By Hugo Polanco
China has an image problem. As the inheritor of a sophisticated culture and as a rising power, China would like its culture to be appreciated as widely as it once was. Instead of being known for cultural innovations, public perceptions are dominated by China as an authoritarian power. This negative public perception is not only detrimental to Chinese self
The primary reason why China lacks or at least hampers the development of globally acceptable cultural products is its strict control of media. In China film, books, and newspapers all must pass government censorship. From my own personal experience watching Chinese television the result is bland entertainment that no one outside China would willingly watch. To be certain there are exceptions Zhang Yimou , director of Hero, House of Flying Daggers etc, has created widely popular films that have international following. But, these films are exceptions to the rule, and when compared with the thriving film industries in Hong Kong and Taiwan show that the problem isn’t Chinese culture, but Chinese government.
One result has been that China’s values are unknown to the world. The casual citizen of another country will most likely not know what the Chinese populace cares about or what they want. On the other hand, most people in the world can see what Americans value and do know they want, for better or for worse. Japan is another case in point. Japanese cultural products have flooded into the United States and the world. Who as child doesn’t remember growing up watching Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon? Despite the fact that Japan ravaged half of Asia and attacked the United States in the past, it would be difficult to convince an American that the Japanese are threatening or aggressive.
Cultural penetration is not a cure all for a country’s foreign policy problems and there are instance where it clearly hasn’t completely alleviated tensions. South Korea and Japan’s relationship is an example. Despite Japan’s pop cultural hegemony in East Asia, the relationship is still fraught with tension. However in China’s case having these cultural assets would be enormously beneficial. Many of China’s foreign policy headaches come from apprehension of China’s military development by neighboring nations. A freer, more open, and culturally marketable China would reduce the distrust and legitimize the Chinese position that their rise is completely peaceful.
While it may be too hopeful to expect the Chinese government to relax its hold on media in the near future, it would benefit not only China but the whole world. The world is a victim when it is denied China’s true cultural potential. Imagine the amazing art, literature, and films a wealthy nation with 1.3 billion citizens could produce if its artist were not limited by threats of incarceration for simply expressing themselves.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.