This week we’ve taken a brief look at China’s ability to project economic, political, and military power, and whether or not China is approaching super power status. Today we look at China’s cultural power.
Culture a.k.a. Soft Power
Chinese language is becoming widely popular in schools throughout the world. People are eager to learn the world’s most spoken language, and this has given China a great opportunity to use it’s GDP (and people’s desire to get into the Chinese market) to build China’s soft power. The Confucius Institute has been by far China’s most successful attempt at exporting it’s culture.
However, many expats have already discovered that Chinese isn’t actually a necessity for living in China. I know dozens of foreigners that have never progressed beyond a few basic survival phrases, but function without much difficulty in China. On top of that China has been pushing English education so strongly here that many foreigners have discovered their co-workers speak English well enough that they don’t have to speak much Chinese to get by in the workplace.
Recently there have also been many claims that once China’s GDP passes the US it will become the major source of cultural output (books, TV shows, movies…). I don’t believe it. After all Japan and Germany have had major economies for decades, but are nowhere close to matching US output.
Just for fun, try to name 5 Chinese actors, or 5 Chinese authors, or 5 Chinese artists…
I’m guessing that unless you have been studying China for more than a few years, you probably couldn’t list many people in any of those categories. I’m also guessing many of you named Jackie Chan and Bruce Li, they actually both got their starts in HK, and only got popular in the US after their Hollywood debuts.
Predictions that China is going to change before 2050 are a bit too rosy in my opinion. Like I mentioned before, China’s lack of creative thinking is going to prove to be a major impediment as China tries to take to the global stage. That paired with regular gov’t crackdowns on artists and film makers means that a lot has to change before China can even begin to compete globally in entertainment which is a large indicator of cultural output.
China also has big dreams for CCTV – making it a globally respected news organization. I doubt that many, if any, of you would trust the Chinese gov’t as your news source, after all most Chinese people don’t. This presents the bigger problem facing China’s soft power efforts, the gov’t is so disliked overseas, that many of their attempts fall flat. For China to be successful in bringing a Chinese voice to the world stage, like Al Jazeera did for the Arab world, it is going to need to create a media branch that is completely free from gov’t control.
China’s inability to separate people’s perception of the gov’t from influencing their views of the culture is going to be a major obstacle for China to overcome in its mission to become a superpower. Until the gov’t releases its tight control on media and art, not much progress will be made on the world stage.