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Article - a strong culture for China?

The delayed development of culture in China.

The great success of American films "Kung Fu Panda" in China shocked China. Since “the reform and opening-up policy” of China in 1978, the Chinese public's passion for novelty and Western cultural products is not any longer new. The Hollywood movies, the European cultural heritage, the Japanese manga, Chinese people especially young people welcome them willingly. But the shock can be painful when it is about Chinese culture "Kung Fu Panda", but was made in the US, and moreover was an instant success in China. This phenomenon is far from being alone, provokes reflection of this population who is often proud of their long history, but who knows paradoxically poorly their own culture because of an important delay in the development of the cultural industry, artistic and cultural education…

Spring for the culture?

The evolution of Chinese society is fast. Let me just recall that just over thirty years ago, the traditional Chinese culture was still frantically attacked during the "Cultural Revolution" led by Mao. Deemed "anti-revolutionary", the Chinese culture - if it is too early to say that today its spring has come - drew an important consideration of the Chinese authorities.

Indeed, in order to increase the soft power and competitiveness of China, certain measures are already taken to meet this "serious challenge". Inspired by the French model of "Alliance française," the number of Confucius Institutes has been increasing since 2004, there are currently 350 Confucius Institutes worldwide. To highlight its historical heritage and cultural practices, China’s request of registration on the list of "World Heritage" and "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" of UNESCO is also experiencing significant growth in recent years. Moreover, Chinese authorities have begun to invest in the overseas media like Xinhua and CCTV on the internet in order that "the voice of the Chinese" can be heard and understood for a better mutual understanding to build "a harmonious world."

However, despite all the progress and the directions of actions that have been identified, it seems too early to say that the Chinese cultural policy is mature enough, it has important limitations especially at the moment, particularly the one related to the Chinese regime in general sense.

The challenge for the development of Chinese culture.

For the culture industry, "the West is strong while our country is weak," said Chinese President Hu Jintao at the end of a session of the CCP in October last year. The message is clear: China wants a "strong culture", both in and outside China, a culture that plays an increasingly important role in the development of the country.

The will is declared, but the development of culture is in a dilemma because the Chinese cultural policy is contradictory: on the one hand, the Chinese authorities recognize the significant importance of culture, they are aware of its delay, demonstrate the desire to promote and continue the achieved progress; on the other hand, the culture policy has a mission which is probably "Chinese exception": legitimize the Chinese Communist regime. In other words, they need to develop the culture seen as "favorable" or at least "neutral" to maintain this regime, which results in for instance a censorship that actually hinders innovation of Chinese culture. Some Chinese artists are thus "qualified" dissidents like Ai Weiwei, they face problems that are not known in France thanks to the respect for the "freedom of creativity" as a fundamental legal principle. Surely, it takes more time for the freedom of creativity to become a more urgent demand for the Chinese who are increasingly educated, and for the Chinese authorities to realize that the prosperity of innovative and diversified cultural products cannot be the result of a command of public authorities. A respect for freedom is proved to be the first step toward a "strong culture".

But before the full application of the eagerly awaited respect for the freedom of  in China, other tracks can be identified for example historic building preservation, arts education, video games, film co-production, cultural festival, etc.., and international cooperation is also possible in this growing market, the most recent example: in 2011, China became the world's largest market for contemporary art.

A contribution of Jialong XU, Sciences-Po Paris