Consuming science: A history of soft drinks in modern China
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation investigates the development of the soft drink market in China from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, with particular attention to the rise of Coca-Cola. It examines how soft drinks competed with traditional Chinese summer food and beverage such as watermelons, herbal tea, plum juice, and nutriments which were believed to have medical properties for people’s summer health, and eventually became one of the most popular types of beverages in the country. Over one hundred years in the Chinese minds, soft drinks changed from an exotic but unsavory beverage to a popular drink and a symbol of modernity. This dissertation argues that western science competing with traditional Chinese medicine has been a driving force in shaping beverage consumption in modern China. There were constant politics played by the state, businesses, and consumers on production, marketing, and consumption of soft drinks, making a bottle of drink not merely a commodity but one that embodied science, modernity, and identity in Chinese society. Following the introduction chapter, chapter 2 of the dissertation delineates the clash between Chinese and western food culture in the late nineteenth century. It shows how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) including the yin-yang theory and the concept of medicine-food homology played a role in shaping Chinese food culture for centuries. By analyzing advertisement, chapter 3 examines how soft drinks, which were considered by Chinese people as an unpleasant and unhealthy drink according to TCM, were marketed and gradually accepted as a hygienic and healthy drink under the rhetoric of modernization. Since foreign-brands such as Coca-Cola were luxuries, cheap imitations provided ordinary Chinese people, especially urbanites, opportunities to experience “modernity.” Chapter 4 discusses the culture of imitation in modern China in regard of soft drinks. In the first half of the twentieth century, consumption were politicized in National Products Movements, in which soft drink brands were categorized into either Chinese or foreign and people’s loyalty to the nation was, to some extent, judged by their brand choice. However, there was something far more than nationalism that played a role in the picture. Taking the Shanghai Coca-Cola protest of 1947 as a case study, chapter 5 reveals that Chinese nationalism in National Products Movements in the late forties was used by Chinese businessmen to advance themselves in business competition. When political conflicts became a major theme in Maoist China, Coca-Cola was criticized as a symbol of imperialism and driven out of China. Nevertheless, science-driven consumption did not fade away. Chapter 6 shows that instead of promoting Coca-Cola, the People’s Republic of China “invented” salty soda as a prevention and treatment of heat stroke and widely distributed it among workers as a socialist welfare in summer. The final chapter discusses the return of Coca-Cola in the post-Mao era. It shows that science and modernity was a consistent subject in production and consumption in China, where the state promoted it cautiously due to political sensibility while ordinary Chinese people embraced it enthusiastically with little resistance.