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Chang Liu

Chang Liu
Image Credit: Matt Wong (Berkeley Portrait Studio)

Fellow in the project „Epochal Life Worlds: Man, Nature and Technology in Narratives of Crisis and Change“ (January 2024)

Short Biography

Chang Liu is a PhD candidate at Heidelberg University (in cotutela with Ca’ Foscari University of Venice). He recently submitted his dissertation, which explores the making and unmaking of American pop icon Madonna’s star image in the transforming cultural and media ecology in post-Mao China. His research has been supported by DFG, IIE, and others. His English-language publications include a special journal issue, “Cultural History and Heritage in Chinese Theme Parks,” co-edited with Florian Freitag for Cultural History, and forthcoming essays: “Songs of the World: On the Global Dissemination and Geopolitics of Chinese Rock” (In China Sounds Abroad, edited by Andreas Steen, et al.) and “The Environmentalist Guide to China’s Rock ‘n’ Roll: From Slow Violence to Activism” (in Made in China: Studies in Popular Music, edited by Anthony Fung, et al.). Before entering academia, he worked as the musical affairs officer at the French Embassy in China, and he still occasionally provides consultancy services to professionals in the music industry.


Documenting the Afterlives of American Musical Waste in China

By the end of the 20th century, the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing technology made music freely available online in the format of MP3, which subsequently turned huge number of cassettes and CDs into obsolete. North American record labels treated those unsalable albums as commercial waste, and in collaboration with waste management companies they scrapped those albums and exported them to countries like China as plastic waste for recycling. However, instead of being recycled, these scrapped cassettes and CDs were resold in the gray economy of China’s music market. In this project I will excavate the afterlives of American musical waste in China through the lens of transcultural studies and political ecology and demonstrate the importance of the ecological dimension of the recording industry in the context of globalization. I will argue that American musical waste as one type of transnational garbage, despite its negative connotations in environmental justice discourse, can also be used as a tool by the under privileged Chinese to achieve empowerment. This urges the necessity of bringing multiple perspectives into the study of waste and considers the limit of global environmental justice discourse which frequently runs the risk of denying agency to the underprivileged groups and forging new stereotypes.