Editor's IntroductionMichael Keane
It is a very rare event when a book by a senior Chinese policy advisor gets published in English. More often the accepted format is biography or auto-biography, generally published once the person has retired.
This book was first published by Xinhua Press in Chinese in a longer version in 2009. Initially it was directed at the Chinese reader, more specifically the Chinese cultural academic, and for this reason some of the material is not repeated in this abridged version. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the author represents four speaking positions, and the messages that emerge from this work need to be contextualized accordingly.
First, Li Wuwei is a researcher with a background in industrial economics, econometrics and economic management. In China, where reform is the operative principle of economic, social and cultural development, economists have a leading role in policy advocacy. Industrial economics in China largely concerns what a traditional Chinese Marxist scholar might call the ‘productive forces’, namely the combination of natural resources, government policy, competitive markets, infrastructure, human capital, and business strategy. Increasingly in China we notice these factors aggregated as inputs of ‘capital’: intellectual capital, structural capital, technological capital, human capital, cultural capital etc. Essentially, this approach infers that these ‘capitals’ can be ‘upgraded’, which may take place through investment or through the self-organizing activities of the market itself. In the book we thus find the term ‘upgrading’ used frequently.
Second, Li is a senior policy advisor. He is a Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and a Vice-Chairperson of the Central Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang Revolutionary Committee. The CPPCC dates back to pre-Liberation times when both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang (Guomindang) agreed to form an alliance in the post-war period, that is after the Japanese imperialists had been defeated. The first ‘conference’ was held in Chongqing in 1946. When the Kuomintang moved to Taiwan in 1949 under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Chek (Jiang Jieshi) following the establishment of the PRC, the title Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was conferred. In many respects this Conference operates as an advisory group for legislators and includes ‘minor democratic parties’.
The Chinese Kuomintang Revolutionary Committee is the most influential of the eight sanctioned minor political parties in China. One of its important roles is to provide policy advocacy as a participating party in the framework of a multi-party cooperation system under CCP's leadership. The central government often attaches great importance to their proposals. Initially founded with a more left-wing policy agenda than its exiled parent, it maintains considerable assets throughout China. In effect, Li's position representing the Kuomintang in both these groups allows him to input directly into national policy in a unique way and offers the chance to express perspectives that are perhaps less orthodox while still aligned with the general development project of the nation-state. In addition to these official roles, Li is also Director of the Shanghai Creative Industries Association, which was formed in 2004. This group operates out of Shanghai and has been responsible for the rapid dissemination of local policies that have facilitated Shanghai's emergence as arguably the creative industries capital of China.
Thirdly, Li is a researcher, an educator, and a Professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences where he was the former Director of the Industrial Economics Institute, and more recently the Director of the Research Centre for Creative Industries. The book therefore functions as a textbook for researchers in the centre and presents the latest thinking on how China is applying this international development concept in theory and in practice.
Finally, Li Wuwei is an independent thinker: a person who by virtue of the above three positions is able to offer a somewhat different perspective on China's reforms than what the non-Chinese reader might expect from central officials. Li was born in Dongyang city in Zhejiang Province in 1942. While he is obviously associated with developments in the Shanghai municipality, Li constantly travels around China introducing his ideas. By virtue of his background in economics and his political seniority he is regarded nationally as the leading spokesperson on the cultural and creative industries in China; he invariably opens major economic development conferences and ‘international cultural and creative industries expos’ which have become a feature of the Chinese cultural scene in the past few years.
The Power of an Idea
How Creativity is Changing China is a book about the diffusion of an idea into the People's Republic of China. The idea is that creativity is essential for the renewal of Chinese society. While it might seem strange to suggest that China lacks creativity – for instance, think of the splendour of Song landscape art, Tang poetry, its exquisite bronzes, a rich and colourful language – there is a widespread view within China that the nation's well of creativity has run low and needs ways to refresh itself. But what does the word creativity now mean in China? Is it something that can be stimulated from the top or is it more about wider social transformation? Indeed, Li's view is that China is moving towards a creative society, which is a more specific indicator of cultural progress than the slogan ‘harmonious society’, which is used to refer to all facets of people's lives.
