Representations of Beauty and Sexuality in Hong Kong Advertisements: An Analysis of Social Constructs in Transnational Media

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Representations of Beauty and Sexuality in Hong Kong Advertisements: An Analysis of Social Constructs in Transnational Media
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Journal of Undergraduate Research
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English
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Cusack, Margaret
Travis, Trysh
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The purpose of this project is to investigate media representations of sexuality by examining the images used in marketing campaigns and advertisements occupying public space in Hong Kong. This investigation focuses on exposing the visual and narrative norms used to depict sexuality in Hong Kong media and examining the validity of the cultural values and attitudes implicit in these representations. Public advertisements were documented and analyzed for this project to assess the prevalence of sexuality as a marketing device and the way in which gender, social class, ethnic identity, national identity, and heteronormativity shape constructions of beauty and sexuality in advertisements. This study was conducted specifically in the region of Hong Kong, which, due to a unique historic and economic background, provides an ideal framework in which to analyze commercial depictions of sexuality in relation to the rise of global capitalism, identity politics, and mass media.

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U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 1 Representation s of Beauty and Sexuality in Hong Kong Advertis ements : An Analysis of Social C onstructs in Transnational Media Margaret Cusack and Dr. Trysh Travis Studies and Gender Research College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Florida The purpose of this project is to investigate media representations of sexuality by examining the images used in marketing campaigns and advertisements occupying public space in Hong Kong This investigation focuses on exposing the visual and narrative norms used to depict sexuality in Hong Kong media and examining the validity of the cultural values and attitudes implicit in these representations. Public advertisements were documented and analyzed for this project to assess the prevalence of sexuality as a ma rketing device and the way in which gender, social class, ethnic identity, national identity, and heteronormativity shape constructions of beauty and sexuality in advertisements This study was conducted specifically in the region of Hong Kong which due to a unique historic and economic background provides an ideal framework in which to analyze commercial depictions of sexuality in relation to the rise of global capitalism, identity politics, and mass media. INTRODUCTION Analyzing Media in a Global Context The unprecedented rate of scientific progress in recent history has wrought changes on the fabric of humanity inconceivable to prior generations. Technological developments in information processing and transportation fa cilitated the exchange of ideas and people worldwide, presenting new frontiers in travel and communication. The rise of global capitalism and mass media ensured the homogenization of an international culture defined by images perpetuated in media and adver tising that will undoubtedly produce unfore seen consequences in the future. The study examines the way sexuality, a socially constructed concept essential to cultural values and arrangements, is constructed in publicly displayed advertisements, a predomina nt and inescapable form of media. Specifically, this investigation aims to address the following research questions: How is beauty and sexuality depicted in Hong Kong media and popular culture? What are the visual and narrative norms on which these depictions operate and what cultural values do they imply ? H ow do gender, social class, ethnic identity, national identity, and heteronormativity shape these representations of sexuality? In answering these questions, I examine the social influence of vis ual media as it intersects with globalization and economic policy in a thoroughly international context, Hong Kong. I elected to conduct this research in Hong Kong because it is uniquely situated as a former British colony, a Special Administrative Region of China, and a highly cosmopolitan metropolis. This unusual background is conducive to analyzing the effects of imperialism, globalization, and economic policy in shaping social constructs represented in the media. Previous Research Prior studies in the field of media and advertising concerning representations of gender and sexuality demonstrate how male presence is often defined by power and ability, while female presence relates more to appearance and passivity (Berger). These works develop a clear unde rstanding of the significance behind subtle nuances of visual representations and the cultural