right China has the largest number of television viewers in the world - an estimated 95 percent of its 1.3 billion people. There are more than 3,000 channels

With over a billion television viewers China is the world’s largest market for televisions. In 1978, there were 1 million television sets in China. In 1996, there were 232 million. Today there are television sets in over 350 million households. Television sets: 291 per 1,000 people in 2003. The number of color and black and white televisions per 100 rural households rose from around 11.7 in 1985 to 44.4 in 1990 to 80.7 in 1995 to 92.4 in 1997. The number of color televisions per 100 urban households rose from around 17.2 in 1985 to 59 in 1990 to 90 in 1995 to 100.5 in 1997.

Changsha is regarded as something of media and cultural center for China. Much of the nation’s animation and television programming is produced there. The immensely popular American-Idol-like “Super Girl” television show was created there.

Good Websites and Sources: Television Stations ; CCTV ; China Radio International ; China Site Television Show site

Good Websites and Sources on the Chinese Media: Council of Foreign Relations on Media Censorship in China ;, an English-language blog on the Chinese media ; China Media Blog ; China Today ; Freedom House Report ; List of Media in China ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Media Bibliography Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) ; News About China ; China Media Project ; China Digital Times


Television in Rural Area in China

Television is popular in the countryside where there is little else to do when people have free time. There, watching television is often a communal activity. If one household doesn’t have a television they can watch shows at their neighbors. Gathering around a single TV set in village to watch a soccer match or popular soap opera is a common village activity.

These days many people have their own sets. For many Chinese their window to the world is a small black and white television that gets two state run channels. These days even in rural areas many people watch television, videos and DVD

Televisons have become common even in places with unreliable electricity or no electricity at all (they are powered by generators, batteries or car batteries). Many villagers even have access to satellite television or cable. There are also a lot of villagers who have a satellite dish displayed prominently outside their house but don’t have it hooked up.

In some cases villagers make enough from selling cash crops such as coffee or cacao or livestock animals to afford a satellite dish for themselves. Often an enterprising individual in the village buys a satellite dish and runs cables from the satellite box to his neighbors televisions and charges them a fee. VCRs and DVD players are also common. DVDs and videos that villagers watch are usually pirated.

Many villagers are addicted to television. Some mud-and-thatch huts lack furniture but have television, which is often turned all day (or whenever programs are being broadcast or electricity is available) and often has ten or fifteen people sitting around it.

Studies have shown that people in developing countries that watch a lot of television have less children and buy more consumer goods than those who don't.

Television Programming in China

Television programming is controlled entirely by the state. Decisions about what programs are shown and censorship are handled by the General Administration of Radio, Film and Television (GARFT). .

In May 2004, SARFT issued guidelines to local stations required TV anchors to refrain from dying their hair strange colors and wearing bizarre clothes, ordered celebrities to not wear trendy clothing and Western fashions and told television station to show less foreign programming that does not fit China’s ‘social system and national conditions.”

One producer told the New York Times, "Government control is not the main problem for the entertainment business. The main problem is quality. Writers, especially, don’t know how to entertain people. Too many people in China---not just the Government, but producers and directors too’still think that main purpose of television is to 'educate' people. They want to tell people how to live their lives, which is kind of stupid."

In recent years Chinese broadcasters have become increasing freewheeling and independent, pushing the line of what censors have deemed acceptable.

Changsha is main center of the animation industry.

In 2007, the main television regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, instructed CCTV and other networks to limit prime-time programming to “ethically inspiring TV series “that could “reflect the reality of China in a positive way.”For an eight month period preceding the National Party Congress meeting in the autumn of 2007 the Chinese broadcasting monitor call for only “ethical inspiring “television shows to be broadcast during prime time as part of the effort to promote national harmony and “ensure a better television environment.”

Television Production and Actors in China

On Chinese television one person wrote on the Internet: “Our own actors are not bad. Those responsible for making Chinese TV shows are the directors, screenwriter, editors and people doing the lighting. music, special effects and makeup...are of poor quality in every aspect, and it adds to total trash.”

Televison attracts talent because it pays well. But most of the money ends up in the hands of producers and television executives. Performers earn relatively little. Actors on Our Lives, a Chinese version of Friends, got $120 per episode as opposed to $1 million, which is what the American actors on Friends received. If actors become popular they can earn good money through endorsements.

