The Development Process of the New China’s Foreign Culture Work during the Past 60 Years
By Cai Wu
The new China’s foreign culture work has passed through 60 years of difficult development. Under all party and state leaders’ care and guidance, the comrades at the cultural front have worked very hard. To diligently meet the needs of socialist and national development, they founded and developed the foreign cultural exchange enterprise. After going through many difficulties, it is a magnificent achievement.
Comrade Mao Zedong said in 1945, “Regarding foreign culture, the anti-foreignism policy is wrong. (We) should absorb the developed foreign cultures as much as possible, so we can use them as references while developing China’s new culture.” In June 1949, when the new China grew from the flames of war, our party selected a group of young artists from the liberated area and sent them to Hungary to participate in the World Youth and Student Peace Friendship Festival. In 1951, our country and Poland signed an intergovernmental culture partnership agreement. This was the first culture partnership agreement that the new China signed with a foreign government. It symbolized the official beginning of the new China’s foreign cultural exchange.
During the beginning period after the new China’s establishment, our country’s wide-range cultural exchange and cooperation was mainly with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, as well as countries in Asian, African and Latin America. At the same time, we also vigorously developed ties with the Western countries. In January 1964, China and France established diplomatic relations; in October 1965, both countries signed a cultural exchange plan for the years 1965 and 1966. This was first intergovernmental cultural exchange plan that our country signed with a Western European country.
Foreign cultural exchange and cooperation greatly helped the development of new China’s cultural enterprise. With the help of socialist countries like the Soviet Union, our country brought in ballet, the symphony, the opera and many other kinds of Western classical arts, trained large numbers of outstanding artists, and greatly enriched and proliferated our country’s culture art industry. By studying the overseas advanced culture managerial experience, we successively established a large number of new art organizations, which were completely different from the folk play groups from old China. Theaters, libraries, art galleries, museums and other public cultural facilities were established. All of these basically changed the poor and weak aspects of the old China culture.
During the Great Cultural Revolution period, the foreign cultural work encountered heavy damage, but the foreign cultural exchange did not completely halt. As a part of the government diplomacy, cultural exchange played a unique role in the state diplomatic situation. At that time, besides the continuation of the art group visits and exchanges with some friendly countries, we also organized the People’s Republic of China Archaeological Relic Exhibition in Western Europe, the US, Japan, Yugoslavia, Romania, Mexico and so on, more than 10 nations. The exhibition received high praise from those countries and was called Relic Diplomacy.
The 3rd Session of the 11th Central Committee of The Communist Party of China (CCCPC) opened the new era of the reform and open policy and the foreign cultural work welcomed its spring with big developments. In September 1978, the State Council issued the document “Regarding the Ministry of Culture Taking Over Management of the Foreign Cultural Exchange Work.” In 1982, the 5th conference of the 5th Session of National People’s Congress (NPC) adopted contents about the development of various cultural exchanges with other countries into the constitution, providing a legal guarantee to constantly expand foreign cultural exchanges for our country.
In 1983, Comrade Deng Xiaoping pointed out, “Implementation of the economy’s open door policy is correct. In the long run, it must be kept. In the long run, the foreign cultural exchanges also should keep growing.” Under the direction of a series of reform and open policies, the scope of our country’s foreign culture relations and exchanges has gradually grown. The foreign cultural exchanges rapidly expanded, from 194 times and 3,035 people in 1979 to 1075 times and 9,499 people in1986, respectively 16 and 40 times the annual average before the Great Cultural Revolution. The number of agreements signed by the intergovernmental culture partnership was approximately twice as much as the number before the Great Cultural Revolution. The scope of exchanges also expanded from the nations traditional friendly (to China) to the western nations, including the U.S., and the surrounding countries.
As the reform and open policy was further implemented, our country’s comprehensive strength and international influence obviously improved and the situation and the responsibility that the foreign cultural work faced has also changed tremendously. In 1997, Comrade Jiang Zemin pointed out in the 15th CCCPC, “(We) must be persistent on the self-centered and self-adopted principle, develop many kinds of foreign cultural exchanges, learn the advantage from various countries’ culture and demonstrate the achievements of China’s cultural achievements to the world. (We must) firmly prevent corrosion from the various kinds of decayed cultures.” Since the beginning of the new era, the Central Party Committee led by General Secretary, Comrade Hu Jintao, has set a series of new higher requests for the foreign cultural work according to recent developments and the new changes in domestic and foreign situations. The report from the 15th CCCPC recommended to “continue widely developing grass roots diplomacy, expand foreign cultural exchanges, improve friendship between the people and promote the development of relationships between countries.” In the report on the 17 CCCPC, General Secretary Hu Jintao discussed the new idea of the enhancement of the “soft” power of national culture for the first time. Enhancing the soft power of national culture and strengthening the influence and competitiveness of Chinese culture became the fundamental goal of our country’s cultural reconstruction. Culture, politics, and the economy became three important areas in our diplomatic work.