meanings they possess, which are manipulated by advertising and media organizations to create illusions of desirability or necessity to allure consumers (Jhally; Williamson). More contemporary media studies characterize mass media as a social institution, illuminating issues of power and visibility related to class, race, gender, and sexuality (Dines and Humez), specifically examining how visual information and cr iticizing visual media for promoting social messages and expectations that shape and reinforce hegemonic values (Goffman; Goldman). While modern international media studies contend that restrictive constructions of gender have expanded to some extent in re cent years (Carpenter 158 168; Kaplan 141 159), they also confirm that sexuality, perceived as a marketing technique that transcends cultural boundaries, pervades advertising internationally (Frith, Shaw, and Cheng 1 16; Nelson 371 383). Much contemporary research addresses gender and sexuality in Hong Kong and Mainland China, highlighting the ways in which the combination of foreign influence and

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MARGARET CUSACK & DR TRYSH TRAVIS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 2 complex power structures of Chinese society complicate sexual identity and behavior and the construction of me aning regarding these social norms (Ching). Additional Republic of China and political controversy surrounding pornography, censorship, and media (Jacobs). Broader studies on advertising throughout u rban Chinese cities have also confirmed certain trends in the representation of gender, outlining associations between femininity, appearance and skin color (Mak 144 157), and masculinity, vi rility, power, and wealth (Song and Lee 159 177). METHODOLOGY Pr ocedure To implement this study, the underground stations of as primary areas of public domain in which advertisements were regularly displayed ( F igure 1). The data collection process began with isolating a sample of advertisements found in these underground stations during the months of June and July of 2012 and documenting these sourc es for the data set. Documentation involved photographing every visible advertisement throughout the passageways and platforms of the station and recording how often individual advertisements reappeared within the same station. The data sample was then cod ified and analyzed to assess the prevalence of sexual imagery appearing in the average public area as well as visual methods of constructing beauty and sexuality. The data collected was then compared with findings from prior research on sexuality and media in Hong Kong and Mainland China as well as international advertisement studies conducted in other areas of the world. Figure 1. Map of Hong Kong MTR Routes, from Marion Udall. Hong Kong Public Transport Map (MTR Subway) 2007. Photograph. Working in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Web. 8 Apr 2013. Binding of the Data Set Hong Kong holds a unique position as one of the largest metropolitan areas in China and maintains a deeply integrated culture of Eastern Chinese and Western British traditions, which emerged as a consequence of the century and a half long period of British colonial rule from 1841 to 1997 (Tsang). The majority of media and public signs contain both English and traditional Chinese characters to plurilingual population. For this reason, it provides an ideal location to examine the role of mass media in the organization of an internatio nal culture. The data sample was compiled from advertisements displayed in Hong Central Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station, located on Hong Kong Island, throughout the months of June and July ( F igure 2). Hong Kong is a massive urban landscape in which thousands of new advertisements surface daily. The diverse proliferation of images exhibited publically in the city is impossible to record in its entirety, so the data is limited to those adver tisements occupying a very specific space and defined period of time. This manner of restricting the data set yields a random sample of advertisements, unaffected by researcher bias, that accurately reveals visual and narrative strategies of construc ting beauty and sexuality. Figure 2. from WiNG Photography. HK MTR Central Station Platform 4 2008. Photograph. Wikipedia Commons, Hong Kong. Web. 8 Apr 2013. Extensive research informed the choice to confine data collection to the Central station of the MTR. The MTR system in Hong Kong is one of the most advanced and busiest metropolitan railway systems operating in the world and comprises over eighty stations and a series of underground passageways that accommodate approximately two million passengers on an average weekday (Lee, Lam, and Wong 554 558). These extensive

