International placement at the Shanghai Theatre Academy

Through the AHRC International Placement Scheme, Dr Haili Ma, now a Senior Lecturer in Chinese at the University of Cardiff, was given the opportunity to travel to the Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA). The three month placement proved critical to her research and to progressing her second book: ‘Chinese Performing Arts and the Creative Economy’.

Dr Haili Ma two books

The placement also contributed considerably towards furthering Dr Ma’s career; she has recently been appointed as Dean of the Beijing Normal-Cardiff Chinese College and  sits on the Wales-China Steering Committee, facilitating China-Wales arts and business collaborations at national level. She also works closely with the UNESCO commission, developing new discourse and practice on Chinese entrepreneur artists internationally.

“Working experience gained abroad definitely strengthens career development,” Dr Ma reports. “The AHRC IPS award has been an asset for me to broaden my research horizons”      

The book, developed during her AHRC funded PhD (Ma, H. 2015. Urban politics and cultural capital: the case of Chinese opera), examines the reasons why Chinese opera institutions struggled to evolve under contemporary social, political and economic settings. Ma describes how the struggle mirrors the internal turmoil of the China Communist Party's ideological evolution in the new millennium. This book assists academics, government policy makers, art institution managers and artists to understand Chinese cultural policies and the art market. It has received outstanding reviews from renowned academics:

‘A unique and significant contribution ... a well-researched and stimulating piece of scholarship about art and politics ... highly recommend to scholars and students interested in Chinese theatre and modern China’

Review in Asian Theatre Journal Vol.33, no2, 2016, pp.507-509

‘Ma Haili brings meticulous research and her own professional experience to this study of Shanghai Yue opera production in its relation to tradition, urbanization, gender issues, business, marketing, and the changing ideology of the Chinese Communist Party. In doing so, she makes a major contribution not only to Chinese studies, but to cultural studies in general.’

Derek B. Scott, University of Leeds, UK

’The relentless focus on contemporary media and culture in China studies has seriously overlooked the way older forms of culture are being re-invented for the present. This book makes a bold attempt to rectify this. Firmly locating Shanghai's Yueju opera in the dynamic metropolis of the New York of the East, this book takes us on an exhilarating journey through the Communist revolution, the cultural revolution and the great opening up of the late 1970s 'til the new millennium.’

Justin O’Connor, Monash University, Australia

One of the main aims of the International Placement Scheme is to provide access to unique and rare materials that cannot be found in the UK, either in person or online – in this case key Chinese texts and videos. Dr Ma needed to access the most up to date records, which could only be found in China. Her highlights of the placement were not only that she had allocated research space, but also that her assigned supervisor at the STA was Professor Huang Changyong, the director of School of Creative Economy and the President of the STA. She was able to meet and exchange research results with other researchers and practitioners frequently and establish key contacts within the Chinese creative economy.

Working with disciplines across the arts and humanities and social sciences, she found being based in Shanghai enriching because of the STA’s dynamic performing cluster, which allowed her to access a range of shows while engaging with the local communities and analysing data over periods of time. The dedicated research time Dr MA had while based at the STA proved extremely helpful not only in improving the quality of her research but also in completing her book. She said: “The three month fellowship has broadened my research breadth and depth and further developed my understanding of the Chinese Performing Arts and the Creative Economy.”

IPS fellows often report an impressive amount of networking and engagement opportunities that arise while being on a placement, and Dr Ma is no exception as she widened her research contacts significantly. She has also been invited to present her work at a number of Chinese institutions and has been published in international journals. Since her placement, Dr Ma has maintained solid relationships with STA and plans to submit a joint research bid to the AHRC. Through these continued collaborations, Dr Ma and the AHRC hope to continue to bring together institutions and researchers from China and the UK.