Posts Tagged ‘ministry of culture’

Red Detachment Redux and the Cowboy Spirit

Friday, August 5th, 2011

by Cathy Barbash

For those of you who did not get enough of the Red Detachment of Women during this winter’s run of Nixon in China at the Met, the National Ballet of China will be performing excerpts of the ballet (possibly the same excerpt reinterpreted and interpolated into the opera by Mark Morris) in its mixed program as part of the Kennedy Center’s latest China festival, “CHINA: The Art of a Nation.” (The Ministry of Culture considered their 2005 Festival of China so successful, they wanted another.) Alas, the remainder of the program features the equally unavoidable Yellow River Concerto and Swan Lake excerpts. After visual arts, China’s dance companies lead the way in innovation and international marketability of their arts. Why such conservative repertoire? Why not show the latest the company has to offer?

Interesting related updates: the Inner Mongolian Chorus also performed as part of the Kennedy Center’s 2005 Festival of China. Since then however, consistent with the continuing Reform and Opening Up of cultural industries, a small ensemble originating from this chorus has gone off on their own, with great success so far. An Da Union has toured twice through our heartland through Arts Midwest’s Worldfest program (as has Beauty and Melody). They play the Edinburgh Festival later this month, and are the subject of an upcoming documentary. Mostly younger performers, they have had the courage, savvy and entrepreneurial spirit to break away from the old fashioned “large official group” mentality that limits much international touring of large official Chinese ensembles to large-scale sit-down festivals.

Wishful Thinking

Friday, July 29th, 2011

by Cathy Barbash

Hear ye hear ye, international arts consultants looking to profit by advising on the development of cultural industry infrastructure, in particular the development of theater districts, be advised that China’s own home-grown consultants have entered the fray. I had the opportunity recently to see one of their observations:

“I was in (second tier Chinese city) last week for a consultant project on a theatre district which the municipal government wants to build. As for setting up ongoing shows there, it seems the market is not big enough yet. The people would rather spend money in eating than go to the theatre. The city doesn’t have enough entertainment consumption demands. So, to build a feasible business model to run the theatres and to keep the district alive, we think we need financial, merchandise, convention, and hotel businesses to support the theatres. China has not had a theatre district like Broadway. The theatres in Beijing and Shanghai are both scattered. To build a theatre district in this city ….is quite risky. Nonetheless, the municipal government and the investors want to make this theatre district. It’s a great location, and a big planning area. Ah ha, it is a big idea, a big ambition.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

In other US-China arts-related news, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will be announcing shortly the final line-up for its CHINA: The Art of a Nation Festival, scheduled for late September. Evidently, the PRC Ministry of Culture was so thrilled by the success of the JFK’s 2005 Festival of China (brilliantly curated by Alicia Adams), they wanted a sequel.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

by Cathy Barbash

Within the last six months, a Ministry of Culture subsidiary actually hired a local foreign media expert to advise them on the use of social and other internet media tools to improve its cultural diplomacy (aka soft power) initiatives. Foreign expert told them to use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and the like.

Ministry of Culture tossed the recommendation.

Within a day of my learning the above, a senior Chinese corporate director asked my advice on VPNs, the software devices that let the user bypass the Great Firewall of China.

China singing a new tune?

Monday, December 1st, 2008

by Ken Smith

Making the rounds among China music-watchers the past couple of weeks has been a report that, following the fuss over lip-synching at the Beijing Olympics, the Ministry of Culture may be clamping down on professional performers “faking it.” First reported in the Guardian, then picked up in numerous news sites and chatrooms, the Ministry will start pulling performing licenses of any professional singer or musician caught miming more than once in a two-year period.

Does anyone really believe this will happen? The article cites the Shanghai Noon News’s claim that less than 20 percent of performers in China actually sing their shows live. There’s a reason for this. China’s regulations may be cruel, silly and short-sighted, but they are rarely arbitrary. Pop music is often mimed for the same reason that television never goes live. The last thing the government really wants, or will even tolerate, is spontaneity. For anyone who gives this report a shred of credibility, I have only one word: Bjork.


Thanksgiving Day saw a performance of the Verdi Requiem by the China Philharmonic Orchestra at Beijing’s Forbidden City Concert Hall commemorating the Karajan Centenary. Ordinarily, that would hardly be worth more than a news brief, except that this particular performance was one that, according to a Telegraph article (carried by, was under threat due to a supposed “ban on Western religious music.”

The original article, which immediately fueled conspiracy theories both in Europe and China, is a masterpiece of bad reporting – a loosely strung series of half-facts with no apparent context. Particularly irritating is the fact that the Chinese sources are anonymous and untraceable. Each point, too, is clearly refutable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Beijing Music Festival, one of the supposed victims of the ban. Admittedly, last Thursday’s Requiem was originally supposed to be part of the Festival, but this was more a matter of the China Phil not having its act together than a censorship decree. (Nor was Handel’s Messiah “banned” from the public – it was intended from the beginning to play at Beijing’s Wangfujing Church, which with its limited seating capacity of 400 never sells tickets to the public anyway.)

Even the very timing of the story was suspicious, coming out as it did on China’s October 1 national holiday and opening night of the Beijing Festival, ensuring that no one would be able to refute the article for several days. It makes me wonder what disgruntled musician or manager placed that story, and why.

A few weeks ago in Shanghai, a Chinese reporter asked me in hushed tones if I thought there was any truth to China’s alleged sacred music ban. “You tell me,” I said. “Better yet, tell me if any reputable source anywhere in the world follows this up with even a hint of substance.” So far, I have yet to hear a word.