Laikwan Pang. Creativity and Its Discontents: Chinas Creative Industries and Intellectual Property Rights Offenses

By O'Connor, Justin | China Review International, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Laikwan Pang. Creativity and Its Discontents: Chinas Creative Industries and Intellectual Property Rights Offenses


O'Connor, Justin, China Review International


Laikwan Pang. Creativity and Its Discontents: Chinas Creative Industries and Intellectual Property Rights Offenses. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009. ix + 300 pp. Paperback $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8223-5082-8.

Laikwan Pang's latest book takes us beyond her earlier work in film studies and movie piracy to the much bigger arena of the creative industries. She tells us in the acknowledgments, "I had no idea where I was heading," simply following her insight into "how important intellectual property rights are to the understanding of today's global capitalism." Rather unexpectedly, then--given this comment and the subtitle of the book--what emerges is not just another book on intellectual property rights (IPR) but a fresh and mordant account of the agenda of the creative industries. In understated fashion, she has performed two vital tasks. First, rather than dismiss the creative industries as neoliberal rhetoric or the further commodification of culture (though they are certainly both), Pang has reasserted their significance at the heart of contemporary cultural debate. Second, her Chinese perspective does not restrict her to the role of witness to a regional manifestation of a global tendency but prompts her to a direct engagement with Western modernity itself. Her perspective allows her to identify the tremendous stakes involved in the creative industries debate writ large, at a time when cultural studies have tended to abandon the field or retreat to its margins.

The notion of creativity--what it consists of and how it is taught, promoted, and managed--has given rise to an ocean of academic, policy, and business self-help literature. Its increased visibility in recent decades is related to three interconnected developments. The first is the rise of the knowledge economy in which ideas become a distinctly recognized input into the production process, separated organizationally, geographically, and culturally from manufacturing and manual labor. The second of these developments is the increasing emphasis on the cultural context for managerial and entrepreneurial innovation, now approached less as a given and more as a site for corporate and governmental intervention. Last of these factors is the enormous expansion of the cultural or aesthetic content of goods and services in terms of both production and consumption, such that the restriction of creativity to the particular realm of the arts, and indeed the traditional cultural industries, was no longer tenable. Although clearly resonating with the first two developments, it is out of this last development that the notion of creative industries emerged, and with it came a high degree of confusion and a good deal of ideological baggage.

As a policy construct or imaginary, the creative industries were called upon to do two things. First, they made a case for the economic importance of culture, suggesting not just the growing weight of the cultural sector in the economy but also that this economy was itself being transformed by the enhanced salience of the culture within it. Second, creativity was no longer restricted to specific social groups or professions (the arts and cultural industries) but was a general human capacity to be valorized and nurtured. Creativity had been democratized, and anybody with talent, a computer, and some entrepreneurial flair could now join the creative economy. Though initially seen simply as a terminological shift, the move from cultural to creative industries became increasingly viewed by cultural academics as an economization of culture. This move was often pragmatically welcomed by university art and humanities departments looking to develop industrial links. In the cultural sector itself, it gave rise to endless definitional and statistical debates about what belonged to art, what to cultural industries, and what to creative industries. The result was a confused mixture of terms that attempted to cover all contingencies: "cultural and creative," "creative and digital," the Chinese "cultural creative industries," and so on. …

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