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China’s government touted 10 years of reform for its cultural sector on Sunday, saying it had privatised thousands of publishers, newspapers and cultural groups while promoting industries that can spread soft power abroad — all firmly under party control.
Speaking to reporters during the Communist Party’s 18th Congress, several leading cultural regulators praised the achievements of the party leader, Hu Jintao, over the last decade. Hu is scheduled to step down later this week and turn over power to his designated successor, Xi Jinping.
Last week, Hu declared at the opening of the congress that “culture is the lifeblood of a nation” and that “the strength and international competitiveness of Chinese culture are an important indicator of China’s power and prosperity and the renewal of the Chinese nation.”
The participants in the news conference, one of a series over the last few days intended to highlight Hu’s accomplishments, said that China had made great strides toward these goals.
The officials made their case with a blizzard of statistics: China produced 558 feature films in 2011 compared with 140 in 2003; it has 9,200 movie screens versus 1,953 in 2003; it has listed 43 cultural sites with the United Nations, giving it the third-highest number in the world; it set up 600,000 rural reading rooms and offers a free movie each month in villages; it has 2,115 museums that do not charge for admission; and last year it published 370,000 book titles, which officials said was more than any other country in the world. Chinese Central Television has 249 million viewers in 171 countries. It spent 190 million renminbi, or $30.4 million, over the last decade to support 55 minority ethnic groups in China.
Another theme was privatisation. More than 2,000 cultural troupes have been privatised, although the government continues to sponsor worthy productions from a public fund that now has 8.3 billion renminbi ($1.2 billion).
None of this means that the government has relaxed control, officials said.
“Guidance is the soul” of these moves, said Tian Jin, party secretary of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. “We always insist on political responsibility, social responsibility and cultural responsibility.”
Tian said some industries were facing challenges. In film, for example, an agreement earlier this year with the United States has resulted in Chinese films’ losing foreign dominance. He said that from January to October, box-office revenues amounted to 13.27 billion renminbi. Chinese films, however, lost their dominance in their home market, accounting for 41.4 per cent of this gross.
But Tian refused to blame foreign films, saying Chinese films needed to improve.
“The immediate reason is the strong attack by the imported movies,” he said. “But the basic reason is that our competitiveness needs to increase.”
Tian also said that foreign films were not banned from Chinese theaters during national holidays, when the theaters are often very crowded — a claim often made by importers. He said that foreign distributors “voluntarily” decided not to show their products during this time “out of consideration” for local sensibilities.
Chinese films, Tian said, have done less well abroad. In 2011, 55 Chinese films were distributed in 22 countries, grossing 2 billion renminbi.
Tian pledged to do better by carrying out “the 18th Party Congress spirit.”
© 2012 The New York Times News Service