Development through the Creative Economy in China, reconnecting M50 creative cluster with Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera.



Partners and collaborators

Arts and Humanities Research Council, Shanghai Theatre Academy, Shanghai Yue Opera House, Shanghai Xiaoya Yue Art Studio, Shanghai M50 Creative Music Bar and Suzhou Tiangong Design and Merchandise Ltd.


Haili Ma awarded £1 million grant for research project with Shanghai Theatre Academy.

Dr Haili Ma secured the research funding after successfully submitting a research bid to the UK-China Arts Humanities and Research Council Newton Fund, Development through the Creative Economy in China.

Professor Nick Kaye from the University of Exeter is co-investigator on the project. The China Principle Investigator is Professor Huang Changyong, Chair in Creative Economy and The President of Shanghai Theatre Academy.

The three year project, ‘Popular Performance for new urban audiences; reconnecting M50 creative cluster with Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera’ will engage new urban audiences with traditional Chinese opera through the digital mediation of performance into a heritage site in Shanghai.

It will focus on Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera and reviving its historical connection to the Shanghai M50 contemporary arts creative cluster. The project will explore how this nature of engagement with traditional forms may provide opportunities to enhance small and medium enterprise business, in partnership with the public sector, establishing a ‘creative chain’ that will enhance the diversity and sustainability of urban creative economy.

£500k of funding has been awarded from the Newton Fund, with £250k from Arts and Humanities Research Council and £250k from Shanghai Theatre Academy. An additional contribution of £690k from the project partners, which are Shanghai Yue Opera House, Shanghai Xiaoya Yue Art Studio, Shanghai M50 Creative Music Bar and Suzhou Tiangong Design and Merchandise Ltd.

This is the first and largest fund that the Arts and Humanities Research Council has invested in relating to China creative economy across three key areas: Design, Heritage, and The Creative and Performing Arts, aiming to bridging in-depth collaboration in the field of creative economy between China and UK.


The project will generate pathways to impact on a range of non-academic audiences, professional groups and organisations:

1. Our first route to impact will be the M50 performance/installations and their engagement of new urban audiences for SYO.

The process of developing the installations also provide significant routes to impact. Archival work conducted in the first year of the project will provide information on how SYO acted a way of life for M50 workers and was absorbed into their everyday practices until the1999 closure of the textile mills.

In years two and year three, the research information collected will focus on post-1990s SYO audience development in relation to M50. Some of the data currently exists on SYO House's own website, however, there is little reference to SYO new urban audience engagement through reconnecting with its own historical heritage site, the M50 creative cluster.

The project will provide more comprehensive research relating to SYO and its audiences, as well as the reconnection of M50 with its own heritage. The project website will address policy-makers, artists, art organisations and creative industry SMEs across China and the UK.

As SYO is the only all-female Chinese opera and representative art form of the urban female, this information will also be of interest to artists, designers and cultural policy makers who are interested in promoting female art forms and female audience expression and communication.

The research findings will be disseminated in a more synthesised form (e.g. briefing papers) via the project website, key strands of the project will also be addressed in the co-authored monograph and a documentary film.

 2. The second pathway to impact comes from the research links, activities and outputs generated by the project's presence at M50 in Shanghai and the two symposiums held in Shanghai and Leeds.

A major part of this project involves interviews with M50 business occupants and visitors, external partners and symposium attendees from China as well as the UK.

To integrate M50 further with this project, the Shanghai project symposium in month 18 will be jointly held by Shanghai Theatre Academy and M50 Bandu. A team of UK creative economy representatives are invited to attend, with the intention of forging arts and business links between China and UK.

This connection will then be consolidated at the Leeds symposium in month 36, which will provide an end-point and report back on emergent collaborations and new activities in relation to the project and beyond.

This forum between industry, the academics and public audience offers a clear pathway to impact for the research emerging from this project.

The international dissemination advances the research project's stated aims to explore Shanghai's development as a 'Creative City' more widely in China and beyond.
3. The third pathway to impact will be delivered through the project's catalyzing of collaborations between the four external partners, and potentially other participants, to develop and establish a creative industry chain, in which, public and private sectors work reciprocally to identify new consumers and markets.

Such a creative industry chain will outlive the duration of this research period. This process will be of potential interest to government policy makers concerned to revive market vibrancy and support SMEs sustainability. As there are currently around 300 forms of traditional Chinese opera actively trying to identify ways of engaging new audiences, this project will also draw attention from policy makers, other creative industry SMEs, and potentially influence policy making and funding strategies.

The process of establishing such a creative chain will form the basis of commissioned reports to both Chinese government and UK Arts Council and will be documented and disseminated through a project video which will provide an animated tool kit for other collaborators.

Publications and outputs

The project will deliver the following outputs:

1. Project Website (MONTH 2-36). The website will form a key site for dissemination of the project, its aims, progress and outcomes, including inputs from project partners. Sections of documentary film will be edited and uploaded after each of the workshops. The website will be in Chinese and English.

2. Onsite Performance Installation (MONTH 34), created and developed by UK CI and CH CI, at M50.

3. Documentary Video (MONTH 36): recording the project development, workshops and installation outcome at M50. The video will be streamed from the Project Website.

4. Co-edited Book, Creative City and Creative Industry Chain through Shanghai Traditional Opera (MONTH 36): This volume will be co-edited by Ma, Huang and Kaye. The volume will document the installation outcomes, address RQ4 and include contributions from the editors, principal project participants and participants at the project symposia, as well as commissioned contributions from others. The book will be published in both English and Chinese language. The commissioning editor of Shanghai People’s Publisher, a leading China academic publishing company in the Humanities and Social Sciences has confirmed an interest in publishing the book in Chinese, as well as in English with international distribution both online (such as Amazon) and in bookstores.

5. A report commissioned by Shanghai Municipal Government, China National Cultural and Creative Industries Bureau and Arts Council Wales (MONTH 36): Preliminary commission interest has been confirmed by both China and UK bodies and will be produced in Chinese and English. The Chinese report will directly advise Shanghai municipal government as well as the National Cultural Bureau on the urban engagement with traditional opera in the context of the project’s conclusions.

6. Public Project symposia (MONTHS 18 and 36): In Shanghai and Leeds respectively.

Project website