Rachel DeWoskin, a 22-year-old graduate of Columbia University who was the lead character in a 1990s show called the Foreign Babes in Beijing, was paid $80 an episode, each of which took two to five days to shoot.

DeWoskin said she had to show up for work at 6:00 am along with the Chinese actors, who she said were treated badly. "Chinese actors have no leverage," she told the Los Angeles Times. "They live in the studio dorms, eat in the studio cafeteria, wait around on the set for hours...and do not complain. For 750 yuan [$90] 'they own you.'"

Televisions, VCRs and DVDs in China

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Television factory in the 1980s
China is the world’s largest producer of televisions. It produced 30 million television sets in 2002 compared to 25 million in 1988. The sales figures for televisions rose from 300,000 a year in 1975 to 10 million in 1990 to around 30 million in 1996 to 43 million in 2000. China is developing its own standard for high-definition television.

The sale of video compact disc players rose from 70,000 in 1994 and 2001 to 118 million in 2001. The sale of CDs and DVDs, including pirated copies, increased from 63.4 million in 1994 to 80 million in 2000 to 109 million in 2001. The big demand for video cassette recorders and video disc recorders is partly the result of the limited choices found on Chinese television.

VCD (video compact discs) are low-tech versions of DVDs. They replaced video cassettes as the main medium for watching films and homes in China in the 1990s. VCD players that sell for less $100 and VCD versions of the latest movies that sell for $1 are widley available in China.

Many people watch pirated DVDs and videos more than regular television shows. If the censors ban or cut a television show or movie, Chinese simply get a pirated version of the original.

Chinese Television Stations

The number of television stations rose from a dozen or so in 1978 to around 100 in the 1980s to more than 2,100 in 2005. Of these about 200 are operated by China Central Television (CCTV), 31 are provincial stations. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of regional stations with more than 1, 900 television stations in small and medium size cities.

Although all television stations are still state-owned, stations owned by provincial governments now compete with one another for ratings, national cable distribution and advertising revenue. The profits from these stations go back to local agencies, so provincial-level officials. [Source: New York Times]

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Most Chinese television stations receive only limited financial support from the government and must rely on advertising revenues to survive. Nearly $4 billion was spent on advertising on Chinese television in 1998, an 11 percent increase from 1997. China's huge television market is run by a monopoly that pays very small rights fees.

State-run television in China has become increasingly deregulated in part to attract foreign investors and venture capitalists. In 2004, the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television allowed foreign companies for the first time to take a minor share in Chinese television stations. By 2008 many state-run stations are expected to be effectively independent, relying on advertisers rather than the government for revenues.

Satellite dishes were officially banned in 1993 except for certain government offices. Sometimes authorities crack down on the illegal satellite dishes but mostly they look the other way. In the 1990s and 2000s the military and the government sold dishes for about $500 a piece. They made so much money from selling them that the only thing set up to discourage people from buying them was an "honor" system.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are hooked up to satellite television through illegal cable set ups. The fledgling Chinese cable TV industry is made up primarily of people who buy satellite dishes and then run wires from the dish to neighboring homes for a fee. As of 2006, there were 139 million (11 per 100 people) cable television subscribers, compared to 110 million (32 per 100 people) in the United States

Authorities in China have tried to control the satellite and cable market by requiring all foreign broadcasters to beam through one satellite, the state-owned Sinosat, which receives signals through a ground station and transmits them in-home decoders. This concept hasn’t worked so well. The illegal market for satellite dishes continues to thrive. Pirates hijack the signals and sell videos and DVDs of the programs. Falun Gong once hijacked programming on the satellite for an entire week. The decoder boxes themselves have been counterfeited.

In August 2005, China announced that it had frozen approvals for foreign satellite broadcasters entering the Chinese market and it would tighten restrictions of foreign television. The move was part of a larger campaign by the government to exert more control on the media and culture industry and “to safeguard national cultural safety.”

Satellite dishes in Xinjiang

Satellite and Cable Television in China

Satellite dishes can bring dozens of channels to even the most remote places. In many cases, the farther one get away from cities the more satellite dishes one sees. In some places there are advertisements for them in local newspapers. One of the major changes that has accompanied the introduction of electricity to remote areas of China has been the proliferation of satellite television in the same areas.

China Xinhua News Network (CNC) launched it English-language 24-hour news broadcast, CNC World, in July 2010. CNC has news, weather and sports, like similar networks, with 70 percent of the content international news and 30 percent on China. The Chinese government reportedly was anxious to get the network going so it could offers its side on controversial topics involving China such as Tibet and human rights.

