Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Februar 2006

3.1. Die globalen Probleme des modernen kulturellen Prozesses
Herausgeber | Editors | Éditeurs: Michail Blumenkrantz (Charkow/München), Emelda Ngufor Samba (University of Yaounde 1), Michael Wimmer (Educult, Wien)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

A Mirror-Maze of Hope and Illusion: Chinese Cultural Identity and Globalisation

Li Xia (Newcastle, Australia)


In the rich and complex history of China, Western culture (in Umberto Eco’s sense) has been a significant reference point and trigger for China’s extensive and often painful national self-reflection, in which the tensions between traditional Chinese values and Western cultural paradigms (or "the alien other") determined the radical repositioning of the Chinese cultural self. China’s preoccupation with Western culture (Modernism) peaked in the 1920s and 1930s and again in the 1980s in Deng Xiaoping’s ambitious vision of a new national identity, which resulted in the globalisation of market and cultural life. While China’s economic success has attracted considerable interest in the West, the social and cultural problems resulting from it domestically require wise and courageous solutions since the hope that globalisation will ensure equity, justice and democracy in China and in the world at large is identified by some scholars as utopian (Wang Hui) or a "fairy tale" (Naomi Klein). The proposed paper attempts to elucidate the impact of globalisation on China’s cultural and intellectual life, identifying potential dangers of cultural dislocation and loss of cultural identity. Attention will also be given to recent research, in which China’s globalisation agenda is questioned.


1. Introduction: Apocalyptic Horsemen

Globalisation is promoted in the print media and on television on daily basis as one of the key issues of the 21 st century, backed up by innumerable scholarly books and articles which highlight either the pressing urgency of its implementation as a potential force for good or its abandonment in the interest of industrially less developed countries. While the advocates of globalisation see in its successful implementation the necessary prerequisite for a "global civil society" (Falk 1999: 208) and a "humane global government" (Falk 1999: 183), its enemies identify it as a Trojan Horse that "validates post-colonial intervention by the West" (Falk 1999: 206) or as a global development that conjures up apocalyptic visions of greed and selfishness with the four horsemen: war, famine, disease (e.g. HIV/AIDS) and draught on the verge of destroying mankind (Ziegler 2003: 13). Similarly diverging views are reflected in the Chinese discussion of globalisation in the mid-1990s in the context of post-colonialism and nationalism and Edward Said’s views on Orientalism published in magazines such as Dushu (Reading) and Tianya (Frontiers) and what the Tsinghua-based critic Wang Hui calls the dispute between "liberalism and the New Left" or "the debate over neo-liberalism" between 1997 and the present (Wang 2003: 96-114; 206-211).

As the sixth largest economy in the world and a population (and market) of 1.4 billion people, China plays a pivotal role in this discussion, which is almost exclusively focused on economic and monetary interests. Regrettably, only marginal attention is paid to the human and cultural costs involved in its profit-driven promotion by predominantly Western countries. Significantly, the economic situation emerging in China at present echoes in many ways the dominance of multinational corporations in the 1920s and 1930s, not to mention what is generally referred to as "colonial economy" in the Treaty Ports and the humiliating and traumatic experience of Western and Japanese imperialism at the end of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century (Ye 2001: 195), which has been largely ignored by Western historians and political scientists as a significant dimension of the collective Chinese psyche, overshadowing to this day China’s troubled relationship with the West (Lieberthal et al, 1991). While globalisation and its consequences have been of serious concern in the industrial world for some considerable time, albeit as "subterraneous movements" (Klein 2002: XIII) and isolated private views outside mainstream economic orthodoxy, the critique of market fundamentalism and its challenge entered the mainstream consciousness and debate primarily as a result of the political activism and protests directed against the economic strategies agreed upon by the World Trade Organisation and the failure of profit-driven corporate interests to respond to a crisis of global proportions which Naomi Klein sums up as follows:

The crisis respected no national boundaries. A booming global economy focused on the quest for short-term profits was proving itself incapable of responding to increasingly urgent ecological and human crises; unable, for instance, to make the shift away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy resources; incapable, despite all the pledges and hand-wringing, of devoting the resources necessary to reverse the spread of HIV in Africa; unwilling to meet international commitments to reduce hunger or even address basic food security failures in Europe. (Klein 2002: XIV)

