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In a general sense, numerous studies of television audience have been conducted in order to conceive the foundations of such tremendous popularity of television among the masses of people around the world. A recent trend in the study of television audience has been the exploration of the genre of reality television, and this field keeps demonstrating significant potential for further deepening, especially in regard to such massively populated country as China, which experienced great expansion of reality shows in recent time. However, despite the huge size of Chinese audience of reality shows, there is still a lack of sophisticated analytical discourse that, as Ang (1991) mentions, would denote the complexity of the multiple practices and experiences that television audiencehood involves. In this context a careful elaboration of theoretical approach might contribute to general understanding of the reality television and specific patterns through which its interaction with Chinese audience actually occurs.

Basically, the concept of television audience is usually ascribed various meanings due to the fact that any sort of media audience can never be captured and examined empirically. Taking this peculiarity into account, Ang (1991) suggests that distinction between ‘television audience’ as discursive construct and social world of the actual audiences has to be made and continuously stressed upon in academic discourse. In other words, the very concept of television audience appears to be necessarily abstract to the extent that significantly exceeds the possible scope of factual commonalities between different people who consume a particular television product at the same time. Thereby, this point presents a significant problem for any attempt at exploring the audience of a certain television program or genre. As series of major audience researches (Ang 1985; Allen and Hill 2003) concluded, “each viewer has his or her own more or less unique relationship to the program” (Ang 1985, 26) and it is usually difficult to identify the exact feature of the program that actually makes a big number of different people watch it on television. In this respect, the television audience appears to be a merely discursive construct that is used in order to signify an elusive and constantly floating social entity which is being notionally integrated solely by an appeal to the particular television product. As it might be stated in regard to a postmodern media landscape, “there is no text, there is no audience, there are only the processes of viewing”, and any study of television audience needs to account on the significant level of abstraction it necessarily implies.

As far as Chinese television audience is concerned, the complexity of a historical process of the television development has to be mentioned in the first place. Due to the specificity of the political and ideological framework established in the country, until the recent decades there was only one television channel, CCTV, that was broadcasting nationwide, and public access to media products was thoroughly monitored and regulated. Ultimately, such direct intervention of the state institutions into the media environment led to the establishment of a notably rigid and monochromatic system which was totally free from any explicit competition and thus was able to keep being centered predominantly on the needs of broadcasters rather than on the needs of the audience. However, the impetuous multiplication of the number of television channels that occurred during the 1980s provoked a complete reconfiguration of Chinese media environment as such, having granted the television audiences with an opportunity to structure their media preferences in their own way and choose only those television products which seem to sufficiently correspond with the current needs of a particular viewer. Even though the full compliance with expectations of the audience is unlikely to ever be reached (Cantor, 1988), the very transition to predicting the needs of the audience was a fundamental shift in a previously autocratic Chinese media landscape.

 Emancipation of Chinese television and its crucial turn towards audience let the concept of entertainment become a defining factor in the shaping of programming schedules in China over the past decades. And in a field of television entertainment, as Holmes and Jermyn (2004) indicate, no genre has been actively marketed by producers, or more enthusiastically embraced by viewers recently, than reality television. As a matter of fact, the reality television presupposes an application of a peculiarly ambivalent pattern of interaction with audience, which might have an important account on its factual popularity. On the one hand, the reality television appears to be grounded on “the eagerness of audiences to present themselves as television participants for others to watch and criticize”. On the other hand, insofar initially the fameless participants of reality shows attain the massive public attention and thus factually become celebrities. The reality television constructs the symbolic space within the boundaries of which the audience develops the fandom for specific role models presented by those celebrities and engages in speculative social relations with them. Such ambivalent nature of reality television assures the blending of the aspirations of one part of audience with inclinations for fandom of other part and thus manages to provoke excessive public excitement, which is definitely the case for such reality shows as Super Girl and The Voice of China, which gained an incredible popularity among contemporary Chinese television audience.

In conclusion, it needs to be mentioned that emancipation of Chinese television, most vividly manifested in the genre of reality show, might be capable of inducing the gradual cultural liberalization and democratization of the country in the long run. In this respect, the recent dissolution of popular Super Girl reality show clearly indicates that the state is still determined to preserve its commanding role in shaping the contours of everyday reality of Chinese people, and development of the Chinese media landscape is still being restricted to a substantial extent.

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