KTs Juvenile Thoughts on the Soft Power Discussion

The non-virtual version with accompanying peanut gallery

As you are aware, Dear Reader, the chatterati are presently involved in a drag-em-down full-on Texas Cage Death Match. As I previously noted, Justrecently defined the PRCs new conceptual parameters in no uncertain terms. Chinageeks has successfully ditched most of its old school comment base of trolls (incl myself), and reinvented itself with a new generation of interesting posters. Peking Duck, is as you would expect, steady at the helm. Seeing Red in China goes for the long historical sweep, but ignores the role played by the Mongols in developing and systematizing the Old Silk Road(s). Note: There was more than one trade conduit to Medieval Europe. Adam Cathcart’s main site piles on, and the following comes out of exchanges which took place there.

To cite from wiki:

The primary currencies of soft power are an actor’s values, culture, policies and institutions—and the extent to which these “primary currencies”, as Nye calls them, are able to attract or repel other actors to “want what you want.”

Now, I’m going out on a limb and arguing that Nye’s concept of soft power primarily appeals to Western scribblers as it gives them a free kick when it comes to China and how it is presently governed by the CCP. If anything, contemporary China suffers from an excess/a full spectrum of negative charisma outside its borders, and that in part includes it contiguous East Asian neighbours.

Second point. It is an all-encompassing globalising concept, appealing in its simplicity with its attraction/repulsion continuum.
Many may be attracted to aspects of Chinese culture, yet loathe and detest CCP policies and some of its government institution. Forget about bending other global actors/nation states to your will, and think about these lesser issues.

In fact, Nye may have had a passing interest in S @ M, what with his coupling of dominant/subordinate instances of cultural soft power, bending and being bent to the will of others national interests.

One.
Do Japan and South Korea exercise soft power on the global stage, and forget about various US military relationships with these two countries? That is all about pragmatic self-interest. The answer is that they don’t need to worry about their soft power global ratings, since any power they exercise is acquired though the technological excellence of their brands. Western consumers have already voted with their wallets, and are relatively indifferent to these cultures and their institutions of government. That neither repel or attract, while fully satisfying Western materialist wants and desires.

Two
Lady Ga Ga’s massive imprint on Chinese popular youth culture. Okay, Hu would have us believe that this is a low moral instance of US cultural imperialism. A deformation of true/authentic Han culture, of which the CCP is the arbiter. Well, this is hogswash.

All Ms Ga Ga does is provide is a toolkit for outrageous dress sensibilities, plus a most welcome take on sexual identity/identification which is at odds with dominant Sino heterosexual patriarchy. (Not to forget her most welcome AIDS awareness bit.)

She (and I couldn’t name one of her songs if my life depended on it) simply provides a window of personal possibility, kitsch though it is, for young folk. Lowbrow instance of western cultural imperialism/slaves of the West. You have to be joking. Chinese youth simply appropriate aspects of her style to suit their own personal needs and desires. If anything, China is well and truly ready for its own healthy sexual revolution.

To be sure, what I have written above is co-joined with the trash money orientated Super Girl-type TV culture, which I jeer at and which also pisses off Mr Hu, but that can be taken up at a later date.

Three
To recycle, music is one of the perfect conveyor or transmission belts on how we feel about cultures Other than our own. And here I am not talking about, for example, how Korean pop is embraced by diaspora Korean communities outside Seoul. That’s a given.

Despite the fact they have broken, totally crap systems and institutions of governance, think about the disproportionate musical influence exercised by countries like Jamaica, Nigeria, Senegal and poor land-locked Mali. (Even a snake pit like Somalia produces killer sounds.) These countries sell records by the ton thru independent distributorships to honkies like myself.

Uncounted in terms of sales, but majorly influential in the world of popular musical culture. Here in tubbyland I can count on about 30 hours per week of “roots’ music on govt funded radio stations per week, and could spend a year on the road trucking from one global music festival to another. To be sure, Nye’s definition of soft power need not concern itself with the nation state minnows I’ve mentioned, but these small fish punch above their weight in the cultural export department. Unlike China.

Rant over. And don’t ask for a discography. Talk to your personal trainer.

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8 Responses to “KTs Juvenile Thoughts on the Soft Power Discussion”

  1. NiubiCowboy Says:

    China’s attempt to expand its cultural influence abroad begins to fall apart almost as soon as it’s out of the starting gate. It’s not that China lacks interesting people doing interesting things to tell the world about, because they don’t. The problem is that the people, places, and ideas that the rest of the world finds interesting about China are deemed by the leadership as being (a) too Western or (b) not Chinese enough. So, they fall back on the usual song and dance bits…literally. The traditional culture that China ends up promoting through soft power outlets like their Confucius Institutes is culture with which even its own young citizens are bored.

    One: I think Japan certainly exercises a certain amount of soft power on the global stage through their media exports. Anime, manga, video games, samurai and Yakuza films, and other such cultural entry points have ensured that young’uns growing up in the past 2-3 decades in many parts of the West have emerged from adolescence with a pretty positive view of the country as a whole. It’s certainly more positive than the view their parents or grandparents may have held in Japan’s boom years or World War II, respectively.