The hegemonic world view of neo-liberalism attracted not only the criticism of the anti-globalisation protesters but also from distinguished economists such as the former Vice President and chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel Prize winner of 2001, Joseph Stiglitz, a vocal critic of market fundamentalism (Hobsbawm 2003: 277; Ziegler 2002: 188-192). The sentiments aired by the Western anti-globalists were shared by Chinese intellectuals particularly between the mid-1990s and 2002, the year of China’s entry into GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), heralded by some as a "milestone" in China’s historic journey to embrace the world-market by lowering its trade and investment barriers, scaling back the role of the state sector and providing expanding opportunities for foreign business interests. Others, however, saw it as a prescription for impending social and human disaster, which called for national resistance. In the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s reform policies in 1979 in the interest of improved living standards and the political vision of the reforms proclaimed in 1992 in his Southern Progress (nanxun)), anti-Western sentiments surfaced again with vehemence in defence of local Chinese interests and national awareness.

The following reflections on the vulnerability of indigenous cultures in the context of globalisation have as theoretical point of reference Umberto Eco’s conceptualisation of culture as a synthesis of the aesthetic, moral and intellectual faculties of a socially integrated group of people as they are developed, reinforced and transmitted to succeeding generations as markers of national awareness and collective identity construction (Eco 1995: 155-172). Eco’s emphasis on the explicitness of culture within a social group as the result of collective traumatic experiences of unfamiliar or the collectively perceived threat of alternative models of culture (Eco 1995: 161-162) is particularly relevant and illuminating in the context of the historical background of China’s struggle for national awareness and identity consciousness vis-à-vis Western culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth Century. Although the ethnographic connotation of the Chinese notion of culture (wenhua) (Liu 1995: 239) is inextricably connected with China’s traumatic encounter with the West and the "disintegration of the Chinese holistic world outlook under the impact of Western imperialism" (Liu 1995: 240), the roots of the concern among Chinese intellectuals about questions of cultural identity can be traced back to the negative stereotyping of the Chinese people by Western missionaries, which shaped and promoted the myth of Western superiority and Chinese inferiority in the West and legitimised the spread of Christian civilisation in order to reform China and to "improve the character of its people" (Liu 1995: 57):

Its rhetoric of racial superiority, in particular, has been deployed to explain away the violence of the East-West encounter in terms of cultural essentialism and evolutionary progress, thus depriving the conquered race or nation of the ground of authority from which alternative views of difference, cultural or historical, could be articulated. (Liu 1995: 48)


2. The Stereotyping of "Chineseness" by Western Missionaries

The profound political and cultural impact of the negative representation of Chineseness by Western missionaries such as Arthur Smith (ChineseCharacteristics, 1889), S. W. Williams (The Middle Kingdom, 1848), Henry Charles Sirr (China and the Chinese, 1849), Evariste-Regis Huc (The Chinese Empire, 1856), Walter Henry Medhurst (The Foreigner in Far Cathay, 1872) and the British journalist George Wingrove Cooke on the modern Western perception of China and the "self-perception of the Chinese and the Westerners themselves" (Liu 1995: 58) is analysed with great intellectual insight and empathy by Lydia Liu with reference to Arthur Smith’s influence on the iconic Chinese writer Lu Xun and the intellectual elite of the May Fourth literary movement. (Liu 1995: 45-76, 77-99, 239-256). Like James Hevia, Liu underpins the covert nexus between the missionaries’ messianic commitment towards the salvation of "those masses of yellow-faced, black-haired souls" (Liu 1995: 58) and the imperialist ambitions of the West underlying missionary discourse and its historical consequences (Liu 1995: 58). The negative stereotyping of Chinese character that dominated Western missionary writings throughout the nineteenth century is still widespread today, albeit reinforced and modified by China’s turbulent political, social and cultural developments in the twentieth century. And, listening to the globalisation debate these days, one is reminded of Reverend Evans’ nightly prayers in Lao She’s novel Er Ma (Mr.Ma and Son):

Sometimes in the middle of the night when he couldn’t get to sleep, he prayed to God that China would someday be colonized by the British; with burning tears in his eyes, he beseeched the Lord: if the Chinese don’t let the British take over, then all those masses of yellow-faced, black-haired souls will never make it to heaven! (Liu 1995: 57-58)

No doubt, the missionary commitment and motivation of the promoters of globalisation is as strong as that of Reverend Evans and the promised heaven of freedom and democracy (Klein 2002: 80-81) as elusive as the heaven of early Chinese missionaries.