The following section fills in background necessary to understand what has been a major turning point in the administration of cultural policy in China. Something quite remarkable is taking place. It seems that China is overflowing with artists, animators, designers, and writers. Ideas like creativity and innovation appear constantly in the press and in Chinese television reports. The internet, which now has over 400 million users, is generating more and more users and uses.1 How has this come about? Does this really portend a creative society?
The Chinese creative society may be a long way off – 2020 in Li's reckoning – but its roots go back to the 1990s, a decade when the terms ‘cultural market’ and ‘cultural industries’ became accepted ways of describing the secularization of Chinese culture. By secularization I refer to the fact that Chinese culture, even representational art, from the 1940s until the 1990s was effectively aligned to ideology. In the past scholars used the terms ‘official mainstream culture’ and ‘engineers of the soul’ to describe the supervision of cultural workers and their role in propaganda work.
Cultural forms were mechanisms of social reform. The mass media assumed a central ‘guiding’ role. The kind of subject sanctioned by cultural propaganda in the Maoist era was a self-sacrificing, altruistic collective subject. People were called to undergo conversion to the cause of revolution, following which they were trained to be socialist citizens. The Chinese subject was moulded through cultural propaganda disseminated in the educational system, in study sessions, and through the mass media.
Dramatic changes took place in Chinese society during the 1980s and 1990s. Many of these changes were directly attributed to the Chinese Communist Party's economic reforms presided over by Deng Xiaoping. These reforms were wide-ranging, not only in the sense of re-aligning material interests, but also in seeking to change people's conduct, to make people more productive and less dependent on the state. Upon assuming leadership in 1978, Deng distanced his government from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and sought to redefine people's roles as Chinese subjects. Deng's endorsement of wealth creation stands out as perhaps the most definitive break with the egalitarian social policies of the Mao Zedong era. Deng's much-quoted dictum ‘to get rich is glorious’ quickly led to aspirations of success and prosperity. At the same time Deng spoke of the idea of a xiaokang society; that is, a ‘moderately prosperous society’, one in which all people are well off in a way similar to developed countries in the West.
The role that cultural representations played in the remaking of the Chinese social consciousness during the People's Revolution cannot be underestimated. However, the Chinese propensity for wealth creation is a longer story than this short interval within a long history. It is almost as if the denial of the market under revolutionary socialism was an aberration. At the end of the Cultural Revolution the mood had changed from revolution to reform, from the iron rice bowl system of social welfare to a market economy, albeit one in which the government still played a guiding role. The cultural market took shape more gradually. The US scholar Richard Kraus wrote, ‘State-sponsored culture, when no longer a monopoly, must contend for audiences, rather than take them for granted, and runs the risk of becoming irrelevant’,2 an idea encapsulated in Zha Jianying's China Pop, the first book length account in English of China's new secular culture.3 Cultural production expanded as people's livelihood moved away from complete reliance on the state. Cultural producers were forced to survive with reduced state funding.
Following the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP in 1978, China's cultural sphere began to change. In the 1980s China cautiously opened its doors to the outside world. New terms seeped into the Chinese lexicon competing with the ever-present political slogans. The Western world, and in particular the US entertainment industries began to make plans to enter China, some moguls thinking that it would be a simple matter of offering a choice of television programs and magazines.4 The early 1980s witnessed a first stage of media liberalization but it would be a long time before Western media could make inroads. The principal organs of publicity – television, press and radio – were alerted to the task of seeking alternative financing arrangements.
A noteworthy landmark in cultural production was the rehabilitation of advertising. During the previous three decades of socialism, the creative potential of China's cultural workers had been subsumed in the promoting of Party doctrines. Propaganda was in effect state advertising. Under a system in which cultural goods were produced according to quotas and distributed according to plan, product advertising was redundant and even considered wasteful. On January 28 1979, China's first television advertisement appeared promoting a herbal wine on Shanghai television. A month later viewers witnessed the first foreign advertisement, a promotion for the Westinghouse Corporation. In November 1979, the CCP Central Committee had formally ratified advertising in the mass media.
