Beijing turns to Hollywood to win hearts and minds


When Yang Shuping spoke Sunday of her eternal gratitude to the University of Maryland for teaching her about “free speech” and showing her that her “voice mattered,” she may not have realized just how much it mattered, The Washington Post reports:

A video of her eight-minute address [above] at her commencement ceremony at the university went viral in China, attracting 50 million views and provoking hundreds of thousands of critical comments by Chinese netizens the following day. Even the People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, weighed in, reporting on a crescendo of criticism of Yang for “bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes.” Accused by nationalist netizens of flattering the United States and belittling China, Yang was forced to make an apology Monday.

Having suffered setbacks in its attempts to improve its image around the world, China now appears to have found the key to success by investing in Hollywood. Here’s the payoff for Hollywood: In return for working with Chinese investors to produce films acceptable to Beijing, American film studios are sharing in China’s movie theater profits, writes RFA’s Dan Southerland:

With U.S. ticket sales relatively flat, analysts had been predicting for some time that China was likely to become the world’s largest box-office market within a few years. Given a slowdown in 2016 in China’s ticket sales, though, those predictions are looking overly optimistic at the moment. Meanwhile, given China’s censorship regulations, Hollywood executives have been paying a price for cooperating with China on film productions. In numerous cases, industry leaders have curtailed their creative freedom in deference to China.

In a report issued in March this year, Shanthi Kalathil, the author of numerous scholarly publications, describes how China discovered the value of using Hollywood to improve its image, Southerland adds:

Her report was published by the Center for International Media Assistance, which is part of the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED). China has seen America derive “tremendous soft power” from its culture and entertainment, according to Kalathil. China, she says, discovered that through Hollywood, “in a form of market-based judo, it can use the soft power strength of the United States for its own purposes.”


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