3. Lu Xun’s Utopia of "Bright Open Spaces"

The secular equivalent of the messianic visions of the Biblical Jerusalem promoted by Western missionaries in China is Lu Xun’s often quoted metaphor of the gate leading from darkness "to bright open spaces". Although his own faith in its realisation was, as Geramie Barmé points out, at best ambivalent, if not pessimistic (Barmé 2001: 240), it, nevertheless, lived on in the utopian future promised under communism in the 1940s and 1950s and in the euphoric "New Era" of the 1970s and 1980s (Barmé 2001: 241), until it was shattered by the historic watershed events of the June Fourth (1989), reflected in George Hicks’ memorable metaphor of the "Broken Mirror" (Hicks 1990). However, it didn’t take long for Lu Xun’s vision of "bright open spaces" to be again revived by intellectuals in the mid-1990s, highlighted by Geremie Barmé as follows:

.... and again in the 1990s, rehearsing the pose of the cultural superman Lu Xun holding open the metaphorical gate of darkness, looking back into the past, while making it possible for the children to run through the gate "to bright open spaces". (Barmé 2001: 240)

In the meantime, Deng Xiaoping’s initiation of China’s "open-door" policies in 1978 and his optimistic expectations concerning China’s future (Monk 2005: 48) opened the floodgates to new "bright" open spaces of unprecedented economic upsurge, rampant consumerism and future wealth and power, thus vindicating Mao’s denunciation of Deng as "the second-biggest capitalist-roader" (Chang 2005: 635) and echoing misplaced Western visions of consumerism as the door to freedom and democracy and liberation from poverty. (Klein 2002: xiii-xiv; 214; 184 and 80; Wang 1997: 33)


4. Ideological Ambivalence and Discrepancies

While Asian leaders as for example Lee Kuan Yew (Monk 2005: 12&38) and Western political and cultural scholars such as Sam Huntington, Paul Kennedy, Michael Mann, Chalmers Johnson, Greg Sheridan, Mark Elvin among others associate China’s rapid economic rise with a "twenty-first-century colossus" (Monk 2005: 30) and China’s potential challenge of Western (US) hegemony not only in economic but also in military terms and a "remaking of world order" (Huntington 1996; Monk 2005: 15; 37-62), the position of Chinese scholars is generally more ambivalent (Wang 2005: 30), just as Deng Xiaoping’s (and Jiang Zemin’s) reforms "remain ambivalent ideologically, alternating between a "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and a primitive capitalism" (Zhang 1997: 93; Barmé 1999: 346-350). Similar to the globalisation debate in the West, the views articulated on this matter are highly divided, contradictory and explicitly critical, ranging from high expectations for a "bright" future to the conviction of capitalism as a disaster for humanity (Wang 2003: 14; Wang 2001: 135-155 ) and a force that destroys not only markets, but also society (He 1997). Others, on the other hand, saw globalisation as a prescription for impending social disaster, which called for resistance as highlighted, among many others, in the brash and patriotic self-confidence of the young Chinese computer hacker quoted by Geremie Barmé in his in-depth study of contemporary Chinese (popular) culture entitled In the Red (Barmé 1999: 279) or in the concern voiced by liberal-humanist intellectuals with regard to the rise of an all-pervasive mass- and consumer culture (Zhang 1998:5; Barmé 2001: 241, 256; Barmé 1999:181-185; 280-315).

The sentiments reflected in the comments of the Tsinghua-educated computer wiz were shared by many young Chinese intellectuals who registered with concern the pace of opening up to Western corporate interests and the long-term social and cultural consequences associated with China’s rapid Westernisation and the increasingly complex interpenetration of the state and the capitalist market at the expense of large sections of society, highlighted in the widening gap between urban and rural living standards and the problem of a "floating population" (liudong renkou) in search of work in big cities (Dutton 1998: 130-159; Wang 2003: 46-77), generally known as "the three discrepancies" - between town and country, industry and agriculture, manual and mental labour" (Wang 2003: 33). The potential difficulties associated with the rural population in modern China, which played a key role in China’s political history (Jin 2001: 157-183) and will continue into the future, have already been hinted at by Mao Zedong in the poignant observation of the peasants lack of "modern culture" (literacy) and technical skills (Mao Zedong quoted in Lei, 2003: 613). Although the rural hinterland does not attract the attention of the industrialised regions of China, it is, nevertheless, at the heart of the organisational and ideological deep structure, which guaranteed inner social cohesion over the century:

This deep structure has shaped both pre-modern and modern China and has remained unchanged for 2000 years. This deep structure is none other than the integrative tendency (yiti hua). (Jin 2001: 157)


5. The Commodification of Culture

The complexity of the problems embedded in China’s embrace of globalisation is highlighted in Wang Hui’s erudite study China’s NewOrder: Society, Politics, and Economy in Transition (2003), in which he sums up the situation as follows:

In this period (1994-1995) also appeared essays that explained global relations and cultural theory from the perspective of dependency theory and notions of globalism, all of which provided leads for the reflections on global capitalism that were to come. This tide of humanistic thought just happened to coincide with the discussions on globalism and nationalism that had been kindled by Huntington’s "The Clash of Civilizations." And it was inevitable that all these elements were blended together in a fierce series of arguments (...) These discussions interacted with a rethinking of tradition, as well as the theories on indigenous resources and the nature of modernity to bring about a thoroughgoing interrogation of the enlightenment framework that had dominated Chinese intellectual life since the 1980s. (Wang 2003: 94)

Significantly, the open aggressiveness of the world’s big consumer brands for a foothold in China (TheEconomist, 3 December 1994; Hooper 2000: 442) bears striking similarities with rampant economic exploitation and cultural domination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when "more than seven thousand foreign companies had established a presence in China" and multinational corporations owned controlling stakes in key industries such as shipping, coal mining, petroleum (Shell), chemicals, tobacco (British-American Tobacco), textiles, and banking (Jones 1999: 225). The rise of the "gramophone culture" in China in the first half of the twentieth century, delineated perceptively in a study by Andrew Jones (Jones 1999: 215-236), is exemplary insofar as it foreshadows not only the exploitative marketing strategies of transnational corporations, but also key problems associated with the global commodification of culture, represented, in this case, by music, and the domination and control of the captive consumer, highlighted by one of the best known global trademarks of all times, namely, that of a dog listening to "His Master’s Voice" (HMV). The symbolic significance of the latter is documented in a still photograph published in the New China Pictorial (Xinhua huabao) in which the famous Chinese comedian Han Lan’gen is seen listening in a dog-like position to a white man demonstrating a gramophone to a "captive Chinese audience" (Jones 1999: 230, Fig.2). The "rhetorical force of the image" is interpreted by Jones as follows:

Han, and by extension the Chinese people, is likened to a dog, in a rhetorical move that subtly alludes to the probably apocryphal (but nonetheless pointed) anecdote about the municipal park in colonial Shanghai to which "dogs and Chinese" were not allowed entry. And in a masterful play on words (and images), the gramophone itself stands for the voice of China’s colonial masters. If that were not enough, Han’s disingenuously naïve exclamation - "Damn! These foreign devils are cheaters" - steers the viewer of the photo towards a sharp awareness of the technologically mediated transcription, economic exploitation, and cultural dislocation that characterizes gramophone culture and the condition of colonial modernity in which it was embedded. (Jones 1999: 230-231)

With regard to global production and distribution strategies and marginalisation of local input, the colonial gramophone culture has shaped the present record and CD industry, which is still represented today by the same labels and controlled by the same foreign interests (Jones 1999: 219). Even more important is the impact that the industrial production of music (culture) and mass-marketing had on social space and the private lifestyle of the urban Chinese middle-class which represented (and still does) the principal target-group of the mass-mediated culture of consumption. The stockpiling of imported music and the flooding of the market with a popular Western (American) repertoire, culturally distinct and pre-dominantly in a foreign language, at the expense of local traditions, is one of many factors which are bound to contribute to the erosion of the indigenous cultural landscape and the gradual alienation of its people from it in the name of the "liberation of thought" (Liu 2001: 52).

