that there is a strong connection between technology, time and place; how location and year defines the experience.

What I just experienced was a form of collaborative ethnography, a collaborative study of people and cultures, an exploration of societal change where I as the researcher observed a society from the point of view of someone who has experienced it, a primary source. This ethnographic text teaches of not just a television culture but is a merger of history and technological advancement.

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