East vs. West: President Hu Jintao Leads China's Culture War

Recently, the Washington Post published an article about Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent speech regarding the threat of hostile forces abroad feeding unwarranted Western culture to his nation as an attempt to sow division. Wary of the potential danger, he urges party members to remain vigilant.

“We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration,” Hu said.

Although this sounds like a ridiculous conspiracy plot, there is some truth in the president's words. For years, Chinese authorities have been able to block content, monitor multimedia activity, and reinforce socialist principles and values through censorship. But Jintao is correct in saying signs of Westernization have leaked into the nation. This infiltration has only slightly watered down the culture, but a uniquely overwhelming Chinese presence makes the country's own culture distinct from Western culture.

However, that does not mean China should not embrace this culture or that it will divide the country. The consequences of integrating Western and Chinese culture may not be as grave as Jintao thinks. They may even work in his favor.

Japan provides a good model. During the Meiji Restoration in Japan, Western ideas were first adopted by an Asian country. With rapid economic growth, new political leadership, and innovative cultural breakthroughs, the country became a formidable force, rivaling even Western countries.

There are parallels that can be drawn between the turmoil that the Japanese faced and that the Chinese are facing today. Currently, China struggles with domestic issues that have caused dissatisfaction among the public such as income inequality, environmental pollution, a poor health care system, a lack of natural resources, and urbanization on a massive scale. And although there are many factors now that work against producing the same effects, China should look at this Restoration period as evidence for the advantageous social, economic, and political effects of Westernization. If Hu is worried about dissolution, then these internal problems need to be addressed first.

And in terms of Western culture, the popularity and lucrative profits made from foreign movies show that at least much of the youth is openly receptive to the idea and that aspects of it are already embedded within the society. Some of China's modern music and dance draws influence from artists in the United States and Europe. Pop stars Lady Gaga and Britney Spears top Chinese billboard charts alongside notable local singers, but many songs are banned simply because they are not translated in Chinese or contain inappropriate content. 

American blockbuster hits like Avatar and the Transformers franchise, and the Harry Potter series come unrivaled against China's nationalist productions. The Chinese government has attempted to produce their own cultural products, but it is evident in the consistent failures of their movies like Beginning of the Great Revival that the country is currently unable to challenge Western nations in film, television, and other entertainment industries.

If the nation hopes to attain a greater level of cultural enrichment and meet the socioeconomic problems it faces, then the president must not cut the country off from the rest of the world. What he needs to do now is open with welcome arms the thoughts and ideas of the Western people.

Photo Credit: kevinpoh