Foreign Television Stations in China

Much of southern China---particularly Guangdong and Fujian Provinces---picks up television channels from Hong Kong and Taiwan without cable or satellite dishes. It is estimated that two thirds of the households with televisions in the Guangdong Province receive regular programming from Hong Kong. Many Chinese tune into satellite broadcasts of Star Television from Hong Kong. Conversely people in Hong Kong and Taiwan cab tune into broadcasts of mainland shows.

As of the early 2000s, people in China could pick foreign television channels such the BBC, ESPN, and the Phoenix Chinese Channel. Star TV, owned by Murdoch-owned News Corp., and MTV, owned by Viacom, are broadcast to selected Chinese audiences. Others like CNN and BBC World are broadcast into hotels and residential compounds used foreigners.

CETV, Star TV and Phoenix have permission to operate 24-hour channels in the southern province of Guangdong. CETV is owned by AOL Time Warner. It broadcasts on cable systems in the Pearl River Delta area around Guangzhou.

Since television programming is controlled entirely by the state in China, Western media companies must negotiate every detail and aspect of programming with government officials that decide what can and can not be shown Broadcasts on CNN and BCC of issues deemed sensitive by Beijing are routinely blacked out.

One of the biggest players in bringing foreign media to China is the Shanghai Media Group. It has deals with Viacom to bring MTV and Nickelodeon programing to China as well as deals with VNU, CNBC, Universal Music Group, Sony, Discover Communications and the National Basketball Association to bring a host of other shows. Shanghai Media is headed by Li Ryugand,, who considers Murdoch, Robert Wright of NBC Universal and Sumber Redtsone of Viacom as his close friends. Li has been voted “Showman of the Year “by the Chinese version of Variety. Much of the programing he has brought to China is carried on the 13 over-the-air and 17 national digital stations that Shanghai Media controls.

The Chinese television company TCL acquired a controlling interesting in its French rival Thomson.

Rupert Murdoch and China

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch made a deal with the CCTV in 1995 to allow it to use AsiaSat II, a satellite belonging to Murdoch's Hong Kong-based Star TV. According to the terms of the deal, Murdoch was allowed to broadcast Star programming through the CCTV system in exchange for providing CCTV with technological know-how, increased satellite capacity and more programming. The plan involved hooking up millions of households to a satellite and cable network of channels controlled by Beijing.

When Rupert Murdoch gained control of Star TV, Chinese authorities were upset by that fact that it beamed BBC broadcast into China. Later Star TV quietly got rid of the BBC channel to appease Beijing. See Murdoch, Australia

V-Chanel, See Music

In 2003, Star TV received permission to broadcast its Starry Sky channel to the mainland. It features Chinese versions of favorite Western shows such as Judy Judge and The Tonight Show.

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Rankings of Chinese TV stations

Phoenix Channel in China

The Phoenix is a Hong Kong-based satellite network that operates three Mandarin-language news and entertainment channels geared towards viewers on the mainland. Launched in 1996 and owned by Rupert Murdoch and Chinese businessman Lui Changle, it reaches about 50 million household in mainland China. Murdoch supplied the capital, satellite access and infrastructure. Liu---a former radio reporter and People’s Liberation Army soldier who made a fortune from construction, development and trading petroleum and other products and’supplies the connections and insight into the Chinese market

Phoenix employs several hundred people and operates out of a high rise in Hong Kong. The entertainment channels feature movies, game shows and dubbed versions of the American show Survivor, Taiwanese dating games, tell-all celebrity interviews, and advise shows like Sex and Love Classroom. Advertisers includes banks, electronic manufacturers and drug companies.

As of 2001, Phoenix was only supposed to be available to people staying at nice hotels or residential areas where foreigners live. Chinese officials and military compounds have access to the station through satellites dishes. Ordinary people can sometimes gain access through illegal satellite dishes and cable lines.

Phoenix News Network

Phoenix is the only private network in China allowed to broadcast in China. In 2001, Phoenix launched a 24-hour news channel. Similar to Western news networks, it features smartly-dressed anchors, breaking news, sexy entertainment reporters, sports and financial reports, panel discussions with feisty, argumentative guests and in-depth reports n a number of subjects.

