Home > China, Media, Pax Americana, USA > Soft Power: Dragon on the dance floor

Soft Power: Dragon on the dance floor


Why is China having difficulty with sustaining creative output. Is it just a matter of getting some government money and bureaucratic instructions?

Can all this claw sharpening make China a soft-power? |  Cartoonist - Deng Coy Miel, Singapore  on 3/29/2010 12:00:00 AM; source & courtesy - caglecartoons.com  |  Click for larger image.

Can all this claw sharpening make China a soft-power? | Cartoonist - Deng Coy Miel, Singapore on 3/29/2010 12:00:00 AM; source & courtesy - caglecartoons.com | Click for larger image.

Cultural security – they say

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

Sustaining creative output, with appeal across cultures, that has momentum of its own, is the holy grail that most nations want – and few have.

China and Hu Jin Tao are not alone in wanting this.

Rulers of the Wasteland

Europe has struggled with sustaining a film industry for the last 50 years. Without much success. Another interesting sidelight, for instance, is cartooning. Satire and cartoons seem like a perfect escape valve that Western societies need. With a heavy-handed State.

Western classical music has been on a ventilator for most of the last 60 years – alive only due to huge State subsidies. Unlike Indian classical music which is making a strong comeback – with token State support.

Changing tunes

This entire creative thingamajig was termed as soft-power by a Harvard professor, Joseph Nye.

On China’s soft power status, Joseph Nye now is using a ‘told-you-so’ tone. But a few years ago, Nye saw a bigger challenge to the US from China as a soft-power. Back in 2005, a worried Nye in the Wall Street Journal, reminded his readers that

a recent BBC poll of 22 countries, found that nearly half the respondents saw Beijing’s influence as positive compared to 38% who said the same for the U.S., and it is clear that the rise of China’s soft power — at America’s expense — is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed.

Success depends not only on whose army wins, but also on whose story wins.

China has always had an attractive traditional culture, but now it is entering the realm of global popular culture as well. Chinese novelist Gao Xingjian won China’s first Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, and the Chinese film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” became the highest grossing non-English film. Yao Ming, the Chinese star of the U.S. National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets, is rapidly becoming a household name, and China is set to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. The enrollment of foreign students in China has tripled to 110,000 from 36,000 over the past decade, and the number of foreign tourists has also increased dramatically to 17 million last year. China has created 26 Confucius Institutes around the world to teach its language and culture, and while the Voice of America was cutting its Chinese broadcasts to 14 from 19 hours a day, China Radio International was increasing its broadcasts in English to 24 hours a day.

Although China remains authoritarian, the success of its political economy in tripling gross domestic product over the past three decades has made it attractive to many developing countries. In parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the so-called “Beijing consensus” on authoritarian government plus a market economy has become more popular than the previously dominant “Washington consensus” of market economics with democratic government.

China is far from America’s equal in soft power, it would be foolish to ignore the gains it is making.

A few months after this article, in April 2006, Nye shared his alarm with students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. After a wide-ranging discussion, Nye finished

by looking at polls that were taken by the BBC in January. Is China’s soft power increasing? Yes. In fact, compared to the United States, Chinese influence was rated positively in twenty out of thirtythree countries polled, whereas the United States only was rated positively in thirteen out of the thirty-three countries polled. And China’s ratings are impressive.

Can governments depend on opinions and policies that change so fast? Nye’s negative outlook on China today is far from his earlier alarm about China’s ability sustain creative output.

China has always had an attractive traditional culture, and now it has created several hundred Confucius Institutes around the world to teach its language and culture. The enrolment of foreign students in China has increased from 36,000 a decade ago to at least 240,000 in 2010, and while the Voice of America was cutting its Chinese broadcasts, China Radio International was increasing its broadcasts in English to 24 hours a day.

In 2009, Beijing announced plans to spend billions of dollars to develop global media giants to compete with Bloomberg, Time Warner and Viacom. China invested $8.9 billion in external publicity work, including a 24-hour Xinhua cable news channel designed to imitate Al Jazeera.

Beijing has also raised defences. It limits foreign films to only 20 per year, subsidises Chinese companies creating cultural products, and has restricted Chinese television shows that are imitations of western entertainment programs. But for all its efforts, China has had a limited return on its investment. A recent BBC poll shows that opinions of China’s influence are positive in much of Africa and Latin America, but predominantly negative in the US and Europe, as well as in India, Japan and South Korea. A poll taken in Asia after the Beijing Olympics found that China’s charm offensive had been ineffective. (via Dragon on the dance floor – Hindustan Times).

Easy as falling off a log

Seemingly, the creative output system seems to working on the three-civilization model that 2ndlook outlined earlier.

In line of that model, there are leaders for the three civilization units. For instance, the three leaders in film production are Bollywood (India), Nollywood (Nigeria) and Hollywood (USA).

Seemingly, there can only be one major production centre for each culture. What this implies is that Bollywood is not threatened by Hollywood or Nollywood. Instead, the contenders for crown, belong to same school as Bollywood. Like the quasi-Bollywood studios in Russia, Lahore or even Brazil’s TV novelas. Similarly, Hollywood’s challengers can be other production centres with similar value and aesthetic structures – like Japan, France, UK, etc.

For music there are fewer borders. African music easily slipped into modern Western music. Islāmic faction seem to lose music-making ability if Indian influence is filtered out. Contribution to Western music (classical and modern) by the Roma Gypsy has been ignored in modern narratives.

And like Nye says,

Success depends not only on whose army wins, but also on whose story wins.

Never mind if the ‘winning’ story is economical with truth.


  1. June 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Lloyd Hargrove Great article, thanks!about an hour ago · Like

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