China’s Minister of Culture Cai Wu

The world needs an open China, and China needs to open to the world, said China’s Minister of Culture, Cai Wu, at a dinner with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council on Wednesday. China cannot achieve its dreams simply through economic growth, impressive though that has been in the past three decades, but must also foster cultural prosperity. “Without cultural development, one can never build a modern country with success.” However even cultural development must make sound business sense, said Mr Cai – the rules of the market cannot be ignored.

Looking back over 5,000 years of Chinese history, Mr Cai said that China has traditionally had an open and inclusive culture, and has absorbed many foreign influences, particularly over the Silk Road. At the same time Chinese culture has influenced the rest of the world. “The four great inventions of ancient China, namely paper, gunpowder, printing and the compass, have helped to propel the progress of human cilization.” Now as part of the “Chinese Dream” espoused by President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government intends to promote a new set of cultural values consistent with contemporary China, which “we hope will bring out the great creativity and vitality of our people.”

Acknowledging America’s tradition of creativity and innovation, Mr Cai said this is something that China can learn from: “Everyone knows that kung fu comes from China, and pandas come from China. But Kung Fu Panda is from Mr Jeffrey Katzenberg and his colleagues!” Katzenberg, the CEO of Dreamworks Animation, was in the audience, and he revealed that his company is in the final stages of agreeing to make Kung Fu Panda 3, but this time as a full US-China joint production, which he says will be the first ever animated film to be jointly made by the US and China. Mr Cai also highlighted the collaborative work being done in the cultural field in China by Disney, IMG Artists and by iMax: “such collaborations, we believe, will bring more opportunities for Chinese and American cultural enterprises.”

Pointing out that the Chinese government has collectively decided to allow market forces to govern in all fields, Mr Cai said “we will attach more attention to economic benefits of culture to supplement its traditional role of serving the public interest.” Translation: if you want to get involved in a cultural enterprise in China, make sure your business plan is sound. He acknowledged there were many differences between the US and China, but said that his government would try to “speed up cooperation on cultural enterprises,” and, most importantly for the US side, “we will step up our efforts to safeguard intellectual property rights”. Theft of US intellectual property in China has long been a divisive issue between Washington and Beijing.

When asked if artists in China could be truly free to express their own views, or if they are constrained by social or political pressure, Mr Cai said every artist has the right to express their own thoughts, “but every artist lives in society, so it is better for the artist to echo the realities of the people.” The realities of living in China and the realities of living in America still differ in many respects. But as Dominic Ng, Chairman and CEO of East West Bank, said in his introduction of the minister, the US and China “cannot form a sustainable relationship if we just focus on the economy and the military – we must also work on people to people engagement and on more cultural exchanges.” In the end of the day, it is through culture that we learn to understand other countries.