Hu Jintao and Cultural Construction in China

January 9, 2012

The journal of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party recently published a speech by Hu Jintao on the development of China’s socialist culture, its cultural industries and its ‘cultural soft power’.  There’s a translation here – whatever the changes in China Communist Party rhetoric hasn’t changed: ‘we must implement the Party’s mass line’ etc.   Stephen Walt characterizes this as the party’s war on Harry Potter.  Part of this is the apparent internal threat implied by foreign culture but also the damage to China’s international position by its own lack of cultural industries that can compete.  Reading Hu’s speech the biggest problem seems to be the mismatch between the economic development of contemporary China and its cultural development (read legitimation of rule by the Party.

This emphasis on socialist culture is seen to be of the factors behind the current clampdown on  entertainment culture to accompany the assault on political dissent.  The government has ordered TV stations to reduce the amount of entertainment programming that they show and to encourage socialist values.  Getting rid of programmes like Super Girl is equivalent to banning X Factor in the UK (insert name of mega popular programme where you live.)

I think that notwithstanding its controls on media and the ‘great firewall of China’ the Communist Party is overestimating its ability to shape Chinese culture.  The history of  20th century ideologically driven regimes (and propaganda more broadly) shows that entertainment is a persistent problem because in general  people would prefer to be entertained than educated.  The Nazis, The Soviets, The Saudis (and Lord Reith of the BBC) were all forced to modify their cultural offerings by the fact of competition with foreign broadcasters.  In each case the direction of movement was towards more entertainment in an effort to hold on to their audiences regardless of restrictions on reception of foreign broadcasts.

The point has sometimes been made that the ‘great firewall of China’ is not a massive obstacle to determined netizens but relatively few people are motivated to overcome the obstacle.  You wonder whether taking away entertainment programming will provide a stronger incentive to look for foreign material or for Chinese citizens to make their own.  It will be interesting to see how long it is before Super Girl’s younger sister returns to the screen.

One comment

  1. The biggest mistake Nicolae Ceaușescu ever made in Romania? Replacing the massively popular The Onedin Line (a 1970s British drama serial) with Romanian propaganda broadcasts.

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