Phoenix’s owners and management walk a fine line of testing the limits of what they cover while maintaining good relations with the Chinese government and Communist Party. Liu Changle, the Chinese media tycoon and part owner of Phoenix, told the Washington Post, “We walk on a tightrope. If we do everything the government wants, people will treat us with contempt. If we follow the people completely, the government will wipe us out...It can be very uncomfortable.”

Phoenix avoids or downplays controversial subjects such as Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong and anti-government protests in Hong Kong and takes a nationalistic stance on issues like the forced landing of the American spy plane in 2001 but otherwise has a free hand and tacit approval from Beijing to cover a wide range of topics and subjects, including the entertainment scene in Taiwan.

One Phoenix reporter told the Los Angeles Times, “International. It’s not so sensitive. But political stories, anything having to do with the mainland, are more difficult. To tell the truth without getting into trouble, it takes a lot of skill.”

After the September 11th attack, Phoenix was the only station accessible to Chinese on the mainland that had up to date information about what was happening. Because of that Phoenix suddenly became relevant the same way CNN did during the 1991 Gulf War. It also put pressure on CCTV to do a better job covering what was going on in the outside world.

Chinese Radio

Radios: 342 per 1,000 people in 2003.

Radio is the most widely utilized form of electronic media in the developing world. According to some estimates 80 percent of the world's population have access to radio.

With electricity being in short supply in many areas, radio is the main electronic medium for dispensing news and information. Shortwave radios, powered by batteries, solar energy, and car batteries, are the main sources of international news in places without electricity.

In the Mao era most people got their news and other information from the radio. Many old people still turn on the radio first thing in the morning as they did in the 1960s when they listened to hear what Mao and the Communist party wanted them to do. Many radios are tuned into only one station, the local Communist party station. Radio announcements are still widely broadcast on trains and over loudspeakers in villages.

In 2005, there were 1,000 radio stations. The main radio station in China is the Central People's Broadcasting Station (CPBS). China Radio International (CRI) broadcast in 43 languages and has one of the largest broadcasting staff’s in the world.

Many Chinese in the Guangdong Province tune into Hong Kong radio stations. In Fujian residents can easily pick up Taiwanese stations. In other parts of the country Chinese with short wave radios listen to the BBC and the Voice of America, which the government tries to silence by jamming and drowning them out with Chinese broadcasts in the same frequencies.

Early History of Radio in China

“Newspapers, journals and periodicals were all well-established media forms by the 1930s but the decade was a time of technological change when both the radio and the newsreels became forms of mass communication to stand alongside, complement and often rival the newspapers. China’s first wireless station---the Osborn Radio Station, known alternatively as XRO and the Radio Corporation of China---had opened in 1923 in Shanghai. It transmitted from studios on the roof of the Dollar Building on the Bund with an initial 65-minute program of classical and light music as well as some news. The station estimated that there were 500 wireless sets in the International Settlement though, to boost the audience, XRO’s signal was transmitted to Tianjin and other major areas where foreigners lived. The station was owned and established by an American journalist called E. G. Osborn and a wealthy overseas Chinese. Sun Yat-sen declared himself a fan of the new media but there simply weren’t enough listeners. Despite moving the studios to the more prestigious roof garden of the Wing On Department Store on Nanking Road and trying to organize live concerts, the station failed after a few months due to a combination of precious few listeners, government distrust and censorship.” [Source: “ Foreign journalists in China, from the Opium Wars to Mao” by Paul French, June 19, 2009]

“Shanghai’s second radio station---the Carol Broadcasting Station launched in 1924 from studios on Nanking Road---fared better. The station was supported by the Carol Corporation, the Shen Bao newspaper, the Shanghai Evening News, the Paris Restaurant and the Kobe Electrical Equipment Company. Others followed. In 1928 the China Press backed a new station, KRC, that also introduced lady broadcasters to Shanghai’s airwaves as Irene Corbally Kuhn moved over to the wireless. Her first broadcast on 14 December 1928 was from the studios housed in a back room at the China Press offices: with my legs melting under me like butter on a hot stove, I had stepped up before a “mike “and sent my voice into the air, the first woman ever to broadcast in the Orient, and probably the first feminine announcer in the business.”

“These early foreign attempts at radio stations, and others set up by American, British, French, Italian and Japanese entrepreneurs, were not great successes but they did encourage more people to buy wireless sets and they also led Chinese entrepreneurs, as well as the government, to start stations aimed at the Chinese population that had large audiences and were both popular and commercially successful.”