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R EPRESENTATIONS OF S EXUALI TY IN H ONG K ONG A DVERTISEMENTS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 3 underground stations function as microcosmic commercial centers, air conditioned and packed with hundreds of advertisements, promotions and retail outlets to attract the commuters as well as pedestrians looking to avoid the heat and traffic of the streets aboveground, especially in the summer months ( F igure 3). Central Station serves as a point of intersection between the green, orange, red, and blue lines of the MTR system, the primary transfer site for individuals commuting acr oss the harbor from residential areas, such as the New Territories and Kowloon side of the Island ( F igure 1) The position of Central station as the location of arrival and departure for anyone p Central district makes it one of the most heavily trafficked stations in the city, thus designating it as coveted advertising territory for competing companies hoping to reach the largest possible audience. For this reason, every major ad campaign infiltrating Hong Kong secures a place in Central station to display popular advertising series that are then duplicated and featured in public domain s throughout the city. As a primary source of still advertisements and a centrally located public area Central station provided the conditions necessary to obtain an objective and representative data sample of advertising in Hong Kong. Figure 3. Station, from C.K. Lauson. 2011 in Central Station (MTR) 2011. Photograph. Wikipedia Commons, Hong Kong. Web. 8 Apr 2013. RESULTS Codification of Data The data set collected offers a comprehensive view of all advertisements publicized in Central station during the summer of 2012. The set includes 163 photograp hs, several of which document identical advertisements displayed in different areas of the MTR station. To analyze the data, the regularity and location of recurring advertisements was recorded on the photograph of the original and duplicates were removed from the set, leaving a collection of 103 unique advertisements to analyze for this project. To codify the data set, each piece was examined and divided into categories according to three discriminating characteristics: 1) t he type of product or service ad vertised 2) t he target consumer or audience and 3) t he visual depiction of bodies and people. Considering these characteristics in each advertisement revealed several effective methods of organizing the data in order to distinguish trends and patterns in the results. Arranging the data into groups based on these characteristics, particularly classifying types of product s advertised, was extremely useful in identifying the prevalence of physical and sexual imagery, commonalities in the depiction of bodies and sexuality and the significance of implementing these depictions as a marketing technique. Product Marketed Documenting the type of merchandise marketed in each piece of data and conducting basic research on the companies and corporations represented in the random sample, ten categories were devised in which advertisements could be assigned according to their purpose, that is portraying a specific product as necessary and desirable ( Table 1). Arranging the data in this way illustrates the incentive s driving consumer culture and motivating production and commerce in Hong Kong and exposes the power of corporations monopolizing public advertising space and the extent of their influence over media. Target Consumer Another useful method of distributi ng the data was to ascribe groups separating advertisements addressing distinct communities or audiences. Generally, these groups were delineated by gender as specified target consumers tended to be blatantly male or female. However, the data was also scr utinized for marketing tactics Table 1. Types of Products Featured in Advertisements (n = 103) Product Advertised Total Sample n (%) Food and Beverage 7 (6 .8) Entertainment 21 (20.4 ) Clothing and Accessories 9 (8.7 ) MTR Promotions 10 (9.7 ) Beauty Products/Procedures 1 8 (17.5 ) Travel and Leisure 6 (5.8 ) Electronics 7 ( 6 .8 ) Civic Information 8 (7.8 ) Health Related 7 (6.8 ) Miscellaneous/Other 10 (9.7 )

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MARGARET CUSACK & DR TRYSH TRAVIS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 4 employed to attract consumers from different age groups, professions, socioeconomic classes, etc. People Represented The final arrangement employed to interpret the results of the data involved isolating the advertisements i n the set that contain s images of people or bodies and partitioning them into groups corresponding to the quantity of people and degree of bodily exposure. This system provided the groundwork needed to appraise the more abstract qualities of the data, like beauty and sexuality. Food and Beverage Advertisements The advertising of food and beverage items constituted only 6.8% of the total set and promoted a variety of products ranging from sports drinks to baby formula. Marketing for Pocari Sweat, a popular Japanese sports drink, and Minute Maid, an American based subsidiary of Coca Cola, prevails in this category with two advertisements each, making up more than half of all food and beverages