November 12, 2014
Xi Jinping's Culture Wars
Xi Jinping's high profile forum with China's cultural elite has generated a great deal of discussion, both inside and outside China, particularly since state media has drawn comparisons with Mao Zedong's Yan'an Talks on Art and Literature in 1942, where the appropriate relationship between artistic and political considerations was clearly delineated. However, Xi's admonition to integrate ideological and artistic values and avoid "becoming the slave of the market" and "the stench of money" cannot succeed because China's current and contradictory goals virtually dictate that not only does the separation of these two values continue but, even worse, the artistic criterion of so much concern to Mao has now been replaced by crass commercialism and the box office bottom line. Even within Xi's speech, the seeds of contradiction were clear. For example, in common with frequent comments by Chinese film authorities, Xi noted the importance of promoting Chinese films abroad so that they could compete with Hollywood, while at the same time promoting socialist core values at home. Earlier this year, Politburo member and propaganda chief Liu Qibao made very similar comments, praising the box office success China has had in the domestic film market and noting that China also needed to be an international movie power, while at the same time calling for Chinese films to take "socialist core values as a guide" and "contain more elements of the Chinese dream". Liu's comments may appeal to Xi and his colleagues on the Politburo, but they reflect a lack of knowledge of audience preference.