On yet another ASW forum I was greeted with the following
Is China becoming not only the dominant economy, but the dominant culture as well? What does this mean for western art, culture, and well, everything else? Will history be re-written to include more influence from Chinese culture?
So I HAD to reply…
Heres my 5 Yuans worth!
Having lived in Macau, a rich and very Western part of China, and Beijing, the almost polar opposite, I believe I have some relevant perspective.
Rather than this being the death of Western Culture and the birth of Chinese cultural supremacy, its just pure globalism.
Culture, for much of the twentieth century, was shorthand for individualism, a trait that the Chinese Government deeply discouraged. China sought to expunge itself of 5000 years of civil culture through the cultural revolution, and persecuted those who sought to have any form of individual expression.
Art, in itself, was restricted to informational posters and communist design. To study art was in fact outlawed in much of mainland China until very recently.
Western culture was able to fill the vacuum left by the sweeping removal of Chinese Culture instigated by the Communist Party and Government. From my point of view, China has become the worlds biggest APPROPRIATOR of culture. China still has a great deal of catching up to do with regards to individuality and expression of its own lifestyles and experiences. Their art market, although burgeoning, is still very much based on the Western model and heavily consisting of Western Artists. There are some very successful Chinese artists ( Ai Wei Wei et al.), as a percentage of total sales in the Chinese Art Market they barely register.
This is very agreeable to the Chinese Government. The importing of cultural ideals, ideas and objects, means they can maintain their position as stalwarts of Communism whilst reaping the financial benefits of Global commodity fetishism and consumption culture.
I can’t agree with you Sveta, although an interesting observation,
Chinese students that I know in London, and those still living in China, thrive on Western food, clothes, language, expressions and even physical appearance. They do certainly use Chinese supermarkets and buy chinese food, chinese Films etc but it is not anything more than me living in Macau for example, and shipping in a pot of Marmite!…. cultural nostalgia is not cultural ignorance.
From Macau to Beijing, Western Culture has become Chinese elitism. From designer goods to Art, the possession of western objects elevates an individual. Mercedes cars cost three times as much in Macau as they do in London. European design houses are able to charge twice the standard price for items and open store after store. The ferocity of consumption of Western Goods, that despite being made in China, are developed and designed in the West, is alarming and the social consequences of not conforming to the perceived ideas of Westernism creates many a social pariah.
So intense is the rejection it is not uncommon to see a family in Southern China living 3 in a bed, living off of meagre food supplies yet have a brand new sports car parked outside. The burden of saving “face” and appearing as one thing but existing as another creates an extremely fragile foundation for any kind of new culture to emerge. The Chinese (authorities) find comfort in the established and well known and still find it difficult to understand and value ‘difference’.
Lets not confuse financial supremacy with cultural. Culture is about difference. No one culture is better/stronger than another as it is truly a notion of relativity. China probably will become the super-power of the next century, but the idea of a superpower in itself is fading.
China, just like any other trading, has become reliant on other economies. This has fractured one of its main strengths of the past 100 years. China was a model of self sufficiency. Food, energy, manufacture and natural resources were all sourced in-house. The China of today, however, buys electricity and gas from Russia, imports resources from Middle Africa and imports food from South America. As do we. The China of today is running over capacity, and cannot meet its own demand for resources and our demand for exports.
We all have reliance on these conflict-prone and tumultuous parts of the world. We are all in it together. To me, it seems more like a measure of equilibrium is coming, a levelling of economic and cultural contribution to the WORLD ECONOMY. Not one culture replacing another, because to all intents and purposes, the Chinese Culture of today IS Western Culture too.
What do you think?