marketed in the MTR station. Notably, promotions for Pocari Sweat offer the most insight into constructions of beauty observable in the image of models enjoying the drink, whose sculpted bodies yield to masculine and feminine ideals ( F igure 4). Figure 4 O ne of two Food and Beverage advertisements selling Pocari Sweat, a Japanese sports drink. Entertainment Advertisements This category received the largest amount of advertisements from the data set, composing about 20% of the entire sample. The category was subdivided into two clas ses, promotions for music and live performances (~8%) and promotions for film and television (~11%). In this group, 19 of the 21 advertisements employ visual depictions of people, contributing ample material, a total of 47 images of people (2 7 male; 20 female) for evaluating representations of gender and sexuality. Sexually suggestive imagery emerges in both subdivision s of this category, discernible in the partially disrobed artists selling their music ( F igure 5), as well as in the provocative embrace between actors publicizing their upcoming film ( F igure 6). Figure 5 Entertainment promotion advertising a n upcoming performance by the pop group Hotcha. Figure 6. Entertainment marketing, highlighting the release of the Chinese film, First Time Clothing and Accessory Advertisements O nly a small portion of the data (8.7%) marketed products classif ied as apparel or accessories. T he commodity most emblematic of this group is not clothing but an accessory, specifically the wristwatch, comprising 71% of advertisements in this category. Aside from three local companies ( F igure 7), the remaining samples are dedicated to advertisin g foreign but renowned brand

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R EPRESENTATIONS OF S EXUALI TY IN H ONG K ONG A DVERTISEMENTS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 5 names like Coach and Tissot. It is significant to consider subtle disparities between the marketing approaches of local and foreign enterprises in this category, particularly shameless objectification of the head and one item of clothing from the picture ( F igure 8 ). Figure 7 Promotion for Giordano, an apparel retail business that originated in Hong Kong, one of only three local clothing/accessory companies advertising in Central station. Figure 8 Ad campaign in anticipation of the grand opening of an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Central station. MTR Advertisements This group is confined to a collection of 10 samples from the data concerning the MTR. These samples were further delineated as either guidelines of MTR etiquette and safety (40%), or promotions for MTR passes and ticket specials (60%). These advertisements utilized 9 individual pict ures of people in soliciting the purchase of MTR passes and compliance with safety regulations, expanding the repository of images used in identifying and confirming standards of beauty manufactured by the media ( F igure 9 ). Figure 9 MTR promotion imploring shoppers to explore the various retail outlets throughout the MTR system. Beauty Advertisements Advertisements offering services or recommending products that enhance physical appearance ( F igure 10) were catalogued under this title (18 total), and then labeled as marketing either beauty products (10) or services and procedures (8). Representing 17.5% of the data collected in Central station, beauty products and procedures are the second most common type of advertisement, secon d only to Entertainment Advertising by a margin of 2.9%. Though directed predominantly to a presumed female audience ( F igure 11) a few samples were also found to target male audiences ( F igure 12 ). Figure 10 Beauty product advertisement example for instant weight loss supplement

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MARGARET CUSACK & DR TRYSH TRAVIS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 6 Figure 11 Beauty procedure advertisement for instant weight loss procedure targeting women. Figure 12 Beauty procedure advertisement soliciting men interested in undergoing hair transplants to cure baldness. Travel and Leisure Advertisements Advertisements promoting travel opportunities and vacation destinations were sorted into this small but discernible segment of the data. This sample is remarkable for its dependence on landscapes void of people in urging visitors and tourists to travel to specific des tinations ( F igure 13 ). Figure 13 T ravel advertisement promoting Hong Kong Airlines. Electronics Advertisements This small group combines all advertisements concerning electronic devices or appliances. This collection demonstrates trends in consumerism by indicating digital cameras, comprising more than 70% of the sample, as extremely popular commodities. It also entails examples of how advertisers depict beauty and sexuality to manipulate consumers regardles s of the type of product being sold ( F igure 14 ). Figure 14 Advertising utilizing symbols of youth and beauty to sell a Nikon Coolpix digital camera.

