Academic journal article Trames

Cultural Production in Contemporary China: The Struggle between Political Dogmatism and Economic Pragmatism

Academic journal article Trames

Cultural Production in Contemporary China: The Struggle between Political Dogmatism and Economic Pragmatism

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: the coexistence of commercialisation and politicisation in the Chinese cultural industry

China's spectacular economic growth over the past thirty years suggests that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has got its market reforms right. It has also prompted a plethora of political science and economics research linking this economic miracle with the CCP's ruling basis. A key hypothesis is that the CCP now stakes the continuation of its rule on economic performance, thereby rendering the ideology of communism obsolete in contemporary China (Dreyer 2012, Lynch 1999, Misra 1998, Ramo 2004). As Holbig (2013:61) points out,

   In the political science literature on contemporary China, ideology
   is mostly regarded as a dogmatic straitjacket to market reforms
   that has been worn out over the years of economic success, an
   obsolete legacy of the past waiting to be cast off in the course of
   the country's transition toward capitalism.

While such views may seem reasonable in the view of the declining importance of communist thought in China, the existing studies underestimate the importance of ideology to the Communist Party. In this article, it is argued that ideology still plays a crucial role in influencing Chinese politics. Using a case study on cultural production in China, the article shows how China's cultural industry, the television industry in particular, is forced to straddle between political dogmatism and economic pragmatism. Peterson and Anand's (2004) six-factor model of cultural production is used as a theoretical framework to study the unique characteristics of China's television industry. This article provides a notable addition to the literature on the role of ideology and the development of the cultural industry in contemporary China.

In recent years, cultural industry has become increasingly important in China due to the CCP's ambitions to maintain pro-authoritarian values domestically and to build soft power on the international stage, such as through the proliferation of Confucius Institutes. On 18 October 2011, the sixth plenary meeting of the 17th CCP Central Committee passed a resolution on the structural reform of the Chinese cultural sector. Similar to previous economic reforms in other sectors, the CCP set a number of objectives for the cultural sector, including 'to become a pillar sector of the national economy, with overall strength and enhanced international competitiveness', 'to be based on collective ownership, coupled with other forms of ownerships', 'to unify social and economic values, with the former as the priority' and 'to render the cultural sector into an economic engine, contributing to the overall economic structural readjustment and more sustainable development' (CCP 2011). Notably, the CCP also officially adopted the strategy of 'national revitalisation through culture' (wenhua xingguo). This strategy is seen as a further step in the revitalisation of China, as it provides an important link between the economic reforms and China's opening up policy (Tian 2012).

The degree to which cultural production and the cultural industries have been prioritised as a national strategy in China is rarely witnessed in other countries today. In fact, the Chinese government has been striving to promote the cultural sector since as early as the 1980s, when the cultural market began to emerge out of the declining rigid state command economy (Keane 2000:245-7). Since 2000, the Chinese government has paid even more attention to the cultural sector, implementing a consistent series of blueprints and regulations, such as the 2003 'decision on the reform of the cultural sector', the 2009 'development plan of the cultural industries' and a 2010 policy paper 'promoting the cultural industries as a pillar sector of the national economy'.

In recent years, the government's efforts have paid off, as the cultural industry in China has seen some remarkable achievements. …

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