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May 8, 2015

China: Beyond Economics and Politics

The Canadian Charger

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Since coming to power, Chinese president Xi Jinping has tightened the Party's control over cultural activities in the country. He has expanded the Chinese film industry, and increased promotion of Chinese culture abroad. In a 2010 speech on art and literature President Xi stressed that the two cultural realms must "persist in the fundamental orientation of serving the people and serving socialism."

In recent years, cultural commerce has been highly regarded by the Chinese governments in developing the nation's cultural industry and transforming its development model of foreign trade. The governments have taken a series of measures to encourage cultural exports. According to a recent news release from the Ministry of Commerce of China from 2001 to 2010, the export magnitude of China's cultural products has grown 2.8 fold and that of the cultural services, 8.7 fold.

However, despite government attempts to control and co-opt culture, China's cultural industries seem to have developed a life of their own.

The ratio of book copyright imports to exports was 3-to-1 in 2010, down from 9-to-1 in 2003.

China's state-run General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) screens all Chinese literature. The GAPP can screen, censor, and ban any print, electronic, or Internet publication in China. The GAPP can also to deny people the right to publish, and shut down any publisher it chooses.

This has led to a situation where pirated books outnumber officially approved books by a 3:2 ratio.  According to a report in ZonaEuropa, there are more than 4,000 underground publishing factories around China.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government continues to hold public book burnings on unapproved yet popular "spiritual pollution" literature, though critics claim this spotlight on individual titles only helps fuel book sales. Many Chinese authors over the last 30 years, who have had their books burned by government officials have had their books re-published in English and enjoyed great success in the West.  Zhou Wiehu's Shanghaii Baby, Anchee Min's controversial memoir Red Azalea, Chun Sue's Beijing Doll, and Mian Mian's Candy are examples of books that became successful in English, after being burned in China.

Translated literature has long played an important role in modern times. Some translated works have seen spectacular sales; for example, Li Jihong's rendition of The Kite Runner has sold more than 1.2 million copies—ranking it among "China's Top 30 Best Selling Works of Fiction" several years in a row.

In the 21stt century, online literature has become paramount as readers can find almost any book online, with books being sold at an average of 2 Yuan, a tenth of the average price of a printed book.

China is now the largest publisher of books, magazines and newspapers in the world. In book publishing alone, some 128,800 new titles of books were published in 2005, according to the General Administration of Press and Publication. There are more than 600 literary journals across the country. Gao Xingjian became the first Chinese writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000. In 2012, Mo Yan also received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

His socially critical lyrics earned him the anger of the government and many of his concerts were banned or cancelled. Subsequently, he played with a red blindfold around his head to protest government action in response to the Tianamen Square protests of 1989.

In 1991/1992 Tang Dynasty – the first heavy metal band in China – released its first CD "A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty", which combined elements of traditional Chinese opera with heavy metal. The album was a major breakthrough.

In the mid 1990's the first Nu Metal bands were formed and inspired by Western bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Nu Metal is a subgenre of alternative metal that fuses elements of heavy metal music with those of other genres, such as hip hop, funk, and grunge. Yaksa, Twisted Machine and AK-47 are among some of China's better-known Nu Metal bands.

Punk rock became popular in China in the mid 1990's, around the time recording artist He Yong release his debut record Garbage Dump. The first real wave of band formations erupted in 1995 concentrating in Beijing and the second generation of punk bands followed around 1997.

In the 21st century homegrown bands such as Brain Failure, Demerit, Tookoo, AV Okubo, Hang on the Box and Fanzui Xiangfa have all toured internationally.

Black metal – an extreme subgenre and subculture of heavy metal music is currently popular in China. This music includes fast tempos, a shrieking vocal style, highly or heavily distorted guitars and unconventional song structures.

Since the end of the 20th century pop music in mainland China is experiencing a rise in popularity, with Chinese artists producing a wide range of Mandarin pop songs and many new albums. Many popular mainland Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese music artists were included in promotions for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mandarin rap music gradually became popular in mainland China, especially in Shanghai and Beijing where pop culture is very diverse and modern. Although Chinese perform rap in different dialects and languages, most Chinese hip hop artists perform in China's most popular language: Mandarin. Mandarin rap music has also been popular in Taiwan. Cantonese rap is also very diverse in cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Additionally, there is a strong trend in China, especially since the beginning of the 1980s, for young Chinese to learn Western instruments. Traditional instruments have been gradually losing ground. Concerts of traditional music hardly attract audiences these days. More and more young Chinese are taking on Western instruments instead of traditional ones, performing Western music (classical, or folk, for example).

