Chinese leaders want to crank out more cultural fare to counter the influence of foreign films. But can Beijing really force-feed its citizens officially sanctioned art?
What got Hu so upset?
Chinese moviegoers love American movies. Some domestic films do well, but, overwhelmingly, the biggest recent box office hits have been Hollywood blockbusters, from Avatar to the Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. In an editorial published Monday in the Communist Party journal Seeking Truth, Hu says China must battle the "international hostile forces" behind the barrage of foreign culture, which he considers part of a "strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China." Hu's push for more homegrown content seems to have a secondary agenda, too: Namely, to counter concerns about a "crisis of values" in China, which were fueled by the widely publicized death of a toddler struck by a car in October and ignored by passersby.
How does China plan to fight back?
It's unclear, but the push may involve strengthening the internet-restricting Great Firewall to keep out foreign influences. Furthermore, "the call for strengthening Chinese culture may mean pulling popular (and apolitical) homegrown content off the air and out of the cinemas," says David Cohen at The Diplomat. The government has recently banned popular Chinese TV programs, including dating shows and "most eccentrically, dramas that involve time travel." Earlier, officials tried to force cinephiles to watch a martial arts epic about Confucius instead of Avatar. China might also step up production of films like Flowers of War, which starred Christian Bale and tried to present China's view of World War II to overseas audiences.
Will it work?
Judging by history, it's a longshot. Other authoritarian governments have tried to hammer the arts into a form they liked — and failed miserably. Stalinist Russia got "socialist realism" and a lot of "clunky middle-brow fiction" as a reward for its efforts, says Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy. The Nazis tried to get rid of "degenerate art" and replace it with a standard Nazi culture, and wound up producing "a lot of trashy kitsch" and virtually nothing of lasting cultural value. The problem for China, Walt says, is that artists need the freedom to exchange ideas and express themselves to do their best work. So by running a government that is determined to stifle creativity and dissident voices, Hu may be losing this war before firing the first shot.