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R EPRESENTATIONS OF S EXUALI TY IN H ONG K ONG A DVERTISEMENTS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 7 Civic Information Advertisements This selection of data combines all samples geared toward the general population that publicize opportunities and information regarding public affairs. Eight of the advertisements documented met these standards and were subsequently sorted into one of two subclasses, those publicizing educational opportunities (~60%) those disseminating politica l messages (~40%) ( F igure 15 ). This selection is unusual in that the representation of male figures exceed female figures, an uncommon occurrence in advertising data. This exposes a propensity to associate men with the public sphere, demonstrating how cultural attitudes are reflected and reinforced in the media. Figure 15 Civic Information advertisement tha t outlines executive policies regarding internet use. Health Advertisements The group of advertisements consolidated under this description all sell products or promote information related to health and wellness. Slightly more than half of this category advertises specific product s, including antifungal creams and allergy relief medications. The remaining portion of this data compounds advertisements designed to raise public awareness of various health risks, such as drug abuse and human papillomavirus (HPV) ( F igure 15.) Figure 1 6 Public service announcement on the importance of preventing HPV early, example of publicized Health Information. Miscellaneous Advertisements The data set as a whole yielded 93 samples marketing products easily assigned to one of the nine, aforementioned categories. These samples account for all but 10 pieces of the data set, an array of advertisements sharing no discernible similarities labeled as miscellaneous. The majority of the set advertises financial services like banks and credit cards (4 total samples), a collection falling just short of the criteria for forming an additional category (must constitute 5% or more of the total data set). The remaining components of the data set re present diverse advertisements, ranging from the importance of butterfly conservation to promotions for optometric services, which resist alternative classifications by selling both accessories, like glasses, and health services, like LASIK surgery. Sample s fro m this category attest to the ubiquity of sexual imagery in advertising, appearing even in the most unlikely contexts such as marketing for language learning programs ( F igure 17 .) Figure 17 Example of advertisement in miscellaneous category marketing an online language learning program that harnesses sexuality as a teaching tool.

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MARGARET CUSACK & DR TRYSH TRAVIS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 8 CONCLUSIONS Dominant Enterprises Advertis ing in Hong Kong Documenting advertisements in such a central area of public space and cataloguing the companies and industries promoted in this domain provides an enlightening glimpse of the most successful commercial enterprises in Hong Kong. The results of this study suggest international companies triumph over local busi ness and monopolize primary advertising spaces. Consequently, foreign companies manufacture media for these public forums that is inconsistent with local culture ( F igure 18 ). The devaluation of local culture and glamorization of external perspectiv es inherent in this arrangement is undoubtedly destructive and likely internalized by the local populace. This finding supplies an understanding of the interplay between economic systems and globalization in relation to advertising media and its potential to influence and establish social norms. Figure 18 Prominently displayed advertisement for Coach, an American based, luxury leatherwear company featuring Gwyneth Paltrow an American celebrity. Constructions of Beauty and Sexuality The categorization of advertisements for Beauty enhancers was the most useful portion of the data for delineating constructions of appearance and sexuality, the only selection in which every sample rende red images of people central to elucidating the se con struction s. Conclusions drawn from this selection indicate patterns in visual imagery that fetishize slenderness, whiteness, youth and above all perfect skin, with over 40% of the sample devoted to selling skin care products alone ( F igure 19 ). An equ ally intriguing finding made visible in this category of data is the unsurprising but nevertheless disconcerting predominance of gender specification in the indicated target consumer, overwhelmingly female in promotions involving physical appearance or att ractiveness ( T able 2). gure 19 Beauty product advertisement for Astalift skin whitening mask by Fujifilm. Implications and Future Research As corporations and b usinesses b ombard societies with visual imagery designed to shape behavior and desire, it becomes increasi ngly important to evaluate the personal and cultural inf luence these images possess. This study demonstrates the manner in which concepts like gender, beauty, an d sexuality are constructed in transnational advertising campaigns and provides insight into broad er themes of mass media and global commerce that will serve as a valuable foundation for future research in this field. Table 2 Beauty Advertisements and Gender (n = 18) Targeted Audience Total Sample n (%) Product Ads 10 (55.5 ) Male 1 (0.05) Female 9 (0.5) Procedure Ads 8 (44.4 ) Male 2 (11.1) Female 6 (33.3) All Beauty Ads 18 (100) Ma le 3 (16.6) Female 15 (83.3)

