Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Culture will be powered up

By Hua Jian (China Daily) Updated: 2011-11-03 08:11

Systematic reforms and institutional innovations are needed to further improve the country's core cultural competitiveness

To build itself into a cultural power, China faces the urgent task of safeguarding its "cultural security", strengthening its soft power and boosting the international influence of its culture.

A country's comprehensive national strength depends on both its hard power and soft power. Cultural power, an important part of a country's soft power, includes its ability to explore cultural resources at home and abroad and disseminate its core values through cultural products and services. It also includes the ability to improve the cultural life of its people and cultural ties with other countries. The elevation of such cultural power involves participation in international cultural competition and cooperation.

Despite being the world's second largest economy, China has failed to develop soft power proportionate to its economic weight. Since 2000, the country's cultural output has been on a steady rise, with a growth rate of more than 20 percent year-on-year, which is much higher than the growth rate of its gross domestic product (GDP). In 2010, the added value produced by the country's cultural industry reached more than 1.1 trillion yuan ($174 billion), or 2.75 percent of GDP. However, such a proportion is still far behind the United States and other developed countries. For example, the scale of China's cultural industry is only one-third that of the US. The wide gap highlights the urgency for China to promote the development of its cultural sector to boost its soft power.

Countries with the capability for cultural and technological innovation hold an advantage in the fierce global cultural competition. According to a report co-published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the UN Development Program, cultural and creative products exported by developed countries in 2010 were mainly those with a high technological content and high added value. In contrast, the cultural products exported by developing countries were mainly those with lower scientific and technological content, such as art performances and handicraft articles.

In recent years, China's cultural products, especially those with high technological and creative content, such as computer games and new media services, have seized an increasing share of the global cultural market, and they have played an increasingly important role in China's participation in cultural competition.

At the just-concluded Sixth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Party stressed that the nation should enhance its self-innovation capabilities and improve its technological standards in a range of cultural fields, including movies, TV dramas, animation and the Internet, in order to increase the core competitiveness of its cultural industry.

In view of this, China should manufacture and provide cultural products and services with greater technological and creative content, strengthen technological and service innovations and develop distinctive core cultural advantages in a bid to build itself into a cultural power.

To be such a power, China needs to promote its culture on the world stage, conduct cultural exchanges with other countries and enhance its cultural characteristics and influence. Facts prove that a nation's cultural identity should be realized through international cultural trade and that cultural power dominates the pricing power of global cultural products and their dissemination.

The volume of China's cultural trade has been steadily growing in recent years, but some of the country's core cultural products have failed to achieve a robust growth momentum. Statistics released by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade show that the volume of the country's exports of books, newspapers and magazines, audio-video and electronic arts, which constitute a core part of the export of its cultural products, declined from 19 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2009. Another example is China's TV animation, whose exports increased to 220,000 minutes in 2010 from less than 10,000 minutes in 2000. However, the export volumes of home-made animation was only $30 million in 2009, in sharp contrast to a single movie by the United States' Pixar Animation Company, Toy Story 3, which grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.

The low export volumes of China's core cultural products highlight the urgency for the country to carry out systematic cultural reforms and institutional innovations to further improve its core cultural competitiveness. To facilitate this process, local governments should try to develop cultural products with their own intellectual property rights and establish their advantages in cultural products in line with the country's "go outward" strategy.

The author is director of the Culture Industry Research Center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and a research fellow at the Institute of Culture Industry in Peking University.

(China Daily 11/03/2011 page8)

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