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China’s Soft Power Ambitions


China’s expected rise as a global soft-power has been beset with unexpected difficulties and slower if not zero growth.

Earlier China could no wrong. Now China gets nothing right.  |  Cartoonist - Rex May; source and courtesy - toonpool.com  |  Click for larger image.

Earlier China could no wrong. Now China gets nothing right. | Cartoonist - Rex May; source and courtesy - toonpool.com | Click for larger image.

Rising power

Although Joseph Nye supposedly coined the term soft-power in the 1980s, it came into popular usage after his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

From the time that Joseph Nye coined the term soft-power, China has been positioned, by Western media as the challenger to American (& Western) soft-power.

America has been particularly adept at using soft-power. In modern times, whether its was Jesse Owens (victim becomes spokesman of Promised Land) after 1936 Berlin Olympics, or the use of jazz and hip-hop to showcase American ‘culture.’ American multinationals serve as outposts of American media and culture.

But curiously, the more China tries to become a soft-power, the more incapable it finds itself.

Mr Hu may have been slow to adopt Mr Nye’s term openly, but soon after he took office in 2002 he began trying to make China a more attractive brand. In June 2003 a small group of senior propaganda officials and foreign-policy experts met in Beijing for the first time to discuss the importance of soft power. (via China abroad: Sun Tzu and the art of soft power | The Economist).

Cultural security – they say

Most recently, the Chinese President, Hu Jin Tao, lamented the lack of Chinese soft-power – and cautioned the Chinese nation of the dangers from Western culture.

Chinese leaders have long lamented the fact that Western expressions of popular culture and art seem to overshadow those from China. The top-grossing films in China have been “Avatar” and “Transformers 3,” and the music of Lady Gaga is as popular here as that of any Chinese pop singer. In October, at the sixth plenum of the party’s Central Committee, where Mr. Hu gave his speech, officials discussed the need for bolstering the “cultural security” of China.

At the same time, China has been making a push to increase its cultural influence abroad, or its “soft power.” The government has opened up Confucius Institutes around the world to aid foreigners in learning Chinese. The state is also lavishing money on opening operations of large state-run news organizations, including Xinhua, the state news agency, and China Central Television, in cities around the world. Officials from those organizations say they hope their version of the world events becomes as common as those from Western news organizations.

People involved in the arts here say the policy also means more government financing for Chinese companies to create cultural products, ranging from books to live musical productions. At the same time, officials have been encouraging many cultural industries to become more market driven and rely less on government subsidies.

President Hu Jintao has said China must strengthen its cultural production to defend against the West’s assault on the country’s culture and ideology, according to an essay in a Communist Party policy magazine published this week. The publication of Mr. Hu’s words signaled that a new major policy initiative announced in October would continue well into 2012.

“The overall strength of Chinese culture and its international influence is not commensurate with China’s international status,” Mr. Hu said in his essay, according to another translation.

“The international culture of the West is strong while we are weak,” he added.(via China’s Leader Pushes Back at Lady Gaga and Western Culture – NYTimes.com).

To Western media, India, seemed like an unlikely candidate as Emerging Soft-Power, has been ranked highest among emerging economies.

The index produced by the ICD ranked forty countries by these means, and found that Germany and the Netherlands came joint first, with Norway in third. The UK was fifth, the US was seventh, and India was the leading emerging economy, in tenth place.

The true essence of soft-power. How the West creates a hegemony using sports  |  Cartoonist - Jonathan Zapiro; source & courtesy - movingimages.wordpress.com  |  Click for larger source image.

The true essence of soft-power. How the West creates a hegemony using sports | Cartoonist - Jonathan Zapiro; source & courtesy - movingimages.wordpress.com | Click for larger source image.

Against the wind

Although China has been ranked the 3rd largest marketfor film exhibition, domestic Chinese films have had lukewarm reception from Chinese viewers – especially compared to Hollywood.

The  Chinese film industry, after support from the Chinese government and even after Hollywood investments, it is the unlikely Nigerian film industry that has both overtaken China and Hollywood.

While Korea, Taipei, China and even Europe struggle with keeping their film industries alive, Bollywood and the Nigerian film industry seem to having it easy. Nollywood, as Nigeria’s film industry has come to be known, is today second only to Bollywood in production volumes. Going by revenues, Nollywood slips to third place.  Is global soft-power following the 2ndlook model of culture competition – and not the model of so-called clash of civilizations.

What gives?


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  1. January 14, 2012 at 6:05 am

    https://twitter.com/#!/NishkaK/status/157932903215542272

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