How to Control the Culture of 1.4 Billion People

In his recent work for the New York Times’ China-focused series “Culture and Control,” new-media journalist Jonah Kessel has been focusing on media control and the Chinese culture industry. In a new post on his personal blog, he describes his experiences on the project and briefly outlines the politics of Chinese art and media:

This has been a very interesting series to be part of — on a cultural level and on a production level. Each article has posed new challenges in storytelling and as the collection builds I hope we have helped shed light on a complicated situation.

There are two parts to this story. One might be looked at as external, while the other is more internal. The external part of the story is about China’s cultural exports. What art, culture and media do people outside the Middle Kingdom see and how do they reflect upon China via that cultural product? The other part is internal: How does the art created in China, shape China’s internal population’s culture? Or more bluntly: How is TV, literature, movies, art and other forms of communication working to shape modern Chinese society?

In many ways, I might describe this complicated situation as a bit of a tug-a-war. On one hand, China wants its cultural products to be exported all over the world. On the other hand, they want to make sure the right products are exported. Therefore, they are trying to control culture from within China and hope that it will both influence its own population positively and be exported to the global stage. But if you ask most artists — controlled creativity is suffocating.

A recent blog post for the New York Times looks to the ongoing and meme-creating story of rumors surrounding Wang Lijun’s trip to a U.S. consulate. The post draws from English language commentaries on the story, asking how effective censorship is in the Chinese blogosphere:

China changes its top officials at party meetings held once a decade, and this year will see the first such session since the widespread adoption of the microblogs, known as weibo, where rumors spread among tens of millions of users with a speed that the Chinese authorities have struggled to control.

In the noise of rumor about Mr. Wang, some English-language bloggers and China observers have sought to find signs of broader political meaning in an unusual way — by watching how the Chinese authorities have, or have not, censored social media posts on the subject.