Of course, this applies to an even higher degree to China’s rapidly expanding mass media, in which the linkage with global corporate interests is more conspicuous and covert manipulation for ideological and commercial reasons much more effective. The most obvious form of resistance to the expansion of foreign monopoly in practical terms was (and still is) the establishment of a native Chinese industry in joint ventures (locally owned pocketbook companies) and the promotion of local goods, as demonstrated in Dr Sun Yat-sen and Qian Guangren’s New Moon Records in the 1930s (Jones 1999: 216). Despite the historical distance, the Chinese gramophone culture foreshadows some of the key problems of the present-day global approach to business and culture and their potential solutions, even if the demarcation lines between indigenous cultural and hybrid identity (cosmopolitanism) appear to be blurred. Also, the familiar proposition "that the mass mediation of culture necessarily results in cultural homogenisation" appears to be untenable and in need of a rethink (Jones 1999: 226-7).

6. Language and Identity: the "McDonaldisation of Languages

The polyglot cosmopolitan urbanism in Hong Kong, Shanghai and other Chinese Treaty Ports (Pye 1996: 96-100) alluded to above, underpins a particularly disturbing aspect of globalisation, namely the monopoly of (British/American) English at the expense of other languages which has raised the spectre of the "McDonaldisation" of the languages of the world or even the potential loss of most of them together with the variety and richness of ideas embedded in them, which has led to Peter Müllhauser’s call for "linguistic ecology" (Kibbee 2003: 52). No doubt, language has always been a powerful instrument in the imposition of foreign rule and value systems on indigenous cultures and societies, as in India, for example, under British rule (Tong 1999: 347), where the English language was widely regarded as a symbol of oppression (Bragg 2003: 263), and in Mahatma Gandhi’s eyes even as a "sign of slavery" (Bragg 2003: 262-263). The key role of language in cultural imperialism and global hegemony of the "English-speaking Club" was programmatically defined by Winston Churchill in his address at Harvard University on 6 September 1943, in which he observed that the "widespread use of (Basic) English" pioneered in China would be "a gain far more durable and fruitful than the annexation of great provinces" (Tong 1999: 346).

The development and promotion of Basic English (British, American, Scientific, International, Commercial) with a vocabulary of 850 words and the reduction of grammar and syntax to the minimum necessary for communication) by I. A. Richards in the 1930s and mid-1940s in China is highly symbolic in so far as it underpins the generally covert and rarely discussed linkage between language and global power, which I. A. Richards, despite his genuine interest in language and the improvement of its communicative potential, associates with global political and military dominance (Tong 1999: 346). The global leadership claimed by I. A. Richards in this context for the United States with almost messianic fervour foreshadows the uncanny global political situation of the early twenty-first century:

The United States has today so much power that it is responsible for guiding all the peoples on earth to World Government. Other nations are waiting. (Tong 1999: 145)

While the implementation of I. A. Richards’ Basic English project was rejected by Chinese government authorities and ultimately declared a failure (Tong 1999: 347), the global spread of English is being energised by economic fundamentalism at the expense of marginalised indigenous languages and their cultures. According to statistical estimations advanced by David Crystal, 5,500 of the current 6,000 languages will have disappeared by the end of the twenty-first century, which John Sutherland identifies in an article in TheIndependent on Sunday as "linguicide" and "linguistic holocaust" (Sutherland 2002: 1). He also argues that globalisation is more "sinister" and destructive than past colonialism:

Once we just took their raw materials. Now we invade their minds, by changing the primary tool by which they think: ‘their’ language". (Sutherland 2002: 1)

I. A. Richards’ Basic English Project (Tong 1999: 334) must be seen in the context of modern identity construction in China in the first half of the twentieth century in which the problem of language reform was one of the most vexing questions and Qian Xuantong’s proposal to replace the Chinese language altogether with "an alphabetic world language such as Esperanto as lingua franca" the most radical one (Tong 1999: 339). The same applies to the suggestion of the May Fourth Movement to liberate the Chinese language "from the shackles of the (Chinese) characters" (DeFrancis 1984: 255), as the script was widely understood as the bearer of traditional ideas and Chinese cultural essence (Tu Wei-ming 1994: 306). The lengthy delays in finding a compromise solution to this problem, that is, simplification of characters and the introduction of the Pinyin romanisation system (DeFrancis 1984: 295: Mao Zedong’s letter of 1 May, 1995 to Jiang Zhuru) highlight not only the complexity of the problem, but also the key role of language, spoken and written, in the process of culture-based identity construction and social cohesion as a nation that is not afraid of being open to the world in absorbing its universal achievements in search of national prosperity and power as attributed by Mao Zedong to the Han and Tang dynasties (De Francis 1984: 263, 293-4) and exemplified in the success of Shanghai and Shenzhen in Deng Xiaoping’s vision of modern China. No doubt, Mao Zedong’s exhortation to copy " everything good from abroad " and to endow it with "Chineseness" in pursuit of social stability and international standards of cultural achievements (DeFrancis 1984: 294-5), represents an invaluable guideline in China’s search for solutions to vexing problems of globalisation, which is shared by the younger generation of Chinese intellectuals as, for example, the previously mentioned computer hacker from the " Thieves Alley " (Pianzi yitiao jie) in Beijing, who proudly lists China’s great inventions such as the navigational compass, paper and printing and identifies the " foreigners " as the actual " thieves " whose rigid enforcement of " brand identity " and copyright laws are unjustified and unfair and should therfore be ignored:

Who discovered magnetism? Pardon me, it was us! Then what are you supposed to do with your data? How do you record it? You need a hard copy, after all. Well, it’s obvious, you need paper to print a hard copy and without Bi Sheng (legendary Chinese inventor of paper), those foreigners would still be writing on parchment. Can you cut parchment into A4 size and print on it? I don’t think so! So when it comes down to it, these fucking foreigners simply haven’t got a clue. They can’t face up to the fact that they owe us for copyright infringement. So what the shit are they making such a stink about? When we were advanced, they were free to rip us off left, right and centre. Now they’ve just managed to move ahead of us a little, and they won’t let us have a fair go. As soon as they struck rich, they began lording it over everyone else. Isn’t that right? Well, I’m going to go right on copying whatever comes my way. (Barmé 1999: 279)

Tongue in cheek, he adds that the "wealth and prosperity" of "the four little dragons of Asia" or "pack of pseudo-foreign devils" (Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore) is to a large degree founded on pirating "stuff" (Barmé 1999: 279).


7. The Myth of Diversity and Free Choice

The conspicuous focus on "copying" and "copyrights" touches upon a central myth of the globalisation movement, namely, the claim of openness, diversity and free choice. However, global standardisation of products (including cultural ones) and the rigid policing of brand consistency and image control by means of copyright laws and intellectual property laws are incompatible with these claims as they produce globally, in the style of Andy Warhol’s (Campbell’s) soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles, endless replicas of what Adorno calls "always-the-same" (Dutton 1998: 5), a trend, Naomi Klein argues, must be resisted at all cost, if the right to cultural, ecological, agricultural and political diversity is to be upheld (Klein 2002, 245). In view of the global McDonalisation of business from fast food to car servicing, bakery products, financial services, childcare, pharmaceutics, medical treatment, after-school coaching, travel, television, university education among others (Ritzer 1993: 2-3), many of which have also gained a strong foothold in the Chinese market, sustained resistance to the coercion or conversion of "apparently sovereign consumers into docile conformists" (Waters 1995: 144) on a global scale is one way of protecting the potentially autonomous and independent individual from global "predators", as programmatically signalled in books like China CanSay No (Zhongguo keyi shuo bu) or The Background to the Demonization of China (Yaomohua Zhongguo de Beijing) (Wang 2003: 95).

However, local resistance to globalisation in China, as shown in Beverley Hooper’s perceptive study is significantly hampered by, among others, the association of Western products with success and "the experience of modernity". In the words of the critic Yan Yunxiang, "’America’ also means ‘modern,’ and thus to eat at MacDonald is to experience modernity" (Yan 2000: 212). The findings of Yan is also confirmed by Wang Chaohua (Wang 2005: 354-5), Sardar and Davies (Sadar & Davis 2002: 125) (and others) as a global trend above all in popular culture with the young generation as principal target group:

Thus, American-led globalisation uses pop music, television and style products to transform the identity of young people in the developing world into a commodity. The package is sold with the allure of "freedom." But this notion of "freedom" - or more appropriately, libertarian individualism, which promotes every individual’s potential for fulfilment, the pursuit of endless consumption, the withdrawal of all collective, communal and social responsibility - undermines everything that indigenous cultures, traditions and history stand for. (Sadar & Davies 2002: 125)