    The ROK is one to watch, though. It’s popular and traditional culture has had nowhere near the geographic spread that Japan’s has experienced. But, within Asia the Korean Wave (한류) has been immensely popular throughout the region. Korean pop acts do extremely well in both China and Japan, along with their TV soap operas that I imagine feature buckets scattered across sets for the sheer amount of tears released each episode.

    Also, like you said, foreigners have voted with their wallets. It’ll be awfully hard to convince people that the TCL brand TV is preferable to the Sony, LG, or Samsung.

    Three: You express more eloquently what I tried to say over on Chinageeks. Just because China is the biggest kid on the block doesn’t mean he’ll be the coolest kid on the block. Being number one at mass producing the world’s cheap articles doesn’t carry over to hosting the world’s best blues musicians or training the world’s best cricket players.

    Loved your latest bits on here! Keep up the good work updating us on all the goings on in the China blogosphere.

  2. justrecently Says:

    Chinese youth simply appropriate aspects of her style to suit their own personal needs and desires.

    I think it’s really pretty much that. Even countries rich in “soft power” tend to overestimate their influence abroad. I’m just wondering if China’s politicians are overestimating themselves, too, and even more grossly.

    That’s not to say that “soft power” doesn’t matter. But in the past thirty years, China has hardly been “threatened” by “Western concepts”.

    Unless people think of human rights as a “Western” concept, that is. This might be a convenient excuse for dictators, but would ignore the universal nature of human rights and peoples’ desire to have a say in their countries’ future.

  3. kingtubby1 Says:

    Dissemination of the product and how it is appropriated by the Sino (or any) consumer is the point to begin any discussion. (Real 101 stuff).

    Thanks.

    That said, I want this site to explore shifting sexuality issues in China, and also to focus on more film stuff in the near future. Not too sure where to begin with the former however.

    The latest national emergency piece notwithstanding.

  4. kingtubby1 Says:

    @Nuibi Cowboy. Thanks for both replies. Sonatine has one art house set of credits.

    Cricket. I don’t follow the sport at all, but have a close connection to one of the all time batting greats, so I take an academic interest.

    Back to Japanese flics, Miike’s Dead or Alive has to have one of the most powerful introductory editing sequences I have ever seen. Not for children. And it has a killer musical score. The two sequels were turkeys however.

    The original intention was for Dead or Alive go straight to the blockbuster dvd shelf, but the audience decided otherwise. Apparently, Miike prepares for each days shooting by listening to loud J metal grunge while being driven to the set, and Dead or Alive testifies to the fact.

    His later flics, sort of bent horror stuff, didn’t do anything for me at all.

    One of my favourites came very early in his career – Ley Lines.

  5. NiubiCowboy Says:

    Great interview with Orville Schell over at The Browser: http://thebrowser.com/interviews/orville-schell-on-china-and-us?page=full

    I thought this quote was pretty relevant to our discussion:

    “China confuses propaganda and public relations with cultural power. I think it has the idea that if it only tries harder, and engages its PR and propaganda machine more forcefully, then everyone will see China’s glories and will appreciate China more. But of course that’s a very strange notion of what soft power and true cultural self confidence is. It’s not something you can create, it arises naturally out of society. I think that speaks of a lingering insecurity and uncertainty about just how substantial China really is.”

    Ah, Dead or Alive! I can still remember the first time I watched that and how I struggled to pick my jaw up off of the floor after the ending. Never got around to seeing the sequels, but I had friends tell me the original’s awesomeness most certainly did not carry over to the follow-ups.

  6. justrecently Says:

    I’d agree with Schell if I took that PR concept at face value. It may be that the rulers can’t imagine that China’s realities, rather than a misunderstanding, may be to blame for those recalcitrant foreign hostilities. But in fact, I believe, the CCP will be glad if the whole culture program has the desired effect at home: a sense of competition between “us” China (including the CCP, if need be), and “them” (those foreigners who are just biding their time to destroy our beautiful garden and to subjugate us all over again).

    If the CCP is hopeful that cultural power can be projected far beyond the clestial kingdom’s borders, these are most probably long-term hopes. In the short run, they are expected to stabilize CCP rule at home.

  7. kingtubby1 Says:

    RE The Hermit of Peking. Edmund Backhouse. Can’t wait to read it. Remittance man, scribbler of empress porn, linguist, art forger and true British eccentric.
    A bit of a polymath similar to Richard Burton and a host of other products of the British establishment.

    I could deep six the person who stole my copy of Seagrave, the one on the Soong sisters, as Seagrave provides some very precise footnotes on the old reprobate.

  8. Adam Cathcart Says:

    Nicely done, King. And the Schell comment re: confusing propaganda and soft power seems rather correct; also thought you were right on about academics getting rather more excited than they ought to thanks to Nye, who gives them (“us,” I suppose) free license to babble!

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