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The Business of Culture

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Monk Yongxin at the forum. [Global Times]
You can tell a new decade has truly arrived when experts and insiders from every field are busy making plans and ambitious predictions for the bright future of their industries. Indeed, in such a rapidly developing country as China, everything seems to have a good future in the next 10 years.

Such is now also the case for "cultural industries": A number of talents, including government officials, scholars and experts from fields such as film, animation, music and publishing, gathered over the weekend to talk about their interpretations and expectations for the prospects of cultural industries in the new decade.

Held at Peking University (PKU), the two-day forum organized by the Institute for Cultural Industries, PKU, was ambitiously entitled Prospects for 2020: A New Decade of Chinese Cultural Industries, which itself signified confident expectations in the future of Chinese culture.

The institute was founded in 2002 with the authorization of the Ministry of Culture, and was the research base for innovation and development of national cultural industries; therefore, any outcome it reaches, whether the conclusion of a research project, a book published, or forum like this held, means something in terms of advising the government and guiding public attention.

Basic opinions from participants, officials and experts, even company CEOs, were generally the same: The new decade will be essential, critical and promising for the development of cultural industries in China, and the government and individual companies need to work together to grasp the opportunities.

Ye Lang, director of the institute, said at the opening ceremony on Saturday morning that with global economic growth as the premise, cultural business had had the chance to flourish over the past decade, since they entered the new millennium.

"With this momentum, the next 10 years should be a golden period for the development of every aspect of cultural industries in China. I personally am confident in the general environment," Ye told the Global Times after his speech at the forum.

"Cultural industries" was never officially a term before July 2009, when the Cultural Industry Promotion Plan was issued by the State Council–it is now already a buzzword among cultural circles such as film, animation, publishing and even the intangible cultural heritages.

Culture and art, especially in the case of publishing, were something strictly related to political direction, which was seldom open to the market since the founding of the People's Republic of China, and there was previously no way to link culture with something like "industry".

However, over the last few years, things began changing dramatically. With a series of plans and regulations issued by the central government, it seems that there has never been such a good time facing the cultural industries in China.

And there are "going out" strategies being applied to almost all cultural fields, which means the country isn't just satisfied with the economic achievements it had made, or the hundreds of Confucius Institutes opened all over the world. What it now needs is all-round cultural influence on an international scale.

Even the ancient Shaolin Temple is ambitious in joining the new wave, with Monk Yongxin, current abbot of the Temple invited to give a speech at the forum. He said that the Shaolin Temple is making efforts to broaden its world influence, with monks helping local people better understand Buddhism in China.

"We are so glad that it is the best of times for the Shaolin Temple to do something overseas, as China has already got widespread attention," Yongxin told the Global Times during the forum. "Like other contemporary art and culture, we need to help foreigners know us, and we have achieved a lot in this."

But there are challenges ahead, as many experts also pointed out at the forum.

Both the "going out" strategy and the development of culture face tricky problems, especially in terms of quality. While seemingly prosperous in quantity of output, according to director Ye, innovation is something urgently needed in industries, such as animation and film. "Equipment and hardware are very crucial in such a digitalized world, but innovation in ideas and content, which we are now lacking in all fields of art and culture, are even more important."

Also, a "healthy spiritual content" need to be nurtured while pursuing commercial success, he added, explaining "culture is anyway a special industry, with the particular ability of cultivating the youth."

(Global Times January 12, 2011)

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