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Chinese Celebrity Culture:
Histories, Theories, and Debates
A Wikibook created by
the ASIA 321 Community
Book icoline.svg This open book is still being drafted by the students of ASIA 321. This means that the book is still being worked on and information may be incomplete.
Table Of Contents
  • Introduction: The State of the Field of Chinese Celebrity Studies
  • Part 1: Multiple Histories of Chinese Celebrities
  • Section 1: Chinese Film and TV Stardom
  • Section 2: Chinese Literary Celebrities
  • Section 3: Celebrities in premodern China
  • Section 4: Histories of Chinese Wanghong
  • Part 2: Key Concepts and Terminologies in Celebrity Studies
  • Part 3: Central Topics in Chinese Celebrity Studies
  • Part 4: Major Debates in Chinese Celebrity Studies
  • Part 5: Critiques of Celebrity Journalism
  • Part 6: Annotated Bibliography
  • Conclusion: New Approaches to Chinese Celebrity Studies

About this Book

Celebrity culture in Chinese Societies: Histories, Theories, and Debates is an open e-book currently being developed by students in ASIA 321 at UBC. This open book provides substantial and critical biographies to Chinese celebrities, charts the historical evolvement of Chinese concept and practice of celebrity authorship across different media genres and modes, and engages in the richness of celebrity studies theories, topics, and debates in the Chinese context. This e-book goes beyond the moralistic or censorious examination of celebrity personality or behavior but treating celebrity as a cultural and historical formation that is born out of specific media representations and discursive effects, points to a broader historical landscape, carries out social functions in everyday life, and delivers important ideological messages, be it implicit or explicit.

For 2021-22 WT2, we are working on critical biographies of a few globally recognized film stars who come from or are affiliated with Chinese-speaking societies and communities.  

What are Critical Biographies?

James Eglinton distinguished two kinds of biographies: commemorative biographies, essentially “a written exercise in reputation management,” present human subjects in the most flattering light to bolster a community or ennoble a tradition, whereas critical biographies take into account the subjects’ failures and successes, ambitions and frustrations, merits and faults, without the intention to reinforce how great the human subject is or how crucial they are to the community or tradition they represent or belong to. As a “form of qualitative research,” the gist of writing a critical biography is to recognize that there are multiple layers and occasionally contradictory dimensions to the subject being studied[1].

The goal of critical biographies is at once humble and ambitious. Going beyond providing reliable biographical information, critical biography aims to understand the relationship of someone’s social, political and historical context to their artistic achievement or personal development, to explore how someone’s public and private personae were related, and to produce an account that guides audience through the complexities of the subject’s interwoven life and work.

Why Compile Critical Biographies?

Critical biography of a celebrity helps us study the strictly developmental problems in the history of literature, film, and arts – the genesis, growth, maturing, and possible decline of an author’s or an artist’s work (20). At the same time, it is not sold on the innocent view that an author’s or an artist’s work is just their biographical self-expression pure and simple, but probes the social and historical contexts that shape the subject’s life and work trajectory in fundamental yet perhaps imperceptible way[2].

Critical biography of a celebrity not only recounts events in the subject’s life, but also offers to explain and evaluate the subject’s iconic works (30). Its critical intervention helps yoke together the subject’s life and work that seem to be unrelated at the first glance. Not simply a biographical pr psychological interpretation of the subject’s work, critical biography ventures a deeper inquiry into the subject’s iconic works to reveal the changing tensions and contradictions in the subject’s complex character and celebrity profile. Taking the subject’s work as both biographical evidence and artistic creation, critical biography can inform readers of both how the subject’s iconic work is put together and what the subject’s iconic work means (especially the meanings in celebrity studies).

Critical biography of a celebrity also sheds lights on a series of enduring concerns in celebrity studies, such as the tensions between the public and private self, the life and death of the authors, the original and the derivative, the real and the virtual, the singular and the repeatable, the extraordinary and the mundane, charisma and fandom, etc.  

ASIA 321 Course Info

  • Instructor: Dr. Renren Yang 杨任任 (He, Him, His); Assistant Professor of Modern Chinese Popular Culture


  1. Leedy, P.D. and Ormrod, J.E. (2010), Practical Research: Planning and Design, Pearson, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  2. Haffenden J. (1998) Life over Literature; or, Whatever Happened to Critical Biography?. In: Gould W., Staley T.F. (eds) Writing the Lives of Writers. Palgrave Macmillan, London.