China Losing Culture Wars

by Translation Guy on January 4, 2012

The West is using cultural warfare to divide China, Chinese President Hu Jintao warned the Communist Party on Monday.

“Hostile international powers are strengthening their efforts to Westernize and divide us,” Hu wrote in the latest edition of Communist Party’s magazine, 求是 (Seeking the Truth).

In his piece, “Unswwervingly Take the Road of Development of Socialist Culture with Chinese Characteristics and Strive to Build a Socialist Culture of Power,” Hu argues that “The international culture of the West is strong while we are weak” and that the “ideological and cultural fields are their [western forces’] main targets.”

So the Chinese government has taken the cultural fight to the enemy (that’s us), spending big bucks to expand its message overseas, including US and UK editions of the party newspaper, The China Daily, the state news agency Xinhua, and China Central Television’s (CCTV) multilingual news and cultural programming. A quick review of those sites shows why the Party is so worried about losing hearts and minds, because to use an expression favored by Yankee cultural imperialists, they suck.

Hu recognizes that the Communist Party of China must meet the “growing spiritual and cultural demands of the people,” which is a problem, because the communists are too uptight to permit the kind of sparkle and sluttiness needed to succeed in the global pop culture pressure cooker.

In the last half of the 20th century, other East Asian garrison states, such as Japan and South Korea, attempted to resist foreign cultural influence, but prohibition only fueled emulation. It wasn’t until those neo-Confucian elites lowered the cultural gates to Western trash that they were able to assert their cultural identities globally. Now, all the East Asian democracies, thoroughly steeped in the tropes of Hollywood and Lady Gaga soft-core, are busily exporting their own unique version of mindless entertainment to global acclaim. (Here’s some  J-pop and K-pop on YouTube, included for educational purposes only.)

The reason China is culturally “weak” has nothing to do with the West, insidious as we may be.  It’s because the Chinese government is desperate to keep the lid on China’s long-overdue cultural interaction with the rest of the world. The way it works these days, you can’t give, unless you take. With 2011 just the beginning the start of a global revolution/revulsion against incompetent and corrupt power, the Chinese ruling class is desperate to keep foreign influence at bay, even if it means limiting Chinese “soft power” abroad.

A global culture has grown thanks to decades of global ad budgets that have helped to shape a global consumer sensibility that requires English, just a little bit at least for tag-line or lyrical hook.

As the Chinese government tries to keep English from sullying Chinese, they are shooting themselves in the cultural foot. Until Chinese cultural enterprises embrace foreign ways, that nation’s voice on the world  stage will be absent, boredom being the one unforgivable sin in the new global culture. Because of the tones of the spoken language and the ideographs of the written language  are so difficult for non-Chinese to master, China’s cultural rise will most likely have to be accompanied at every step by global English and the global lack of values it has come to represent.


  1. Keith Oakley says:

    A lot of people talk about China as a new super power, but I think that the stuggles within the people are going to create problems much like the US saw with the the government a few decades ago. Chinese are very patriotic and love their country, but I think they are starting to see that they could be living better, more comfortable lives if only the government allowed.

  2. Engish is pretty popular in China. If they don’t learn it at school, they learn it by themselves. The government needs to see the need to embrace the fact that teaching English language to the population can only help the country.

    • Ken says:

      Consider the Dec. 19 outburst from Zheng Yanxiong, the party secretary of the city whose territory includes Wukan, two days before Mr. Wang’s emissary settled the Wukan villagers’ grievances.

      “There’s only one group of people who really experience added hardships year after year. Who are they? Cadres, that’s who. Me included,” Mr. Zheng railed during a session with Chinese reporters. “Your powers decline every day, and you have fewer and fewer methods at your disposal — but your responsibility grows bigger and bigger every day.”

      “Ordinary people want more and more every day,” he continued. “They grow smarter every day, and they are harder and harder to control.

      “Today’s government officials are having a hard time.”

  3. I suppose the next thing they will do is go around and gather instruments and other western things and destroy them. Sounds like a little deva vu.

  4. Monica McKay says:

    I spent two years learning Chinese while living there. I just could not get the tones right. After all that time I could use a taxi and order food. Ten year later I remember none of it. It is not an easy language to learn and I never attempted to learn characters. Mind boggling language.

  5. Evan Stark says:

    I know a lot of people in and out of China and once they get something western, they don’t want to give it up. I can’t imagine that Hu Jintao actually thinks he can prevent the modernization of the people of China.

  6. They continue to do business with western countries and they make all of the stuff we want, it only makes sense that all of those workers want the same things. If they want to close themselves off from the western world, maybe they should close themselves off again and stop taking our jobs.

  7. shawnhcorey says:

    I can understand how China could be sensitive to the invaseness of English words into it’s daily use, but the use is just to make communication easier. We use many words in the west that come from other languages and it only makes communicating with others easier. Unfortunately, the older persons in power in China don’t see it that way.

  8. Chico says:

    I don’t agree with China being culturally weak. I think they have a strong and traditional culture, more so then the west. However, I do think that they are entering a huge transition culturally that is driven by its youth.

    • Ken says:

      I am going to be doing more on Chinese ideas of linguistic purity. There is a lot more going on than empty posturing of the kleptocracy.

  9. Booty says:

    I lived in China for two years. They only want ammenities that other people have around the world, too. If I was a citizen there I would be upset if the government said I couldn’t have certain things because they weren’t traditional or that they were western.

  10. Yes, the US has about 5% of the world’s population and controls about 75% of TV and influential brands. If China wasn’t trying so hard to keep things out, maybe their huge population could have been more of an influence on the rest of the world rather than the west? I think they are a big part of the problem they are trying to prevent, by not allowing their people to modernize.

    • Ken says:

      By keeping people from entertaining ideas of their own, they will soon run out of their own. I wonder how long the Party can keep a lid on it.

  11. Prohibition never fixes anything. Let people experience things and make a choice for themselves. Continue to teach good morals and everything will be alright. So glad I didn’t grow up in a culture like China’s…not to say this one doesn’t have it’s flaws though.

  12. The Stud says:

    I spent a little time in Seoul and I thought they were more influential on the US then the Us on them, especially in fashion. They were at least a year ahead of us.

  13. Bryan Coates says:

    Yankee, cultural imperielists nailed it on the head. It sucks. Look what is happening around you and make some changes for the better…even if they are “western.”

  14. Erika Turner says:

    Banning english words is a bad idea. Languages need to evolve and new words come about, especially with technology. Why does every country need to come up with their own words for everything. I’m all for tradition and culture, but I strongly think the best thing for this planet is a global language – kind of like star trek. No matter where you are int the galaxy, Kirk (or Picard) could speak to the different beings.

  15. Ernest Stark says:

    Nicely written. I like how you didn’t hold back Translation Guy.

    • Ken says:

      But I do hold back.

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