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:
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:
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:
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:
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.