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ADText: Advertising Curriculum
Unit 14: Advertising in China

ADText Unit 14

Contradictory elements coexist in modern China—urban sophistication and rural backwardness, wealth and poverty, and the imported along with the indigenous. Nothing seems more contradictory to outsiders than the seemingly opposing economic philosophies of capitalism and communism—but both are robust forces in the China of the new millennium.

This unit explores the role of advertising within the avowedly socialist political environment of China. It examines the history of advertising in China prior to the advent of the communist regime at the end of World War II, the state-sponsored propaganda that replaced consumer advertising from the 1950s onwards, and the reintroduction and proliferation of advertising in modern China. It explores the regulations imposed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) on advertising, the cultural and social values expressed in advertisements, the media outlets available in modern China, and the relations between multinational advertising agencies operating in China and indigenous agencies.

1. Advertising in Pre-War China

The history of advertising in China falls into three broad periods in which the goals and techniques of publicity are somewhat different. These are: (1) Chinese advertising up to the end of World War II, (2) the high period of state-sponsored propaganda (roughly, 1949-1980s), and (3) contemporary China (that is, China after the Open Door Policy began in the late 1970s).

The first period has no clearly delineated beginning since advertisements of one sort or another are known to have existed in China for centuries. The long history of pictorial advertising in China is confirmed by the existence of a copper printing plate from the Song Dynasty (960-1260). Inscriptions on the engraving plate indicate that it was used to print wrapping paper for acupuncture needles. The advertising copy and accompanying illustration proclaimed the excellence of the needles and provided the address where they were manufactured.

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