On 15 February, the Central Propaganda Department published the policy document outlining China’s cultural policy for the next five years. It builds on the earlier Central Committee Decision on Cultural Policy, and takes over most of its key points. Generally, there are few surprises and no radical changes. The new Outline continues the earlier tradition concerning Party control over media content and public communication. It also continues the economic policies that have led to, inter alia, attracting capital from outside the cultural sector, as well as attracting private capital and participation.
The more interesting points of the outline are:
– The spirit of the harmonious society pervades the document throughout. In line with rebalancing the inequality between rural and urban areas, public service-type culture is increased in rural regions, border regions and poorer regions. The document also echoes the emphasis on the core Socialist value system put forward in the Decision. It calls for sincerity and honesty in government, business and society, reflecting concerns about a moral vacuum in Chinese society and the increasingly strong reactions against corruption and abuse of privilege.
– The document emphasises the important role of history and Chinese characteristics. It calls for more efforts in archaeology and historical studies, in order to “unearth the origins of Chinese civilization”. It also mentions the May Fourth movement as the beginning point of the Chinese people’s “revolutionary spirit”.
– The language used maintains the same militaristic tone that was already present in the Central Committee decision, and includes a number of traditional Socialist images and phrases. The stated role of the Party in cultural policy seems to be expanding. There is a new emphasis on the cultural sector promoting the view that their work is a “sacred duty, and that “labour is the most glorious and workers are the greatest.” The document also calls for more activities extolling the old model soldier Lei Feng, and for joint activities between civilians, the police and the military.
– There seems to be an increasing international bent to media policy. While the “marching out” projects have been steadily increasing over the last few years, this document now mentions that China will engage with its neighbouring countries for its cultural policy, particularly in border regions. It is too early to say whether this fits in a regionalization strategy, but it seems to be a new issue in this sort of context. Furthermore, the document states that China will use international organizations to push its cultural agenda at the global level. This might reflect China’s growing assertiveness, especially given the fact that the US seem to have given up on pursuing implementation in WTO case DS363 (China – Audiovisual). At the same time, the spirit of Hu Jintao’s recent article seems to be reflected in the juxtaposition between opening up to the outside world and maintaining national cultural security.
– The use of the world normalization, not yet seen in cultural policy documents, may be an effort to bring longer-term mechanisms to academia, the copyright trade and urban-rural relationship.
Also, the document mentions the renaming of the Cultural Reform Leading Small Group at the central level, in charge of cultural policy. From now on, it will be named the Cultural Structural Reform and Development Leading Small Group, reflecting the new stress on growth and technological advance. It may also signal a more comprehensive approach towards culture, as Leading Small Groups are able to cut across departmental lines and bring together officials from the Party, the State and leading media outlets.