“By the early 1930s Shanghai had a proliferating number of stations. Thirty started broadcasting in 193031 alone, including the Millionton Radio Station jointly run by Reuters and Millington Ltd., and by 1935 there were over 60 in operation across the city. Most were Chinese-run and light music-oriented but others were foreign-owned and ranged from music to political commentary. There was also the Christian Broadcasting Station run by Dr. Frank and Aimée Millican, an energetic husband and wife team of Presbyterian missionaries who also ran Shanghai’s Christian Literature Society and regularly prayed that Shanghai’s leading gangster Big Eared Du would see the error of his ways and embrace Christ.”

Radio first became a popular medium and then an extremely important one as the political situation worsened. Following the bombing of Shanghai in 1937, with newspapers being censored, banned or having their distribution interfered with, the radio became a way of keeping up with world events and also finding out about the local situation. The best-known station was XHMA owned by U.S. Harkson, the wealthy head of the Henningsen Produce Company of Shanghai that ruled the ice cream and candy bar business in the city and sold the concept of the Eskimo Pie to the Chinese. At first Harkson used the station to build his ice cream and confectionery empire but it soon became a proper business in its own right due to advertising revenues. Harkson was also keen for the station to be relevant to all of Shanghai’s various communities and the station broadcast a wide series of programming for the Shanghailander community, including shows in Yiddish, from its studios on Race Course Road. When war broke out in 1937, Harkson handed the station over to anyone who needed to communicate with relatives, colleagues or nationals inland, and missionaries, diplomats and business people all used it as a lifeline to the outside world.”

Alcott was modestly popular at first when he started broadcasting in July 1938 but as the situation worsened he became a must-listen-to radio journalist and one of the greatest enemies of the Japanese in Shanghai. He also attracted a rather large and loyal following among women listeners, receiving 500 letters a month from fans, due to his charm, though he was actually quite fat and not particularly attractive---a great face for radio, as they say. His shows were funded entirely by advertising from brands like Jell-O, Ovaltine and Maxwell House Coffee, despite Japanese threats to punish those companies for sponsoring his broadcasts, which they regularly tried to jam.”

Radio Programming in China

The Communist government likes pop music that promotes party values and soothes the masses:. Most of the stiff hear in the radio these days is uplifting ballads and gentle love songs. Rock is given only brief moments of air time in the middle of the night. The lyrics of one song often played on state-run radio went in 2007: “Don’t care about loneliness/ I don’t think it really matters.” Another went “Ah, little man, ah, succeed quickly/ Enjoy being poor but happy every day.”

There are no stations that play exclusively rock music. Explaining why one propaganda official told the New York Times, “New radio stations need approval, and regulators would consider whether the content fits with social trends and national policy.” Explaining what these were he said, “It’s about how to oreint the audience, and provide them with a kind of spiritual food.”

Sex Radio in China

Talk radio has become very popular, especially shows that touch on sex-related topics. Late-night, sex radio, call-in and talk shows, such as “No Appointment Tonight” and “Midnight Whispers” are popular in China. Callers call in questions about marriage, infidelity, ideas for finding a partner, venereal disease and strategies for coping with the "humbling effects of nature's endowments to human anatomy." Most of the calls to one show are inquiries about techniques to avoid premature ejaculation and ways to control oversexed husbands.

On a typical night there are questions about masturbation, sexual harassment, feeling for the same sex and whether a virgin bleeds when she has sex.. The caller on one show quoted in the Washington Post said that he and his girlfriend had experimented with sex but “both of us wore underwear.” He asked: “What if she’s pregnant? “and “Will her life be in danger if we have an abortion?”

One caller to “Midnight Whispers” in Shanghai told the host, "When my husband's away and I need to control my desire, I put ice cubes in myself." The host broke her off, telling her to "Ask your doctor to check if you've caused any nerve damage." A caller on another show asked if it was okay to please herself with a frozen cucumber.

A widely discussed case in the mid-1990s involved a university-educated couple that visited a doctor after a year of marriage to find out why the wife had not become pregnant. After an examination the doctor discovered the woman was still a virgin. Apparently the couple thought sleeping together in the same bed was all that was necessary to produce baby.

There are limits off how far the shows can go. The host of “Tonight Whispers” told the Washington Post, “We cannot say too much in the radio program, and should be careful how we speak, in case some listeners appeal to higher authorities and cancel the show.”

Image Sources: 1) Julie Chao ; 2) Nolls China website ; 3) Mongabey; Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2011

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