At present, the foreign cultural work basically forms four big work domains: cultural diplomacy, cultural exchanges, cultural foreign propaganda and cultural trade, which constitute multi-dimensional, multi-level, wide-domain and multi-channel work patterns.
Regarding the Cultural Diplomacy Aspect, Party and state leaders, like Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and others, personally initiated and participated in a series of significant culture diplomatic activities. Since the new era started, Chinese cultural diplomacy has become more and more active every day and has developed into a vivid display on the international stage. The Sino-French Culture Years, the Sino-Russian Country Year, the Sino-Japanese Culture and Sports Exchange Year and so on, a series of large-scale cultural diplomacy activities, obtained high recognition and broad participation from domestic and foreign governments and international communities.
The quantities of projects, the large scale, the high-scale specifications and the profound influences were unprecedented and have improved China’s international cultural influence enormously. Among them, the Sino-French Culture Years lasted two years and President Hu Jintao and President Chirac both attended the cultural year’s key activities. Over a dozen cities in China and France and over a million people were able to personally get to know cultures in other countries. Not only did it greatly advance China and France’s cultural exchanges, but it also set a good example for the resulting effects on other European countries. After 2005, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Britain and so on all conducted a “cultural year” or a “cultural festival” jointly with China, and have awakened a Chinese culture fever.
Cultural Exchange and Cooperation
As of now, our country has entered into agreements with 145 foreign countries for cultural cooperation and made plans for nearly 800 annual cultural exchange activities, as well as maintaining intimate cooperation with over 1000 cultural organizations. From the central administration to the local district, from government to civilians, the scale and the scope of cultural exchanges has broadened like never before, with increasingly colorful contents and formats, through more diverse channels and at various levels.
At the same time that we make efforts to export Chinese culture, we have also actively imported advanced culture from the world into China. Since the 1990s, we have hosted a series of programs such as “The International Music Year for Symphonies,” “The International Singing and Dance Year,” and “The International Fine Arts Year,” in which we imported first-class art productions from all over the world.
As we entered the new century, we established the international cultural exchange platform including the “Beijing International Music Festival,” the “Asian Art Festival,” and the “China International Folk Arts Festival,” so as to build a bridge between the Chinese people, and foreign people and artists around the world. At the same time, these programs serve to lay a foundation for China to become the key country in Asia for international cultural activities. Through bilateral, multi-lateral, cross regional and cross-country cultural exchanges, we have strengthened our rights of speech in multilateral cultural affairs in the international society.
In 1989, we became a member of the UN’s “Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property,” and in 1997, we joined the UNIDROIT “Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.” We were able to obtain the return of numerous cultural relics from the U.K., U.S., Japan and Denmark. In 2006, China won a good number of votes and became a member of the Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and thus became involved in the “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage” as well as the “Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.”
We have also successfully entered the core leadership level of the International Council of Museums, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. We therefore have the right of speech in stipulating the rules regarding the safeguarding of international cultural heritage.
Up until 2009, China has successfully applied for 38 World Heritages, including 27 World Cultural Heritages and four Intangible Cultural Heritages, and thus greatly promoted the protection of domestic cultural heritage.
We have firmly followed the policy of making a priority of entertaining and influencing foreign mainstream society. Through a serious of diverse and colorful cultural activities, each with specific goals, we have introduced and promoted China to the world. After 30 years’ of this endeavor, we have established a series of influential brand names for foreign propaganda in forms of cultural activities; for example, overseas activities such as celebrations of the “Spring Festival,” National Day, and “Getting to Know China” have become important vehicles to spread Chinese culture. Among them, celebrating the Spring Festival in overseas countries has covered 18 countries. In Bangkok, London and Sydney, hundreds of thousands of people are attracted to Spring Festival celebrations every year. Foreign politicians and VIPs attach importance to this activity and actively participate in the celebration. It has become an important arena to promote Chinese culture. Our overseas cultural propaganda front is thus constantly strengthened.
