Titanic in China: Transnational
Capitalism as Official Ideology?

By Jonathan Noble

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, pp.164-198

In April 1998, Titanic garnered the accolade of becoming China’s all-time blockbuster by shattering former box-office records. The “Titanic miracle,” as the film’s unprecedented commercial success was dubbed in the Chinese media, provides copious material with which to explore numerous issues at stake in China’s contemporary culture industry, including questions concerning the globalization and commercialization of the culture industry within the context of China’s domestic market reforms and official Party ideology. How is China participating in and recreating global culture? How are China’s expanding market reforms affecting the production and consumption of culture? What is the role of the Party’s official ideology in relation to the commercialization and globalization of culture? How are alliances being constructed along the axis of capital across national borders?

Exploration of these questions is based on research conducted in China centered on investigating the commercial practices and discursive rhetoric which propelled and shaped the “Titanic miracle.” It appears that the film industry in China is predominately governed by a commercial logic dictated by profit maximization, as adopted by both official cultural policies and commercial practices. As played out by the “Titanic miracle,” we observe how culture remains an ideological tool for the Party whose central maxim appears to be commercial enterprise and economic growth. Whereas cultural artifacts during the Maoist era, as dictated by the Party, ideologically opposed capitalism, today’s culture industry embraces the market and “what sells in accordance with official cultural policy.” In the case of the film industry, Hollywood films are eagerly adopted to fulfill the commercial and official objective of making money. In the end, as the “Titanic miracle” illustrates, China’s film industry is marked by an unexpected collusion between Hollywood movie-moguls and high-ranking Leninist officials, whose ideological differences and national loyalties are negotiated by their homage to the accumulation of capital.