Lessons from China's subway advertising: You're invited to learn more
For the past 12 years, Baker Institute fellow Steve Lewis and a network of Rice students have ridden the subways of China, stopping at every station to photograph the ads plastered on walls and inside crowded subway cars. All told, Lewis has collected photos of more than 12,000 ads, which together tell a story about China’s society, culture, and politics — as well as how its citizens view their place in the world.
On Oct. 18, the Baker Institute Transnational China Project unveils the results of Lewis’ study at the event "Subway Culture and Advertising Culture." What do the ads, both public service and commercial, promote? Do they contribute to a local, national or global identity? With millions of commuters passing through subway stations every day, can the ads be used for a larger purpose?
"We know ads are influential but until we started this project, no one bothered to systematically collect and study subway ads," says Lewis, the institute's recently named C.V. Starr Transnational China Fellow. "We're looking to identify trends, put together an archive and share the information."
The ads in China tend to reflect a country in transition from a planned economy (government warnings about littering or spitting) to a market economy (glossy promos for sports cars). Lewis is particularly interested in ads that encourage people to think of themselves as global citizens. Such a world view could go a long way toward a united approach to global issues such as climate change, he says. "What we've found so far is that in China, ads ask people to think of themselves locally or nationally -- but you don’t see many ads saying 'be a global citizen.' That could have an impact down the road if other countries or cities follow suit."
With the support of the Henry Luce Foundation of New York, the project originally focused on subway systems in Beijing and Shanghai, but now includes the undergrounds in Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Washington, D.C. The survey will soon include many of the 20 subway systems currently in operation or under construction in China, as well as the undergrounds in 25 cities in Europe, Mexico, Argentina, Egypt, Brazil, Malaysia and Turkey. Armed with cameras, Lewis and a revolving crew of Rice students will continue to ride the subways annually to digitally document each ad. "The students are traveling for their own reasons, but I think it's fun for them to take time out to participate in the study," says Lewis, who is also the coordinator of the institute's Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer Intern Program.
The work so far has been a critical first step, Lewis says. "We want to broaden our analysis to include all of the countries of the world."
Mark Jones, chair of the Political Science Department at Rice University, is the new Baker Institute Fellow in Political Science. Previously a Rice scholar for the institute, Jones will focus on local, regional and national politics as well as the effect of electoral laws and other political institutions on governance, representation and voting. In addition, Jones, the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University, will work with the institute’s Latin American Initiative on border and other issues related to the hemisphere. He regularly advises several U.S. government institutions on economic and political affairs in Argentina and has conducted research on Latin American public policy issues for numerous international organizations, including recent projects for the Inter-American Development Bank on institutional reform and public policy in El Salvador and Guatemala and for the United Nations Development Programme on electoral reform in Panama. Jones holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree from Tulane University.
Civic Scientist Lecture: Robert F. Curl Jr. and Sir Harry W. Kroto. Curl and Kroto, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry along with the late Rice University professor Richard E. Smalley, will discuss scientific research and education, and touch upon how they and their team found the carbon 60 molecule that kick-started nanotechnology in the mid-1980s. October 13 at 6:00 pm
Subway Culture and Advertising Culture. The Transnational China Project discusses the development of subway advertising and how it affects the millions of commuters who pass through the stations each day. October 18 at 9:00 am
Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters. James Zogby, founder and president of the American Arab Institute and a senior adviser to the polling firm Zogby International, discusses Western myths about the Arab world and outlines what Western governments should do to bridge the gap of understanding between the two cultures. October 27 at 6:00 pm
A Conversation with Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston. Houston's second female mayor and Rice University alumna Annise Parker speaks with the Houston community. Please note that this event was rescheduled from an earlier date. If you previously submitted an RSVP, we request that you do so again to confrm your attendance. November 12, 2010 at 7:30 am
Events are by invitation only unless otherwise noted. For a complete list, visit our events page. Research & News