China has now established 96 Divisions of Culture at the Chinese Embassy/Consulates in 82 countries. Since 1988, we have set up Chinese Culture Centers in the Republic of Mauritius, Benin, Egypt, France, the Republic of Malta, Korea and Germany. We have made rapid progress in our grass-roots project of spreading Chinese culture overseas. In the recent 10 years, we have made great efforts to have our radio and TV programs reach overseas audiences. China International Radio’s multilingual programs are broadcasting over 700 hours cumulatively every day. China Central TV’s international channel has more than 100 million overseas users. More than 100 thousand paid users are watching “Great Wall satellite TV.” On the other hand, we are also actively involved in the “Movies Reaching Overseas” project. In recent years, we have held a China Movie Festival (or China Movie Week) in overseas countries over 50 times annually, broadcasting over 400 domestically produced movies. Each year, we select over 200 domestically produced movies to participate in nearly 100 international movie festivals. A number of movies have won top prizes in major international movie festivals.
We have established a series of international cultural trade platforms that have had a wide range of influence. We came up with a group of cultural enterprises aimed at overseas business and trade; these were capable of competing in the international market. On one hand, these entities made a good profit; on the other hand, they effectively promoted Chinese culture. The first international commercial art show originated in 1979. We have made great progress in the past 30 years. We produced the original acrobatic ballet Swan Lake, which grossed 43 million Yuan in foreign countries. In 2007, the China Arts and Entertainment Group alone earned 8.89 million dollars through overseas commercial performances. The structure of the copyright trade is improving every year. The import and export ratio of copyrights fell from 15:1 in 1997 to 5:1 in 2007. The annual export of books has reached over 7.3 million, twice as many as imported books. The number of exported newspapers and magazines has reached over 4 million, reaching over 80 countries and regions, with an annual growth rate of 62.4%. Our publishing industry has therefore completed the transformation from “importing” to “reaching out.” Movie and video products take more and more of the overseas market share and have had an increasingly significant impact. Every year, we have had several domestic movie productions getting into the overseas theatres for mainstream audiences. According to statistics, the total export of movie and video products was approaching $3 billion in 2008. A portion of this figure, revenue generated from ticket sales for domestic movies, reached 2.528 billion dollars. The trading network of China’s movie and video products covers nearly 100 countries and regions in Asia, Europe, Oceania, America and Africa.
As we review the glorious path of our foreign cultural work over the past 60 years, we conclude with the following major experiences and inspirations:
1. We must continue to keep the entire country moving in the same direction. We must earnestly implement the guiding policies made by the central CCP committee regarding foreign affairs and foreign cultural affairs, focusing on the two big projects – domestic and international, and firmly protect our nation’s interests.
2. The overall goal and task of foreign cultural affairs are to promote the mutual understanding and friendship between Chinese people and people all over the world. Through vivid cultural exchanges, Chinese culture will reach out to overseas countries, and thus expand the impact of Chinese culture on international society, so as to improve the soft power of our nation.
3. We must combine the quintessence from elite cultures from all over the world. We must learn to identify through comparison and borrow through exchange, in order to make the socialist cultural undertakings prosper, and to meet the increasing spiritual and cultural demands from the people.
4. We must persevere in cultural sovereignty, and at the same time respect the diversity of world culture. While spreading and emphasizing the independence and sovereignty of the values in our culture, we must strive to maintain the diversity of world culture, and respect the differences between diverse cultures. We must promote dialogues between different cultures on an equal basis, and promote harmony and cultural prosperity all over the world.
5. We must persevere in bridging the common feelings and emotions of humankind, and take this as our basis. We must use culture to nurture people, use culture to promote mutual friendship, and to help Chinese people establish friendship with people all over the world.
6. We must persevere in integrating our resources, with the government taking the leading role and have all circles in society get actively involved; we must enhance cooperation between the central government and local governments, and between government and civil organizations, forming a multi-faceted, multi-level communication structure.
7. We must keep up with the trend, and continue to reform and renovate the style and content in our cultural exchanges, encouraging originality, and creativity, while combining traditional culture and modern publicity methods, and combining modern culture and modern technology. We must pay attention to research and understand the characteristics of foreign audiences, so as to follow the correct rules in cultural exchange and improve the influence and appeal of culture.
8. We must learn from the commercial operation mode and channels most commonly adopted in international society, and use them to promote our cultural enterprises and products, expanding their market share on the international market, and improving their competitiveness.
9. We must always protect the cultural sovereignty and cultural security, defending against the invasion of harmful culture, and taking controls in accordance with the legal system, so as to supervise the cultural exchange in a scientific manner.
10. We must pay attention to the development of manpower and the battlefront. We must train a professional foreign cultural team that maintains high quality and efficiency, and make efforts to construct a variety of battlefronts in overseas countries to spread Chinese culture.
By the Minister of Culture
Qiushi Theory Online, August 1, 2009