“Cultural Imperialism” in China’s Film Market

 

Some Chinese people have been boycotting Kung Fu Panda series. Panda-crazed artist Zhao Bandi started his own boycott campaign in 2008 and attracted much attention through the internet. Zhao believed that the animation series “distorted Chinese culture and serves as a tool to ‘kidnap’ the mind of the Chinese people.” Controversial Peking University scholar Kong Qingdong supported Zhao’s effort and criticized Hollywood for using “a Chinese symbol” to “brainwash and conquer” Chinese people. Yet many other Chinese people regard the politicization of this children’s film as outlandish and an excuse for China’s own lagging animation industry. Furthermore, the box office of Kung Fu Panda 2 reached 40 billion RMB (6.17 billion dollars) in half a month, signifying the defeat of boycott efforts.

While there is room for discussion in regards to Hollywood films’ questionable portrayals of “Eastern” characters, a more obvious culprit controls “the mind of the Chinese people.” Ostensibly, the increasingly free market allows Chinese audiences to choose their own cultural products. Yet all movies must secure official approval from the Central Department of Radio and Television before screening domestically. The department currently only allows 20 foreign titles to be screened each year. While the World Trade Organization has recently ruled that China’s 20-film quota violates international trade laws, this only affects a very small part of the department’s hands-on control of the film market.

One recent example is the star-studded “propaganda” film The Founding of a Party. In hopes to repeat the success of the film’s 2009 predecessor The Founding of a Republic, one Beijing movie theater manager Gao Jun announced that, “Before The Founding of a Party gets 8 hundred million in the box office, imported films like Transformer 3 will not be screened.” While different sources clarified that Gao was merely predicting the box office and did not correspond to official directives, Transformers 3 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II both voluntarily delayed their screening dates to avoid clashing with the Party-endorsed spectacle.

Furthermore, Gao’s comment points to the influence and prestige of politically-correct films. While The Founding of a Party will surely achieve popularity in China, the government policies will act as a much more important factor in creating phenomenal box office than market competence. Not only did the premiere take place yesterday at an extravagant ceremony near the Bird’s Nest, many state-owned companies will surely start distributing free movie tickets to their employees.

If the boycotters of Kung Fu Panda are truly the vanguards of Chinese cultural values, what would they think of The Founding of a Party? They could compare and contrast the ideological impact of the two films. Your blogger assures them that with the painstaking efforts of the Central Department of Radio and Television, more children will aspire to become Party cadres rather than Kung Fu practitioners.

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About Adrian

formerly published under the name Wendy Qian at the Atlantic, China File and Tea Leaf Nation.
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