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R EPRESENTATIONS OF S EXUALI TY IN H ONG K ONG A DVERTISEMENTS U niversity of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Resea rch | Volume 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2013 9 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to my research advisor, Dr. Trysh Travis, for volunteering her time and expertise, dedicating many hours to meetings and email consultations, and providing patient guidance and encourage ment throughout the completion of this project. I must also thank my friends and colleagues in Hong Kong who greatly facilitated the data collection process by assisting me as I navigated the city and interacted with locals. Additionally, I owe a special thanks to Dr. Tanya Koropeckyj Cox for contributing advice and suggestions during the earlies t stages of my research and to the University Scholars Program at the University of Florida for funding this project and affording me the opportunity to pursue research as an undergraduate student. WORKS CITED AND CONSULTED Berger, John. Ways of Seeing New York: Viking Press, 1972. Print. Bordo, Susan R. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Los Angeles: Univers ity of California Press, 1993. Print Carpenter, Laura M. From Girls into Women: Scripts for Sexuality and Romance in Seventeen Magazine Journal of Sex Research 35.2 (1997): 158 168. Print. Ching, Yau. As Normal as Possible: Negotiating Sexuality and Gender in Mainland China and Hong Kong Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010. Print. Clarke, Juanne N. The P aradoxical P ortrayal of the R isk of S exually T ransmitted I nfections and S exuality in US M agazines Glamour and Cosmopolitan 2000 2007 Health, Risk & Society 12.6 (2010): 560 574. Print. Dines, Gail, and Jean M. Humez. Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text Reader London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2003. Print. Frith, Katherine, Ping Shaw, and Hong Cheng. "The Construction of Beauty: A Cross Journal of Communication 55.1 (2005): 1 16. Print. . Goffman, Erving. Gender Advertisements. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. Print. Goldman, Robert. Reading Ads Socially. London: Routledge, 1992. Print. Jacobs, Katrien. Lizzy Kinsey and the Adult Friendfinders: An Ethnographic Study of Internet Sex and Pornographic Self display in Hong Kong Culture, Health & Sexuality: An International Journal for Research, Intervention and Care 12.6 (2010): 691 703. Print. Jacobs, Katrien. Internet Bristol: Intellect Ltd, 2012. Print. Jhally, Sut. The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987. Print. Kaplan, Elaine Bell, and Leslie Cole. Latina, and Black Girls Reading Seventeen Magazine and Encountering Adolescence Health, Risk & Society 38.149 (2003): 141 159. Print. Lee, Jodie, William Lam, and S.C. Wong. "Pedestrian S imulation M odel for Hong Kong U nderground S tations ." Intelligent Transportation Systems (2001): 554 558. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. Mak, Angela Ka Ying. Advertising W hiteness: An Assessment of Skin Color Preferences a mong Urban Chinese 14.3 (2007): 144 157. Print. Nelson, Michelle R., and Hye Jin Paek. Cross Cultural Differences in Sexual Sex Roles 56.5/6 (2005): 371 383. Print. Schneider, Vera, Kate Cockcroft, and Derek Hook. The Fallible Phallus: A Magazine South African Journal of Psychology 38.1 (2008): 136 151. Print. Song, Greg, and Tracy K. Lee. Consumption, Class Formation and Sexuality: China Journal 64 (2010): 159 177. Print. Sprecher Susan, and Maura Toro Morn. "A Study of Men and Women f rom Different Sides of Earth to Determine if Men are From Mars and Women are f rom Venus in Their Beliefs About Love and Romantic Relationships." Sex Roles 46.5/6 (2002): 131 147. Print. < http://www.springerlink.com/content/v21747kl33470784/>. Stern, Barbara B. Gender and Multicultural Issues in Advertising: Stages on the Research Highway ." Journal of Advertising 28.1 (1999): 1 9. Print. Williamson, Judith. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Calder and Boyars, 1978. Print. Tsang, Steve. A Modern History of Hong Kong New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2004. Print. Yang, Fang Chih Irene. he Production of Sexuality in Taiwan Journal of Popular Culture 37.3 (2004): 505 530. Print.