... .. opinion


Does line-up of idols reflect cultural crisis?

The results of a survey of more than 140,000 people on the "Top 10 Chinese Cultural Idols of the 20th Century" sparked controversy after they were published last month. The father of modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun, tops the list, followed by Hong Kong martial-arts novelist Louis Cha. The outstanding dramatist Lao She, the warm-spirited soldier Lei Feng and renowned Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang are all on the list. Hong Kong actor and singer Leslie Cheung, who committed suicide three and half months ago, ranks seventh. China's media has been debating the list:

China Culture Daily (June 23): This survey was initiated by one of China's top Internet portal sites, Sina.com, and other mainstream Chinese media. The qualification of a so-called cultural idol is that his or her name reminds people of Chinese culture.

On the list of candidates, besides renowned writers, there are also the world-famous physicist Chenning Yang, sports stars Yao Ming and Deng Yaping, actor Bruce Lee, and pop stars Leslie Cheung and Faye Wang.

Building people up into idols fits in with many people's pursuit of something that is missing in their everyday life. By defining these idols, people find common cultural values or orientation - something that identifies their collective self.

However, the line-up of the 50 candidates epitomizes the fact that our contemporary culture is barren and degenerating.

The treasury of cultural heritage has left us many literary giants, such as Lu Xun, Cai Yuanpei, Lao She and Hu Shi. Yet, from the present day, we can only find a handful of stars of popular culture such as Faye Wang, Yao Ming and Leslie Cheung. What an obvious contrast!

Most pop cultural idols are produced for entertainment consumption in a way similar to the cooking of fast food. Star-makers regard pop culture as a kind of commodity that makes profits for them. The cultural idols of today are mostly successful examples of commercial operations.

In contrast, the cultural kingpins of older generations - such as Lu Xun, Cai Yuanpei, Wang Guowei and Gu Zhun - never achieved stardom by relying on commercial means.

They are a real cultural elite, and people's admiration for them is based on an understanding of their minds. These great minds enlighten people and improve the cohesion of our culture and social values.

The public's indulgence in fast-food-style pop culture is a warning of the crisis our culture is facing.

Yangcheng Evening News (June 23): Many people have expressed doubt or worry about the results of the survey on Chinese cultural idols. Some even said that Chinese culture is degenerating. But it is unnecessary to respond in such a sharp way.

Lu Xun and Ba Jin are top-notch Chinese writers. No matter which positions they hold in this survey, their contributions to Chinese culture have been recognized by society and are not in doubt.

But pop stars such as Faye Wang and Leslie Cheung also could not be neglected. They have numerous fans and the effect they have on these fans is really tremendous.

While people worship Lu Xun, they can also appreciate Leslie Cheung's performances. The two different kinds of feelings do not contradict each other.

Culture can be divided into the elite and the popular. Lu Xun, Ba Jin and Lao She are representatives of the elite. And Faye Wang and Leslie Cheung could illustrate the popular. It is difficult to tell which is superior to the other.

These two types of culture can learn from each other's strong points to offset their respective weaknesses. It is actually hard to clearly distinguish between these two cultures. Sometimes, under certain conditions, one of these two cultures might transform into the other.

Pluralism and tolerance are the hallmarks of a modern society. While we admire the elite culture that symbolizes our national spirit, we should also leave room for popular culture to develop.

(China Daily 07/17/2003 page4)


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