While advertising heralded the rising power of the audience, changes in the media were incremental and cautious, and more about decentralising financial responsibility than changing the pedagogical role of the media; it was not until the early 1990s, following Deng Xiaoping's 1992 ‘southern tour’ to the new territories of Shenzhen that the investment model for cultural production began to change.
The 1990s witnessed a release of productive capacity in China. The market became the de facto logic of reform. With the expansion of private enterprise, much of it financed by international investment, China moved inexorably towards integration into the global economy. As international business waited in anticipation for protectionist barriers to fall, the problem of stimulating productive forces continued to confront Chinese reformers. Inefficient and over-staffed state-owned enterprises were the target of policy in the Fifteenth National Congress of 1997, leading to greater freeing up of public resources in order to establish a ‘modern enterprise system’, echoing the principle of ‘holding on to large (state-owned enterprises) while letting the small go to market’ (zhuada fangxiao). Within a few years policy makers had green lighted a plan for media conglomerates (jituan) which were intended to guarantee ‘cultural security’ (wenhua anquan). In effect, the discourse of cultural security was a precursor to China's succession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. While cultural security maintains some supporters, the other side of the coin is that China seeks to be a successful cultural exporter. It is perhaps significant that the term cultural security is not used in this book.
China's Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001–2005) signalled a new emphasis on raising productivity through technology and innovation. It was at this historical juncture, coterminous with China's accession to the World Trade Organization, that culture came to play a major development issue. During the ratification of the Tenth Five Year Plan the term ‘cultural industries’ (wenhua chanye) was formalized. The cultural industries had experienced a long gestation.5 The commercial exploitation of cultural resources advocated by many reformers led to a rush of policy-making, often made on the run, by provincial and local governments anxious to find an appropriate ‘cultural industry strategy’.
These developments were embedded in a larger development discourse. The Chinese national innovation strategy (NIS) was a response to a rising tide of international reports about knowledge-based economies, innovation as competitive advantage, and a shift in the world economy from goods to services, a world in which routine production of commodities was moving to the newly industrialized world. New supply chains emerged to exploit China's low cost economic development model. With China taking advantage of non-unionized labour to procure overseas contracts, factories proliferated, particularly in medium-sized Chinese cities.
It is at this point that we begin to pick up where Li Wuwei begins his narrative. China's focus on its low-cost manufacturing constitutes a central theme of the book's argument. According to Li, there is a saying:
They eat the meat and we eat the bone. They eat the rice and we eat the bran.
Li believes this illustrates the conundrum of ‘Made in China’. Essentially, ‘sweat industries’ have been the reason for China's emergence as an economic hegemon.6 Li argues that China's dependence on exports and low-cost processing, in effect its core economic model during the past two decades, has produced unwanted consequences. The desire to attract manufacturing to China, whether final products or ‘trade in tasks’, has generated widespread disregard for environmental protection and workplace safety. In many cases foreign companies have been complicit.
A similar view has been expressed on several occasions by Premier Wen Jiabao.7 With over 80 per cent of China's GDP going to exports and fixed investment, and with export demand fluctuating in the wake of the financial crisis, China needs to have alternative development models. This is a powerful message of this book. Moreover, with costs rising in China's cities, low-end production has moved to less-expensive inland locations, and increasingly to third world countries including Africa, ironically a continent where China has provided much aid. In particular, China's large municipalities, now with an excess of unproductive factory space, have called for cleaner, greener solutions to development. Li argues that China must find a new development model, a view supported by China's most eminent economic policy advisor, Hu Angang, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.8
The Creative Industries come to China
The concept of the ‘creative industries’ has been the subject of much contestation and misunderstanding since its formulation by the British Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the late-1990s.9 The definition is by now well known: ‘activities that have their origin in individual creative skill and talent and which have the potential for wealth creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.’10 The DCMS nominated thirteen industry sectors; most have been accepted in countries where the idea has been picked up albeit with some degree of variation. One of the criticisms of the creative industries is that the concept is difficult to define: where does creativity begin and end for instance? Many of the policy arguments in support of the creative industries are premised on data that shows that they are the fastest growing segment of the economy.11 This strength of argument relies on bundling; in other words, what is included in the mix. Different regions in China interpret the idea according to their needs and resources. In many cities, in particular Beijing, the concept has been expanded to include tourism; this considerably increases the value, the scale, and therefore the impact of the creative industries. In developed countries the emphasis is less on traditional culture, which is often seen as ‘the cultural industries’, and more on new media, user-created content and consumer productivity. In developed economies new media are the key drivers of the so-called ‘creative economy’.
