Hu Jintao on China losing the culture wars

In a major essay published this week in a Communist Party magazine, President Hu Jintao revisited the argument that China must become a strong cultural nation, both for its people and for the prevention of Western encroachment. "We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China," ...

By , Asia editor at Foreign Policy from 2014-2016.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images

In a major essay published this week in a Communist Party magazine, President Hu Jintao revisited the argument that China must become a strong cultural nation, both for its people and for the prevention of Western encroachment. "We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China," it warns.

Chinese mandarins have long bemoaned the lack of recognition for their official culture, or why culturally, as Hu puts it in his essay, "the West is strong and my country is weak."  Chinese censorship, as opposed to Western imperialism, is a much more likely culprit. Every year Chinese press wonders why their country can’t seem to win a Nobel Prize in literature or peace; ironically, in most cases banned from mentioning dissident writer Gao Xingjian, who won in 2000, or Liu Xiaobo, who won last year. The government recently announced new restrictions to curb "excessive entertainment" on TV. Zhang Yimou’s recently released biopic on the Nanjing Massacre, the most expensive movie ever made in China, hews so close to the line its portrayal of ‘Chinese martyrs’ and ‘Japanese devils’ to render it unwatchable. Examples abound.

More specifically one can point to the government’s demand that art and language serve the party and the nation. Looking for an example? Hu’s essay, titled "Resolutely Follow the Cultural Development Path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Work to Build a Socialist Strong Culture Country," should be a primer on how to force language to serve politics. No anecdotes enliven it. Repeating slogan after slogan, it reads like a monotonous chest thumping: "Only if we resolutely follow the guidance of Marxism, and let the advanced culture of socialism guide the way, will we be able to lay the foundation for the cultural development of socialism with Chinese characteristics." When China’s top leaders stop using Newspeak, or better yet when someone inside China can loudly and directly mock them for it, China’s cultural industry might be able to "perfect the deployment of culture" that Hu claims he wants.      

Isaac Stone Fish was Asia editor at Foreign Policy from 2014-2016. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

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