Cultural Industries in China and Their Importance in Asian Communities

By Li, Qingben | CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, June 2018 | Go to article overview

Cultural Industries in China and Their Importance in Asian Communities


Li, Qingben, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture


The origin of the modern Chinese word 'culture' [phrase omitted] wenhua) dates about 800 BCE. It appears in the Book of Changes (Mti yijing). In Tuan's [phrase omitted] treatise on the hexagram 'Bi' M, it reads as the following: "We look at the ornamental figures of sky, and thereby ascertain the changes of seasons. We look at the ornamental observances of society, and understand how the processes of transformation are accomplished all under heaven" (Legge, The Yi King 231). In its classical form the morpheme 'wen' referred to 'line or marking'. The morpheme 'hua' has the association meanings of transformation, change and nature. In the Book of Changes, the morphemes 'wen' and 'hua' are separated and have not yet formed a word. It was Liu Xiang (77BC-7CE), a famous scholar in the western Han dynasty, (202BC-9CE) who really synthesized the two morphemes as one word in his book Garden Anecdotes [phrase omitted] shuoyuan), in which he used the word 'wenhua' to signify the meaning of ruling by non-violence and refinement (Li, Bi, Li and Chen, China and Other Countries 4).

In Chinese history, despite the many cultural and commercial activities of the country, the concept of cultural industries did not exist. In fact, the concept comes from the west. In 1947, two well-known representatives of the Frankfurt school of philosophy, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno used the term 'culture industry' for the first time in their book Dialectic of the Enlightenment to define what they considered the basic features of mass culture. In their view, culture is characterized by the importance of its industrial dimension, the force of its political and economic impact, and the fact that, although it may originate from a small number of industrialized countries, it is disseminated throughout the world. In "Culture Industry Reconsidered", Adorno elaborates on why they replaced the expression 'mass culture' with 'culture industry'. The reason was in order to exclude it from the outset of an interpretation agreeable to its advocates, that is, that culture may arise spontaneously from the masses themselves, like contemporaries form of popular art. The authors chose to distinguish culture industries from popular art forms. To them, culture industries fuse the old and the familiar into a new reality. Besides, in all branches of culture industries, products which are tailored for consumption by masses, which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, being manufactured more or less according to plan (Adorno, "Culture Industry" 98). That is to say, the cultural industry is an industry that makes cultural products by means of modern technology and planning production, different from traditional mass culture.

The term 'cultural industry' was used in singular form and eventually became 'cultural industries' (in plural) in the 1960s and 1970s. The French 'cultural industry' sociologists rejected Adorno and Horkheimer's use of the singular term 'culture industry' because it suggested a 'unified field', where all the different forms of cultural production co-existing in modern life were assumed to obey the same logic. Instead, they were concerned to show how complex cultural industries are, and to identify the different logics at work in different types of cultural production. For example, broadcasting industries operated in a very different way from the press, or from industries reliant on 'editorial' models of production, such as publishing, different also from the recording industry. As result, they preferred the plural term 'cultural industries' (Hesmondhalgh, The Cultural Industries 15-16).

As indicated above, the Chinese case is a little different. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, culture was treated as a government affiliated business, and not as an enterprise affiliated business. During this period, cultural industries were regarded as a concept close to the bourgeoisie and had to be strongly controlled by the government. …

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