The New Cultural Revolution: Chinese Cultural Policy Reform and the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity

Ben Garner


The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions has been framed as part of a wider struggle against global pressures for the marketization and commercialization of culture, stemming largely from the US and Hollywood.  This article problematizes such framings of the Convention, beginning with an analysis of its first significant deployment in a dispute at the World Trade Organization (WTO), which ended in 2009 following a long running and high stake trade conflict between the US and China concerning Chinese restrictions on the import of cultural goods and services.  Engaging with arguments about the transformation of culture into a ‘resource’ in the recent era of neoliberal globalization, the article considers the contemporary ‘revolution’ in Chinese cultural policy. The process of cultural system reform since 2002 is examined before going on to focus on Chinese efforts over the last decade to develop its film industry as part of the concern with ‘cultural security’ and ‘soft power’.  It is argued that the significance of the UNESCO Convention and its deployment in such trade disputes lies less in highlighting the salience of conflicts between culture on the one hand and the logic of the market on the other, but rather in demonstrating the concern for the stakes attached to culture as a strategic sector for investment, industrialization, trade and development in the contemporary global economy.  The article then develops this point in greater detail by examining the commercial-ideological ‘clash’ between the US and Chinese blockbusters Avatar and Confucius that occurred in China in 2010.

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