Jonathan Watts in The Guardian offers an intriguing contrast to The Washington Post article about China investing in Hollywood when he posits that the PRC is much more interested in defeating it on the global stage. He quotes Xiang Yong of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Peking University:
“There’s a saying that Hollywood is the real foreign ministry of the US, which shows the importance of the movie industry.
From a cultural perspective, the promotion of the movie industry is an important way to strengthen the soft power of our country.”
We have made this point before, but it bears repeating. The Party and the government have three identical goals for each of the media and cultural sectors. In the case of film, they are:
- To construct a commercial cinema industry that dominates the domestic market for filmed entertainment, regardless of means of distribution.
- To then build China’s local film industry into a major generator of export dollars by creating motion pictures with international appeal and wide distribution.
- To generate soft power by using motion pictures to convey positive and appealing messages, images, and impressions about China, the Chinese people, and Chinese culture to international audiences.
Against this, the seemingly contradictory articles in the WaPo and the Guardian both make sense. Chinese filmmakers seek to build ties with Hollywood that can help make use of major U.S. motion pictures to convey positive images and impressions about China, to better learn the “mojo” that makes Hollywood America’s shadow foreign ministry, and then (hopefully) to duplicate that success as a global competitor to Hollywood.
Hollywood – and in this I mean the major studios – walks a fine line in dealing with China, not only in that it is potentially forging a competitor in Hollywood’s increasingly critical international markets, but also in that such chumminess could undermine the industry’s “American-ness” in the eyes of legislators in Washington and audiences across mainstream America.
If the hysteria after 9/11 demonstrated anything, it is that the spirit that birthed McCarthyism lies dormant in the American polity, awaiting only a crisis or catastrophe to wake it again. In an era of Tea Parties, Hollywood needs to move with care and caution as it engages filmmakers who operate at the whim of Zhongnanhai.
And if the past three decades in China have demonstrated anything, it is that western companies who have invested in China have been most successful at manufacturing their own competition. The Chinese government and its interlocutors like Xiang Yong have put Hollywood on notice that they are next.
Now, is anyone between Santa Monica and Burbank listening?