By Xiaoling Zhang.

The importance of promoting culture, both domestically and internationally, was placed center stage again at the 6th Plenary Session of the CPC’s 17th Central Committee after it was written into the 12th five-year plan in 2010. Top leaders pledged to provide the sector with more resources to boost soft power and bolster “culture security” internationally and to “improve Chinese citizens’ sense of identity and confidence in Chinese culture” domestically.

President Hu Jintao made a speech at the session, which was published in January 2012 in Seeking Truth, a magazine founded by Mao Zedong as a platform for establishing Communist Party principles.

The foregrounding of the culture industry is happening at an important moment in China’s development.  First, Chinese leaders consider culture an important part of the country’s comprehensive competitiveness in the world. For some time, they have lamented the fact that “the overall strength of Chinese culture and its international influence is not commensurate with China’s international status,” as Hu said in his speech, and that Western expressions of popular culture and art seem to overshadow those from China. For instance, although China has become the world’s largest producer of TV series, the import-export ratio is 15:1.

In addition to the “deficit” in cultural exchanges, the authorities also re-introduce the discourse of demonization of China by the West to legitimize its costly investments in boosting its soft power around the world such as the opening up of Confucius Institutes and the operations of large state-run news organizations in cities around the world.

But most importantly, to promote the development of the cultural industry shows that CCP’s top leaders are impelled to shift from three decades of single-minded pursuit of economic growth, which has created a deeply divided society, to more balanced development.

Visible measures taken include cutting entertainment TV by two-thirds to curb ”excessive entertainment” from 1 January. The sweeping policy banning on advertising during TV dramas also took effect on the same day.  In addition, to ensure the successful implementation of the guideline, the development of the cultural sector will be taken as a key index to assess the performance of governments and officials.

However, China faces unprecedented challenges in relying on the cultural industry to establish the ideological foundation for social consensus on the one hand and to build its soft power around the world on the other.

Domestically, restrictions on cultural workers prevent them from reaching their full potential, as cultural products must promote the socialist core values.  Through censorship or self-censorship, for instance, “efforts should be made to improve media work and promote the healthy and positive development of Internet culture.”

The restrictions also prevent China to package itself as a politically attractive partner internationally. There is concern, for instance, that using media for development and national identity building can lead to suppression of opposition voices and non-official media. Furthermore, the “socialist core values system” which all cultural products must embody, are not easily accepted by all: “the Marxist guiding ideology, the common ideal of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the national ethos with patriotism as the core and the spirit of the times with reform and innovation as the core, and thesocialist concept of honor and disgrace.”

But the new initiatives do show that the CCP wants to create a socially and politically stable environment through tightening the cultural sphere, especially the social media enabled by the Internet, before the transition for the Chinese leadership in 2012, and more importantly to confront challenges posed by uneven development. They also show that Hu Jintao is keen to be remembered, as Jiang Zemin with his “three represents”, as the one with the concept of “a harmonious society” as he steps down this year.

Dr Xiaoling Zhang is a Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute and an Associate Professor at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. “Excessive entertainment”! Eheh, THAT would be a great policy for maximising soft power! If only nationalism and the ba-rong-ba-chi were entertaining…

  2. The enactment of the law, to have banned commercials in the TV dramas, is perhaps upon an innermost voice of and in accordance with what are to be dramatized. It’s not a legal act, for any legal acts do not matter so far so much in China, but the thought matters; it’s a step aforethought, therefore, before it’s too late to send for a thoughtpoliz. The question is rather that, what will come up anew, from the deep waters, onto the stage, that will meet the end needs of the high expectations? I wonder if you have made some prediction on it, concerning the steps, the movements, the pitches, etc., in details telling, rather than that it’s roughly said of the propaganda?

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