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If You're an Artist in China Who Wants to Perform Abroad, Your Life Just Got More Complicated

Chinese singer Tanjing at the Golden Hall of Vienna in 2006. Screenshot from YouTube.

Chinese singer Tanjing at the Golden Hall of Vienna in 2006. Screenshot from YouTube.

China has announced directives to crack down on organised performances on foreign soil by its art groups, state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday, as a widening austerity drive launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping spills over into the realm of cultural exchange programs. 

The move came as the anti-corruption campaign has ensnared a number of high-ranking Communist Party officials accused of economic-related crimes. Since becoming Chinese President in 2012, Xi Jinping has vowed to fight endemic corruption and tried to present a government that is humble and abstemious. 

“In recent years, some art groups and social organisations have frequently gone to performing avenues like the famous Golden Hall of Vienna or headquarters of certain international organisations to perform in the name of cultural exchange,” Xinhua wrote.

“Some activities have used government funds with no consideration of cost, who the audience is and the potential effect,” it added. “Such activities have wasted money and human power and they have also damaged the dignity of national art and encouraged formalism, which has had a very bad social impact.” 

During non-performance seasons overseas, the directives state, Chinese art groups will be banned from going abroad for shows at famous performing venues. Also forbidden are shows that are either self-financed or government-funded, the agency cited the Chinese Ministry of Culture as saying. Individuals and art groups must seek approval from cultural administrators if they wish to perform at “headquarters of international organisations.” 

Though the ministry announcement made no mention of the type of art groups that they are targeting, the news is likely to send chills across the culture sector as it has already taken a hit from the government's austerity drive. 

At least 10,000 performing companies have gone bankrupt or suspended their operations, a culture scholar told the Beijing Times this month. 

Despite all this, China's State Council, the cabinet, issued a document in March that pledged to increase China's cultural exports and bolster investment in the country's culture sector. 

Following the Xinhua report, Chinese social media has been filled with a wide spectrum of opinions. 

Huoxu Wendu wrote on Sina Weibo, the popular Twitter-like microblogging site: 
微博个人认证

据我所知,现在甚至有一些私人民办小学、中学也组织学生合唱团去维也纳演唱打响知名度。不好说是坏事还是好事。

As far as I am know, some privately-owned primary and middle schools are also organising student choirs for Vienna to seek fame. I don't know if this is a good thing or bad thing.

A prominent Shanghai-based dancer, Jinxin, who has 1.6 million followers on Weibo, applauded the move:

早该如此,才反应过来啊?花了多少纳税人的钱!赞一个! 

This should have been implemented long time ago, why did it take so long for [the government] to realise? How much of the taxpayers’ money had already been spent? Thumbs-up for [the policy]!

Ma'er had a different take:

镀金没关系,市场决定了价值。只怕这一禁止,剩下能去的又成了某些团体的指定配额。很搞笑,明显的商业文化行为,又为什么出台这么多不切实际的龟腚。其实,人家维亚纳都不在意,只不过淡季创收而已。这种所谓的禁止令,是否又存在阻碍中国软实力的外销。

It's OK to go abroad to learn, market determines the value. I am afraid that once the ban is implemented, the number of people who can actually go will be seen as set quotas by certain groups. It's funny, it's just a purely commercial undertaking, why bother to roll out such an impractical regulation. In fact, Vienna couldn't care less, it just wants to increase its earnings during low seasons. Also, will such a ban impede China's sale of its soft culture?

Jia Kuizhi wrote that it was a good decision: 

国有文化单位体制改革,是解决问题的根本方法。文化单位又不提供公共产品,没有理由财政供养。

Structural reform of state-owned culture companies is the fundamental way to fix the problem. Cultural products are not public products, there is no reason for financial support from the government.

  • lacompacida

    Hmm… Does PRC really want to project its soft power or not ?

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