Tag Archives: China stuff

Second Binational Conversation on Bridging Cultures

16 Oct

Today was the first day of the Second Binational Conversation on Bridging Cultures, or 中美文化论坛, which was co-sponsored by the American National Endowment for the Humanities, the Chinese Ministry of Culture, and UC Berkeley’s Center for Chinese Studies. Important figures like Yu Dan 于丹, of recent fame for popularizing Chinese philosophy, and Mo Yan 莫言, maybe known best for Red Sorghum, were panelists. Jonathan Spence and Ann-ping Chin, two noted Chinese historians, also shared some remarks.

Early morning attendees were greeted by a bevy of busy Chinese journalists and photographers. Tonight, I found 42 stories on the Binational Conversation in Chinese language Google News. Interestingly, I found 0 stories from English language press. A search even on solely the term “Berkeley” yields the following top three headlines:

  1. Berkeley filmmaker Gail Dolgin dies at 65
  2. Sunday Is Chow-Down Day in Berkeley
  3. Berkeley 63, De Anza 0

I suspect this press coverage discrepancy can be explained by three reasons.

First, I feel that the Ministry of Culture is a bigger deal to Chinese citizens than the NEH is to American citizens — as a matter of perspective, not actual value. Of course, maybe I’m only hanging out with Philistines, but I’m going to stick with this wager.

Second, Yu Dan and Mo Yan are household names in China; the American side did not have equivalent figures today. Again, I’m not conflating recognition with actual worth here.

Third, while there is a high level of American interest in U.S.-China commercial and human rights issues, most Americans simply do not have a significant interest in cultural ties with China — or really any other country, for that matter. I remember in 2008, my friend at Fudan said this reflected a “cultural hegemony.”

She may very well be right, but it’s also more complicated than that, at least in the Chinese regard. Chinese blockbusters are often period films (e.g., Qing Dynasty) and thus maybe less accessible to American audiences, people in China recognize the domestic market is currently much more ripe than the international one, and Chinese mass media culture has come a long way since the Eight Model Plays, but the creative environment still has its restrictions.

Conditions are sure to change in the future. But that is a subject for another time, one hopefully sooner than later.