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Let the people tell stories about China

By Feng Xuemei (

13:22, March 28, 2013

A quiet government is a wise government. Instead of hosting lavish banquets or large festival events, the government should be doing something worthwhile like raising financial investments and upgrading cultural facilities as well as creating more flexible polices and creative freedoms.

The Government Work Report recently delivered at the First Session of the 12th National People's Congress stated that "we should incorporate reform and development of the cultural sector into general plans for economic and social development, and include them in the system for evaluating the performance of governments and officials at all levels so as to promote all-around cultural prosperity and fast development of the cultural sector."

Cultural reform has been a hot topic in China in recent years, but many still struggle with how to weigh the quality of cultural development.

Culture is larger in scope compared to the economy, and its evaluation more complicated. You can measure the economic development with specific economic indexes such as GDP growth, employment rate, finance and taxation growth, but you cannot evaluate cultural undertakings through analyzing simple data.

The latter is evaluated not only by hard, visible indexes such as the building-up of cultural facilities, per capita library usage, and the number of artistic performances in the countryside, but also evaluated by soft, invisible indexes such as qualities of the citizenry, traditional culture inheritance and fostering of core values. Separating these indexes into parts is like "cutting the feet to fit the shoes" and can only lead to blind pursuit of achievements in one's political career, similar to blind pursuit of GDP growth.

There is no lack of first-class world theaters, concert halls and museums in some of our larger cities. We also have many cultural industries, cultural projects, and various kinds of cultural works fostered or promoted by the government. While urban cultural facilities are aimed at being built into the "world-largest," few theaters or libraries can be found in remote and out-of-the-way rural areas. World-famous philharmonic orchestras give performances in large theaters despite the fact that many ordinary citizens cannot afford to buy tickets. Various kinds of man-made entertainment facilities go in for large-scale construction to push tourism forward at the cost of doing great damage to cultural relics and historical sites. Many painstakingly-fostered cultural projects have little audience upon completion.

Cultural development needs structural guidance. Hollywood blockbusters transmit American culture and values. In the process of promoting culture, the state, government and the people are neither in conflict nor "inculcated" against one another. The development of culture has its own inner logic, reflecting both governmental and nongovernmental intentions, thus becoming a kind of irreplaceable "nongovernmental remark."

"Nongovernmental remarks" are rooted in the people, and enjoy a high level of participation. When a performance's ticket price is as high as several thousand yuan and folk art becomes a high consumption commodity offered at exclusive clubs, it cuts itself off from ordinary people and earns an undeserved reputation by wearing an outer covering of prosperity.

Culture displays need to be true stories about China – its economic development, social progress, social civilization, and fulfillment of dreams. A good story about China is not "postured," but formed naturally in the China's opening up. Story tellers are not only the government, but also the people. Only with the people's participation can this story become realized.

The author is director of the Opinion Desk of the China Youth Daily. She joined the newspaper in 1997 and won the "National Excellent Journalist" title in 2009.

This article was first published in Chinese and translated by Li Jingrong.

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