During the decade-long open-door policy (1979–89), theater contacts with the West were tentatively resumed after 40 years. Arthur Miller was invited to direct Death of a Salesman in 1983, and the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Company toured in Europe with its opera version of Macbeth in 1987. The influence of Western plays is seen in the social satire Jiaru wo shi zhendi (1979; “If I Were Real”) by Sha Yexin and Gao Xingian’s Artaudian Ye ren (“Wild Man”), initially banned, then produced in 1985.

Government policies strongly affect the economics of Chinese theater as well as dramatic themes and forms.

After the establishment of the People’s Republic, professional theatre troupes received full government subsidy. Following economic liberalization policies of 1986–87, however, troupes were required to earn increasing revenues from box-office income.

At the same time, urban audience attendance declined (in part because of competition from films and television), with the result that some troupes disbanded and others were reduced in size. Government-supported theatre academies in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and regional capitals play an essential role in training young theater artists in traditional as well as modern genres. Foreign theatre exchanges of the 1980s were welcomed by many theater artists who wished to bring new ideas into Chinese theater, in particular to appeal to youthful audiences who were abandoning theater for film and television; these exchanges again were halted in 1989 in the wake of the government’s suppression of the Chinese student democracy movement at Tiananmen Square.

Since the turn of the 20th century, modern Chinese drama and theater have taken their inspirations from a wide range of sources and contributed to a broad array of interests. The influences of a modern world on 20th-century China provoked substantial innovations in the forms of music theater already embedded in Chinese social life for centuries. In addition to music theater, the modern world inspired new forms of drama, including what became known as the spoken drama of the Western stage.

Because so many writers and theater artists shared with political leaders a vision of the theater as a means to create a new culture and persuade large populations of their causes, the stage has been intimately involved with the tumultuous fortunes of the Chinese state. Both the individual works and the history of Chinese drama as a whole have been decisively marked by the policies of its governments.

A significant body of dramatic literature and theater in Chinese languages has been evident throughout the periphery of China—from Hong Kong to Taiwan to Singapore—and across the Pacific. The concept of intercultural theater, which adapts and freely reworks sources from other societies into local productions, is not new, but it gained in significance as more of Chinese society has moved into closer cultural contact with other societies. 

Contemporary Chinese art, often referred to as Chinese avant-garde art, continued to develop since the 1980s as an outgrowth of modern art developments post-Cultural Revolution.

Contemporary Chinese art fully incorporates painting, film, video, photography, and performance. Until recently, art exhibitions deemed controversial have been routinely shut down by police, and performance artists in particular faced the threat of arrest in the early 1990s. More recently there has been greater tolerance by the Chinese government, though many internationally acclaimed artists are still restricted from media exposure at home or have exhibitions ordered closed.

Today, the market for Chinese art, both antique and contemporary, is widely reported to be among the hottest and fastest-growing in the world, attracting buyers all over the world. The Voice of America reported in 2006 that modern Chinese art is raking in record prices both internationally and in domestic markets, some experts even fearing the market might be overheating.

The Economist reported that Chinese art has become the latest darling in the world market according to the record sales from Sotheby's and Christie’s, the biggest fine-art auction houses. The International Herald Tribune reported that Chinese porcelains were fought over in the art market as "if there was no tomorrow".

Contemporary Chinese art also saw record sales throughout the 2000s. In 2007, it was estimated that 5 of the world's 10 best selling living artists at art auction were from China, with artists such as Zhang Xiaogang, whose works were sold for a total of $56.8 million at auction in 2007.

In terms of buying-market, China overtook France in the late 2000s as the world's third-largest art market, after the United States and the United Kingdom, due to the growing middle-class in the country. Sotheby's noted that contemporary Chinese art has rapidly changed the contemporary Asian art world into one of the most dynamic sectors on the international art market. After a slowdown in late 2008, the market for Contemporary Chinese and Asian art saw a major revival in late 2009 with record level sales at Christie's.

After centuries of dominance by European and American buyers, the international buying market for Chinese art has also began to be dominated by Chinese dealers and collectors in recent years. It was reported in 2011, China has become the world's second biggest market for art and antiques, accounting for 23 percent of the world's total art market, behind the United States (which accounts for 34 percent of the world's art market).

The artist Zhang Xiaogang sold a 1993 painting for US$2.3 million in 2006, which included blank faced Chinese families from the Cultural Revolution era, while Yue Minjun's work Execution in 2007 was sold for a then record of nearly $6 million at Sotheby's.

In a country imbued with ancient traditions of conformity, where elders are respected and education is still centred on testing and rote learning, the opening up of cultural and cultural industries in China marks a fundamental change. Some have called this the "rising power generation".

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