For some critics the creative industries idea is an expedient neo-liberal inversion of the term ‘culture industry’, coined by Horkhemier and Adorno in the 1940s. In this critical account culture had become administered, homogenous, subject to the forces of industrial capitalism.12 For others, the ‘creative industries’ symbolizes a shift towards open innovation, a wiki-model of knowledge sharing in which citizen-consumers constantly rewrite the rules of creative engagement.13 From this perspective the term ‘industry’ is far less visible and arguably increasingly redundant. Between control and openness, however, we note utilitarian definitions. Indeed, the creative industries are seen primarily as an economic development strategy in China and this constitutes one of the central themes of this book. Industrialization is seen as a positive force, as post-industrialization, namely the shift from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’.14 The theme of post-industrial society sits comfortably alongside the creative industries. There are similar ways of expressing the post-industrial economy; the US has long spoken of the ‘entertainment industries’ and the copyright industries while Japan and Korea now talk of the rising value of content industries.
The ‘creative industries’ initially found favour in the former colonial territories of Singapore and Hong Kong in 2003, before moving to Mainland China. As Li Wuwei describes in Chapter One, the concept had its gestation in Shanghai in 2004. In 2004–2005, the first wave of international conferences on creative industries was held in Beijing15 and Shanghai.16 These are now annual events, combined with performances and business transactions. Li was, and remains the principal architect and proponent of this idea in China. By 2007, the slogan ‘From Made in China to Created in China’ appeared in national and local press reports on the mainland.17
The question that Li investigates in this book is not whether creativity is changing China – but ‘how creativity is changing China.’ The book is organized according to its original purpose, to introduce the idea of the creative industries and to show how it is generating change not only in core cultural activities such as film, design and fashion, but how it facilitates innovation in other parts of the economy and in social relations. Li's development model describes a transformation from creative industries specifically to the creative economy, more generally and ultimately to the creative society.
The idea of creative industries is not a neutral concept in China. In order for it to be validated by the Ministry of Culture it has to connect with the policy mainstream. In effect, it has to coexist with the ‘cultural industries’, which is the ‘industrial development’ terminology favoured in Beijing. The term ‘cultural creative industries’, also used in Taiwan, is a means of compromising between two camps. The cultural industries are more directly associated with traditional culture and a conservative social agenda: that is, they are associated with cultural security more so than internationalization. In many places in China the terms cultural and creative industries are used interchangeably, depending on the audience of the day.
In this book there is an important distinction made between technological creativity and cultural creativity, although Li maintains the two are interdependent. Indeed, the conjoining of culture and creativity (in the term cultural creative industries) does reconcile with a traditional Chinese world view. According to David Hall and Roger Ames the Chinese metaphysical world is based on correlative thinking; for instance correlations between heaven (tian) and humanity (ren), between change (bian) and continuity (tong), between substance (ti) and function (yong). According to this world view, the well-known phrase ‘as different as night and day’ would be ‘as different as night-becoming-day from day-becoming-night’.18 Without wishing to essentialize what is a very significant policy moment, we might say the correlation we see today is one of ‘culture-becoming-creativity’ and ‘creativity-becoming-culture’.19
In addition, the creative industries ‘fit’ the nation's attempt to refresh its image and to build international soft power. Li refers to the concept of ‘cultural soft power’. This idea has come into the Chinese lexicon in recent years and its articulation into the cultural field is evident in the many policies that are attempting to increase the profile of Chinese culture, both nationally and internationally.
