Hu: China in Cultural War
Image Credit: Uniphoto Press

Hu: China in Cultural War


Chinese President Hu Jintao says China and the West are engaged in a “cultural war,” and China’s cultural integrity should be defended from “international hostile forces [which] are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China.”

The comments came Monday in an editorial in the Party journal “Seeking Truth” as a follow-up to discussions of “cultural security” at the October meeting of the Party Central Committee. Yesterday’s article added little to what was said back then, but the publication of a signed editorial by Hu is a sign that the slogan is unlikely to be forgotten in the near future. 

The precise reason for penning the editorial now is still unclear, but it seems likely intended to address both concerns about a crisis of values in Chinese society, and the Chinese leader’s keen interest in developing the country’s soft power by creating internationally popular media.

Both the place of publication – a socialist theory magazine founded by Mao Zedong – and the stilted language mark the essay as intended for internal consumption by Party members rather than the general public. It’s essentially an agenda-setting slogan for Party leaders to use to guide rank-and-file members’ policy experimentation. The essay was accompanied by an editorial defending the morality of contemporary Chinese society, a hot topic in China. Many Chinese citizens argue that, lacking both traditional culture and Maoist socialism, China has become a country without values, drawing moral lessons from cases like the October Wang Yue incident in which a child struck by a car was ignored by dozens of passersby.

Paradoxically, the call for strengthening Chinese culture may mean pulling popular (and apolitical)  homegrown content off the air and out of the cinemas – there has been a recent spate of bans directed at popular Chinese TV, including dating shows and, most eccentrically, dramas that involve time travel.  Of course, this type of cultural censorship has a long history in China, including a previous ineffectual effort to force moviegoers to watch a martial arts epic about Confucius instead of Avatar.

Censorship is likely to cripple the international prong of cultural security – the effort to build a high-powered cultural industry.  China’s efforts, such as the recent “Flowers of War,” which starred Christian Bale in what was an effort to communicate the Chinese perspective on World War II to a foreign audience, are frequently overshadowed by negative stories. In this case, Bale was forcibly prevented from meeting a rights activist under informal house arrest.

Despite the ham-fistedness of its efforts, we shouldn’t dismiss the soft power of the Chinese government too soon. They aren’t going to succeed by turning culture into a mass-produced and quality-controlled product, but they will gain influence in the “global south” as an increasing number of developing countries are seeking opportunities to join the fast-growing world of the BRICS.

Having pulled an estimated 600 million people out of poverty in the past few decades, China is increasingly attracting developing world politicians who hope to imitate its self-reliance and rapid growth in growing programs of party-to-party exchange and policy training at party schools. This gives it the potential to build organic influence that doesn’t rely on aping Hollywood blockbusters. 

January 12, 2012 at 14:59

These “universal values” are stamped and identified with western philosophy , government and religion, which leads to a bad case of not-invented-here-syndrome. To accept them is to admit cultural defeat, and elevate western soft power even further. It must be the Chinese way or the highway to preserve Chinese culture.

January 8, 2012 at 22:34

Paranoid, foreign conspiracy. They only way to be immune is to completely cut yourself off from the world like the DPRK. That is why when they go to the DPRK and tell them to reform and follow Russia and China as a model. They laugh, once again the other day, no change. But to do that there is a price as you see with the DPRK.

What he is saying is the west the US is using psychological warfare via the media and culture. They are paranoid about it, which is what the US wants, same with the Jasmine revolution, people walking, everyone is a threat, paranoia. Paranoia is different levels of awareness, it is when you are at a level of paranoia that you see threats that are not there, when you are in trouble.

That was the case with the Jasmine revolution, it was a shadow, now they believe that the media is used and culture is used for psychological warfare a huge conspiracy, people are committed for less and these guys are running a country. Or is it? Maybe the US want them to crackdown or do they? Is it the peoples minds or their minds that are targeted ?. Clearly their thinking and actions are reactive so there is some influence occurring over their thought patterns which is seen via their actions.

People say the crackdown that has been going on is due to leadership change, it is not it is due to global events, they see what has happened in Russia, they see the fall of dictators. And this is just one more aspect of that ongoing crackdown.

We way see them with tinfoil wrapped around their heads to stop people reading their thoughts.

It is not first time either, they have been manipulated and controlled.

So intelligence can follow the network from the Chinese legals to illegals and get them on file, all on video and photographed around the world, huge collection of intelligence. Probably one of the largest in history.

Drive by
January 7, 2012 at 07:54

@ Lung Sha Shou,

Why the communist government is illegitimate? Because you said so? Most Chinese have a strong sense of patriotism, and West culture is not very attractive to them. The reason is that they learned their own history very well. There really is no need for exaggeration. Just telling the history as it was is good enough for most Chinese to realize what kind of evil deeds the Westerners are capable of committing, and to learn to view anything from the West with suspicion. For the Westerners who dream of stirring up things in China, this must be very frustrating. But whom can they blame? Only their own ancestors.

January 6, 2012 at 22:38

(The “Cost of Culture”, by Victor Hugo)
“The biggest error of our time, has been to tilt, I would even say to bend peoples’ minds towards running after material comfort, and consequently to drive them away from the quest for intellectual happiness… We need to remedy to this,…, our mission is to elevate people’s mind, to guide it towards conscience, nobility, righteousness and truth; towards disinterest and magnanimity. It is only then that men will find peace in themselves, and therefore that you will find that people will be at peace with Society”

(Extract of his address to the French Parliament lower house, 10 November 1848)

January 6, 2012 at 22:20

Excellent… excellent comment indeed. Thank you for putting it so aptly.

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