Cultural businesses should learn from other nations and balance corporate profits with a proper social role
Editor's note: What should the country focus on in its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015)? This article is part of China Daily's New Roadmap series that brings readers the views of experts on this subject.
As an important period in which to realize a moderately well-off society in an all-round way, the years from 2010 to 2020 are a golden time to facilitate a boom in China's cultural industry.
The 12th Five-Year period (2011-2015), a crucial part of the decade, offers historic opportunities for further development of China's cultural industry. The country should not only strive to consolidate its cultural development achievements over the past decades, it should also try to resolve problems that have emerged during this process.
It should seize the opportunity to forge itself into an international cultural power to meet people's ever-growing cultural demands and boost the sector's role in the national economy.
Despite remarkable progress over the past decades, China's cultural industry has failed to boost its growth through innovation. Instead, the sector's rapid development has largely depended on the exploitation of the country's material cultural resources and the development of its cultural tourism. A growth mode was aimed at increasing its economic returns through the exhaustive development and utilization of the country's natural and historical sites.
This primary development stage needs the extensive use of land and enormous government financing to sustain, bringing private enterprises, rather than the government, the largest investor, the lion's share of economic profits. Such a development model usually gives rise to vicious competition among different regions and cultural business operators and results in the exploitation of the country's natural scenery.
With such a long-established development orientation, the country's massive cultural products over the past decades have mainly catered to consumers' low-end tastes. Therefore, no matter whether films, TV dramas or shows, radio programs or publications, all are focused on their ratings, sales or box-office revenues, or their investment to returns ratio. Consequently, visual appeal becomes the overwhelming criteria with which to measure their success and economic values.
In this atmosphere, some unhealthy values and concepts, that have become widespread in modern urban cultural consumption, have penetrated the country's booming, but still fledgling, cultural sector and compromised its purpose and people-focused value. As a result, the pursuit of fashion, public participation and a pleasant sensation has become dominant, while not enough attention has been paid to the much-needed elevation of aesthetics and mankind's inherent sense of values.
The country's cultural sector has realized its economic effects mainly through the development of some cultural industrial parks and its large-scale industrialization. However, we should appreciate that the real value of cultural products is not based on size alone. The rapid development of China's cultural sector over the past decade has been largely attributed to the government's preferential policies toward the industry and the assistance of enormous public resources.
However, the government is yet to make clear whether it should undertake bigger responsibilities in offering public cultural services or boost the commercialized development of the cultural business. The two policy orientations will decide whether the government will exercise different management mentalities and administrative means, as well as different policies and measures.
Cultural sectors have long faced overlapping management from a variety of central departments and organs, among which there usually exists conflicts of interests. Such a management model has compromised the authority of the government and its public credibility. At the same time, the government has also remained ambiguous and subjective in its management of cultural products while lacking a set of unified and unambiguous industrial standards. As a result, some cultural products still face a series of problems that possibly have negative effects on the public's legitimate cultural consumption rights.
Some of the problems that have emerged in the development of China's cultural sectors stem from the country's imperfect cultural institutions and thus will be very difficult to resolve in the short term. Some are an inevitable result of the country's cultural market prosperity that can be directed or avoided through standardized market rules and unified concepts.
In the country's 12th Five-Year Plan, all these problems should be addressed to lay a solid foundation for the development and prosperity of the nation's cultural cause.
After a decade of cultural boom, China has formed a variety of cultural development models represented by Beijing and Shanghai, Guangdong and Yunnan provinces respectively, and has accumulated valuable experiences for the country to realize its target of increasing its cultural values to 5 percent of the country's gross national product by 2015. In the 12th Five-Year Plan, the government should sum up these experiences and popularize them to the rest of the country.
The past decade has also witnessed a boom in the international cultural market, in which countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Singapore have created fierce competition with the developed cultural powers, represented by the US, Britain, Germany, Japan, France and the Republic of Korea. China should learn from these international experiences and set a proper cultural development target in its upcoming Five-Year Plan, so as to lay a solid foundation for the internationalization of the country's cultural industry.
The government should also take into consideration market efficiency and social equity in developing the country's cultural sector and try to balance the relations between cultural and economic development.
The author is deputy director of the Institute for Cultural Industries, Peking University.