A Changing China
In the book we find many references to how creative industries function as a means of ‘upgrading’ China's economic structure, as well as society and people's values. Because Li is wearing four different ‘hats’ – economist, politician, researcher and independent thinker, the content is to a large extent instructional and the tone normative. The book is directed at the Chinese reader; it is meant to convince policy makers of the need to shift the development model from an export-driven model to a consumption-oriented one.
With Li being an industrial economist, we find a deal of emphasis on economic theory. As mentioned in the beginning of this introduction the concept of ‘capital’ informs mainstream Chinese economics; in the book these include intellectual capital, knowledge capital, social capital, consumer capital and cultural capital, all of which are metaphors on the notion of physical capital. The key idea is capital stock exists; this yields a rate of return and is subject to accumulation by investment. The role of policy is therefore to provide the right policy levers to allow the accumulation and the upgrading of the economy, to encourage investments in clusters and in infrastructure.
In economic theory this is essentially a neo-classical model with socialist underpinnings. The discussion of a creative economy does however allow a connection with a more Schumpeterian approach in which entrepreneurial activities change the value of various capital stocks, increasing the value of some and decreasing the value of others. This in turn generates structural change and produces uncertainty. Creative endeavours are based on uncertainty – that is, we generally don't know whether we like a cultural product until we consume it. While future return-on-investment is not so amenable to prediction this does not mean that the environment for creative activity cannot be planned. The term ‘creative economy’ therefore encapsulates a range of emerging organizational strategies and attempts to generate profit in clusters, bases, zones, quarters, and in new industry sectors where business models are untested.
In China the creative economy illustrates the aspirations of municipal and local governments to generate capital from the cultural market. Cultural policy is therefore closely aligned with economic growth theory, urban regeneration and local entrepreneurship. In this triangular relationship there is a sense that government must shoulder much of the responsibility for planning. As a result, there is recognition of the need for ‘informed’ top-down planning. This book provides a blueprint for how culture is being re-imagined in China.
Along with the policy task of prescribing solutions, Li raises critical issues in relation to the important question of tolerance. In particular, the final chapter addresses the challenge of promoting greater diversity. The message I believe is that the goal of a creative society cannot be achieved simply from the top down. A more comprehensive social transformation has to occur.
In the past few years hundreds of cultural and creative clusters have been built in China. Many of these are literally termed ‘bases’ (jidi) and provide the material infrastructure and space for the production of goods and services related to the cultural economy, such as animation, film and TV, fashion and industrial design. Some of these such as Beijing's 798 Art Zone and Shanghai's Tianzifang are internationally recognized; because they attract large numbers of visitors they are able to deliver quantifiable economic benefits. However, we are yet to know exactly how the majority are functioning. There are suggestions that many will not survive if they fail to deliver returns. Echoing Richard Florida's proposition that city growth strategies should be based on building communities that are attractive to creative people, Li Wuwei looks beyond the economics of clusters.20 Li's advocacy of creative communities resonates with what many in the international community expect to see in an open society. His emphasis on ‘social creativity’ and ‘creative communities’ provide new ways to think about the situated nature of art, design, and media production in China. He talks frequently about ‘borderless industries’, about the need to understand how interactions between people contribute to the soft infrastructure of creativity.
For those unfamiliar with China's recent social reforms, the theme of diversity might appear a bit unusual. After all, the international media is quick to criticize China's reluctance to embrace Western-style democracy. Many in the international community, particularly commentators in liberal democracies, view the artist, the filmmaker, and the writer as a person who speaks ‘uncomfortable truths’. However comparisons with Western liberal democracies often miss the great advances that have been made in China over the past decade or more. Frequent visitors to China will be aware of a changing China, a China where critical views can be expressed openly, albeit within limits. Writers are engaged in truth telling, in exposing the darker side of society. Filmmakers are exploring more sensitive issues. Artists are proliferating.
