China’s Soft Power: Three Roadblocking Tigers to Overcome In Order to Make China A Strong Cultural Power

A Chinese perspective on China’s soft power from Leadership Decision-making Information  Lingdao Juece Xinxi  November 14, 2011.  #44, pp. 4 – 7

The Golden Decade:  Three Roadblocking Tigers to Overcome In Order to Make China A Strong Cultural Power

英文翻译摘要  Summary translation:

 Since Harvard Professor Joseph Nye popularized the soft power concept, countries around the world have made cultural outreach abroad part of their national strategies.   The U.S. made increasing soft power a key concept and key strategic objective along with seeking its own economic interests.

China too, as a developing country, in order to become an economic power will need to enrich its national culture and make the world understand Chinese culture must increase its outreach.  The Confucius Institutes are the most famous “brand name” associated with China’s cultural outreach.  The Confucius Institutes appeared in the “Decision” of the sixth session of the Seventeenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and have been a hot topic in both Chinese and foreign media.

On November 19, a Chinese cultural program was presented in Dacca, Bangladesh to help the Bangladesh people understand China. The Bangladesh Minister of Culture rated the program, attended by the Beijing Party Secretary who was visiting at the time, highly appreciated the program.

Background: On October 31, a Chinese Central Television program introduced online gaming as a cultural export.  Wanmei Shijie is China’s top online gaming company.

Shenzhen and other cities in China are establishing centers to encourage creativity, develop talents and promote exchanges with foreign countries.  The Chinese cartoon animation business has grown rapidly in just a few years to over 10,000 companies making over 1000 products and employing over 200,000 people.

World competition today is not just about politics and economics; it is about culture as well. Whatever country commands the heights of cultural development and whatever country has the strongest soft power has won the initiative in fierce international competition.  Ever since Harvard Professor Joseph Nye proposed the soft power concept, many countries have made building soft power an integral part of their national strategies and have made cultural development and important element how they go about expanding abroad. The U.S. made soft power, along with its economic interests, a key part of its strategy.  Books, publishing, cinema, cartoons and sports not only earn money but are important vehicles of influence. We can also see promotion of the cultural industries as important parts of the strategies of the UK, Japan and Korea.

The lack of a giant cultural aircraft carrier is the first obstacle to China building becoming a cultural great power.  On February 18, 2011, the first Chinese “Blue Book on Chinese Soft Power Research” was published in Beijing. The Blue Book noted that the Chinese cultural industry is only 3% of the world total.  While the US can occupy the Chinese market with Disney’s Mu Hualan movie, the Chinese cultural industry is almost non-existent. The combined income of all China’s publishers is less than that of Germany’s Bertelsmann Group alone.

Shares of the World Cultural Market by Country: US 43%; EU 34%, China 3%

During the 12th Five Year Program, we must further promote the development of the Chinese cultural industries and create a big cultural aircraft carrier.  Many localities talk about creating a cultural aircraft carrier, but because cultural industry policy is centralized so the power of the market is not mobilized and so it cannot reach its potential. Some people in the cultural field said that China should leave from the experience of other countries in managing their cultural industry. They said that the government should divide the cultural industry into various categories and increase or reduce subsidies as appropriate. Those cultural sectors that can be supported by the market should be left to the market. The government does not need to be involved in everything; it can support culture selectively or establish some policies that provide some indirect support.

China’s cultural industries have been slow to move into the outside world.  This slow pace is the second obstacle to building China’s culture. Although today over 2300 universities, have Chinese classes and about 500 million people study Chinese or use Chinese and Chinese writing.  China has established in 96 countries and regions over 300 Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms. Yet China continues to have a very large cultural deficit and this has already started to affect China’s national cultural security. According to expert estimates, China’s cultural imports are ten times greater than its exports. In the trade of publication rights, China as a fifteen to one trade deficit. Total income in admissions from foreign performances in China is ten times higher than Chinese performances earn abroad. Import of publications exceeds imports by 6.84:1.

The third obstacle to building China’s culture is the lack of top-class talent. Statistics show that there are over 600,000 people in the media industries, but less than one percent understands media management.

During the 17 – 19 centuries, the center of world culture was Europe.  In the 20th Century, it was the United States.  Now in the 21st Century is it moving towards Asia. In this center of world culture, China is the most important but not the only player.  There is also Japan, Korea and India that form a cultural tectonic plate. If China takes advantage of this opportunity, it will have to have a new vision on cultural development. China is a developing important economic power.  If it wants to become an economically strong country then it must have a flourishing culture, it will have to get the world to understand Chinese culture and accelerate its pace in moving towards the outside world. At present, the Confucius Institutes have become the “famous brand” of Chinese soft power.

The Confucius Institutes were mentioned in the “Decision” of the Sixth Session of the Seventeenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and have become a focus of media attention both in China and abroad. However, as the Spanish China specialist Julio Rios wrote in an October 30, 2011 article, increasing the international influence of Chinese culture is an important part of strengthening China’s soft power, but the Confucius Institutes and similar programs are far from enough.

Most of the people who go to Confucius Institutes or participate in similar programs do so out their own personal interest or needs and not because they support China politically or have a special interest in Chinese culture. Therefore, Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department chief Sun Zhijun recently wrote, we need to revise our ideas and methods of spreading culture, we need to find a new way guided mainly by the government, largely implemented by enterprises, and largely using market forces for “going abroad”.  We need to create cultural products welcomed by foreign audiences, expand platforms for exchanges such as the China International Broadcasting Fair, the Beijing International Book Fair etc. We need to learn whatever foreign experiences can strengthen the construction of socialist culture in our country, whatever can enrich our national culture and whatever can improve the management of our cultural industries.


《领导决策信息》2011年第44期   2011年11月14日

话题背景:央视再度聚焦网游行业 完美世界文化输出引关注

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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