Yueju – The Formation of a Legitimate Culture in Contemporary Shanghai


  • Haili Ma Consultancy for inter-cultural theatre productions, UK




Shanghai opera, economic development, urban regeneration, culture capital, social class, taste, distinction, habitus


This article presents a case study of the development of a local cultural form – Shanghai Yueju – caught up in the rapid urban redevelopment of post-socialist China. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of ’habitus’ and ’distinction’, it analyses the processes of the reformation of taste and class in a Chinese city. It explores the following question: can high levels of financial investment revive Yueju and allow it to gain market success and cultural distinction? The question is examined in the context of Shanghai’s swift urbanisation process, throughout which the government has reinforced its control over not only economic but also social and cultural capital. It suggests that ignoring Yueju’s rootedness in a local habitus of long history and focusing only on its economic organisation has had a damaging effect on the vibrancy and viability of this cultural form. This case study of Yueju in Shanghai suggests that economically driven cultural development could lead to the erosion of local culture and restricting its social and cultural innovation.


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How to Cite

Ma, H. (2011) “Yueju – The Formation of a Legitimate Culture in Contemporary Shanghai”, Culture Unbound, 4(1), pp. 213–227. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.124213.



Theme: Shanghai Modern: The Future in Microcosm?