But the creative society comes with no guarantees of success; it thrives on constraints; we need creative ways to solve problems, but in the process this raises more questions. Ideally such a creative society reflects an open system model; overcoming one constraint leads to possibilities as well as new challenges. Creative destruction is something to be embraced not feared. In the creative economy inputs into one area change others, markets are volatile. There are other constraints, such as opportunity and transactions costs. Becoming a creative artist, or a creative entrepreneur, usually requires considerable investment in time, the process of developing one's skills in a particular domain that could be spent on other economic pursuits. In addition, the creative person often needs to compromise their output in order to get their work in the marketplace; for instance, they may need to avail themselves of agents and intermediaries.
The shift from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’ is underway, of this there can be no doubt. However, this is not a case of simply substituting one development model for another. As Richard Sennett has argued, ‘making, whether this is basic manufacturing or the crafting of artefacts, depends on the development and refining of skills’.21 These skills and techniques in turn develop through the powers of imagination, what we call creativity. To ensure that imagination and creativity work in tandem we need language expressed in various forms: debates, forums, written recipes, guide books and even chance encounters in tea (or coffee shops). Creative communities and ‘communities of practice’ are grassroots manifestations of social transformation in China. The language of policy makers is also important. In this regard, this book is a major achievement: it provides a compelling account of the nature of change in China.
How Creativity is Changing China - Notes and Bibliography:
1. From 2008 to 2010 China jumped twenty places in the World Economic Forum's Global Networked Readiness Rankings, from 57 to 37. See http://www.weforum.org/pdf/GITR10/TheNetworkedReadinessIndexRankings.pdf [accessed 8 March 2011]. For a discussion of alternative uses of the internet see Qiu, Jack, "Working Class Network Society : Communication Technology and the Information Have-Less in Urban China." MIT Press Cambridge, 2009
3. Zha, Jianying, "China Pop : How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture." The New Press New York, 1995 . A number of excellent books, and many articles, have been written since then. These include Schell, Orville and Jorgensen, Jim, "Mandate of Heaven : A New Generation of Entrepreneurs, Dissidents, Bohemians and Technocrats Lays Claim to China's Future." Simon & Schuster New York, 1995 Kong, Shuyu, "Consuming Literature : Best Sellers and the Commercialization of Literary Production in Contemporary China." Stanford University Press Stanford, 2005 Richard C. Kraus, "The Party and the Arty in China : the New Politics of Culture." Rowman and Littlefield Lanham Boulder, 2004 Wang, Jing, "Brand New China : Advertising, Media and Commercial Culture." Harvard University Press Cambridge Mass, 2008 Kang, Liu, "Globalization and Cultural Trends in China." University of Hawaii Press Honolulu, 2004 Huot, Claire, "China's New Cultural Scene : A Handbook of Changes." Duke University Press Durham, 2000 . Special journal issues on China's creative industries include the International Journal of Cultural Studies 9 (3), 2006; The Chinese Journal of Communication 1 (2), 2009; and the Creative Industries Journal 1 (3), 2010.
7. In March 2007 Premier Wen first raised the problem of the four ‘uns’ affecting China's economy: ‘unbalanced, unstable, uncoordinated and unsustainable’. See Roach, Stephen, "The Next Asia : Opportunities and Challenges for a New Globalization." John Wiley and Sons New Jersey, 2009 Introduction p. xii.
13. The research conducted by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology focuses on the role that creative innovation plays in society. For information and publications see http://www.cci.edu.au/ [accessed 8 March 2011].
15. The conference was called The First International Creative Industries and Innovation Conference. Its theme was ‘Creative Industries and Innovation in China’. The event was initiated by founding Dean John Hartley of QUT Creative Industries Faculty (see International Journal of Cultural Studies, volume 9 no 3, Sept 2006). It was co-sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Prof. Zhang Xiaoming) and the Humanistic Olympics Research Centre of the Renmin University (Prof. Jin Yuanpu).
16. The China Creative Industries Development Forum 2004 was held in Shanghai in Dec. 2004. Its theme was ‘Creative Economy, leading China's Urban Development’. The first forum on creative industries was initiated by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Shanghai Theatre Academy, and was supported by the Shanghai Economic Commission, Publicity Department of Shanghai Municipality. Li Wuwei was the Chairperson of the conference.