Chinese Cultural Reform Meets Hollywood

In recent months, the Chinese government has emphasized the idea of “cultural reform” and the need for China to generate its own cultural products to compete with those from the West. On February 15, the Central Propaganda Department released a document outlining cultural policy for the next five years. On his China Copyright and Media blog, Rogier Creemers comments on the document and also provides a full translation. From his analysis:

The more interesting points of the outline are:

– The spirit of the harmonious society pervades the document throughout. In line with rebalancing the inequality between rural and urban areas, public service-type culture is increased in rural regions, border regions and poorer regions. The document also echoes the emphasis on the core Socialist value system put forward in the Decision. It calls for sincerity and honesty in government, business and society, reflecting concerns about a moral vacuum in Chinese society and the increasingly strong reactions against corruption and abuse of privilege.
[…]
– There seems to be an increasing international bent to media policy. While the “marching out” projects have been steadily increasing over the last few years, this document now mentions that China will engage with its neighbouring countries for its cultural policy, particularly in border regions. It is too early to say whether this fits in a regionalization strategy, but it seems to be a new issue in this sort of context. Furthermore, the document states that China will use international organizations to push its cultural agenda at the global level. This might reflect China’s growing assertiveness, especially given the fact that the US seem to have given up on pursuing implementation in WTO case DS363 (China – Audiovisual). At the same time, the spirit of Hu Jintao’s recent article seems to be reflected in the juxtaposition between opening up to the outside world and maintaining national cultural security.

Read his full translation of the document here.

The aforementioned essay by President Hu Jintao calls on China to push back against a cultural and ideological “assault” from the West. An article in The Atlantic discusses the new Central Propaganda Department document and Hu’s essay and what they both mean for China’s uneasy relationship with Hollywood:

The dense plan proscribes a significant role for the state in directing the industry’s development. It also calls for creating a culture market and allocates special funds and other sorts of policy support to realize it. And, of course, China would like to have films and culture products that contain domestic intellectual property. In its most Orwellian moment, the plan’s language calls for strengthening official broadcasting media (read: propaganda) to proactively shape public opinion.

In short, China’s strategy here seems to suffer from a sort of ideological schizophrenia. The only certainty is that its unveiling is an implicit recognition of China’s enormous cultural deficit and an attempt to solve it. Indeed, China cannot even match its smaller Asian neighbors, such as Japan and South Korea, in cultural output, let alone the United States. Given its economic power, China punches far below its weight on generating creative output that also has mass appeal.

Such is the contradiction that Beijing is trying to untangle, hoping that a few deals with Hollywood can raise China’s global profile as a center of the creative industry.

On his recent U.S. visit, Vice President Xi Jinping agreed to grant Hollywood filmmakers greater access to the Chinese market. Partnerships between Chinese film studios and Hollywood have been increasing in recent years, though some in Hollywood have expressed concerns over efforts by Chinese companies to influence the movie-making to fall into line with the government’s projected image.

Read more about Hollywood and China, and about China’s external propaganda, via CDT.