The impact of Western culture is of particular concern with regard to Chinese youth, since the imitation and absorption of Western values seems to affect not only their social habits and mannerisms, but also their emotional and psychological make-up:

So crime, truancy, drug addiction and promiscuity, along with breakdown of parental authority, are all on the rise in societies in which "youth" was never a separate concept and the extended family and disciplined personal behaviour were the norm. (Sadar & Davies 2002: 124)


8. Western Mass-Media and Chinese Cultural Space

Another major reason for concern is the potential conditioning effect the mass media have on young people in view of the key role television, film and internet play in the life of Chinese youth, the attraction of Western lifestyles and the seductive lure of the "American dream" as presented in countless Hollywood variations. This trend is enhanced by the rapid spread of the mass media and telecommunications networks as one of the most significant aspects of the high-tech-oriented globalisation process in China, involving computers, modems, fax machines, satellite dishes, video recorders and DVD players and access to a wide range of information by telephone, internet, fax, short-wave radio, television, film, videotapes, most of it originating outside China.

While the covert appropriation of Chinese cultural space by foreign products such as films, soap opera, sitcoms, television shows, round-the-clock sport broadcasts and massive advertising attracts only marginal attention the globalisation debate, the monopoly, control and manipulation of the news agenda by a handful of Western (American) owned conglomerates (CNN, ABC, News Corporation, Fox News, BBC) is a source of considerable disquiet and concern among Chinese intellectuals and critics of the almost unlimited control of the news flow by foreign media proprietors such as Rupert Murdoch whose Star satellite TV service is spread all over China via China’s fast growing cable network (Financial Times, 16/1/1997; see also Barker 1997: 58-59). Since some eighty percent of the Chinese population have access to television (Barker 1997: 557), the visual presentation and interpretation of world events will have a considerable impact on the individual as well as on China as a nation and assist in the reinforcement of time-worn stereotypes and misunderstandings instead of dismantling them, as Edward Friedman points out in his perceptive comments on the Eurocentric democracy-debate with regard to China and her unfair villification by the West (Friedman 1999: 53-72) which has its roots in the early encounter with Western missionaries. Also, the hope that globalisation " will somehow lead to equity, justice, and democracy - internationally and domestically - is just another kind of utopianism " (Wang 2003: 180) or " fairy tale " (Klein 2002: 174).

Only the principle of " genuine openess " in relation to local problems such as the gap between wealth and poverty, the coastal regions and the rural hinterland, and China’s vexed relationship with the West will be the essential first step in China’s identity reconstruction in Friedman’s sense and ensure China’s constructive contribution as an effective global player as highlighted by the eminent Shanghai historian and cultural commentator Xu Jilin to his book How China Faces the West (1997), quoted by Geremie Barmé as follows:

.... what China needed in response to such fanciful prognostications (Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations) was not narrow, xenophobic nationalism, condemning it to remain a self-important pariah - something that would only exacerbate that country’s efforts to deal with its burdensome traditions and modern dilemmas - but an open-minded and outward-looking patriotism that would permit China to enter the family of nations with confidence. (Barmé 1999: 371)

The hardships, dangers and sacrifices willingly accepted by the Tang monk Xuan Zang (Tripitaka) in Wu Cheng’en’s iconic epic narrative The Journey to the West offer, on a metaphorical level (Li 2001: 247-260), an exemplary insight into China’s present journey to the West through a mirror-maze of conflicting hopes and illusions and into her determination to enrich the life of the individual and society, just as in the golden age of the Han and Tang, spiritually and materially, through the acceptance of universal "otherness" with spiritual openness, determination and self-confidence:

For this reason he longed for the Pure Land and a pilgrimage to the Western Territories. Risking dangers he set out on a long journey, with only his staff for his companion on the solitary expedition. Snow drifts in the morning would blanket his roadway; sand storms at dusk would blot out the horizon. Over ten thousand miles of mountains and streams he proceeded, pushing aside mist and smoke. Through a thousand alternations of heat and cold he advanced amidst frost and rain. As his zeal was great, he considered his task a light one, for he was determined to succeed. (JW IV: 421)

© Li Xia (Newcastle, Australia)


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3.1. Die globalen Probleme des modernen kulturellen Prozesses

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For quotation purposes:
Li Xia (Newcastle, Australia): A Mirror-Maze of Hope and Illusion: Chinese Cultural Identity and Globalisation. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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