Concert Reviews

Culture and Aesthetics
in Modern China
Feature Article for Center Magazine
Midland Center for the Arts
January 2004


          Inside the wonderful Midland Center for the Arts, it’s easy to be enmeshed in our civilization's arts, aesthetics, and culture. Recently, though, I have found that an examination of how the People’s Republic of China views our and their own cultures an eye-opening experience.
          The People's Daily, known to be in accord with the ideas and ideologies of China's Central Government, each day reproduces on its web site what it considers the top ten or so articles from its printed edition that day. The last six months of those articles show that (in addition to the expected news about world and national politics, diplomacy, economics, and technology), arts and culture have been high on that newspaper’s priorities.
          In my research into China over the last few years, it has become clear that the Chinese people are rightfully proud of their 5000-plus-year cultural history, and so maybe it is not surprising that articles about that find their way into the "top ten" stories.
          Such stories included information on plans for the largest renovation of Beijing's Forbidden City in 100 years, in time for the 2008 Olympics (Nov 13), new regulations to preserve the Great Wall (Jun 27), and the migration back to China of cultural relics from all over the world (Oct 26, Nov 19). Large coverage was given to the discovery that Chinese and Japanese had begun "prehistoric exchanges" some 7000 years ago (Oct 12) and the unearthing of a 5000-year-old skeleton (Jul 12).
          After enormous coverage of the flight of Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut, in the issue that reported his safe return to earth, the number one story was "I did not see Great Wall from space". (Oct 17)
          The arts and their impact on modern Chinese culture receive their fair share of attention in the press, as well. As might be expected, most carry something of a subtext of the perceived "clash" between traditional Chinese and encroaching Western cultures – such as in the series of articles over several weeks about China's hosting its first international beauty contest, the recent Miss World Contest. They were finally able to report that, while Miss Ireland came in first, Miss China placed third. (Dec 7).
          In addition there was the success of a lawsuit by a Chinese master calligrapher against The Wall Street Journal's parent company for their unauthorized use of his work in marketing pieces they produced (Oct 8), an opinion piece about the need for the Chinese to adopt the same level of proper manners that they expect of foreign visitors (Aug 14), and the "invasion" of English into Chinese culture, particularly in all levels of education (Nov 2), while announcing a push by Chinese scholars to focus on the women writers of the Ming and Qing dynasties (Jul 4).
          Important to them was the fact that the film Matrix Revolutions earned almost $2.5 million US in China (Nov 16), the success in America of the newest Charlie’s Angels movie (Jun 30), and the phenomenal sales success in China of recent books by soccer star David Beckham and Senator Hillary Clinton, plus titles such as Harry Potter and Who Moved My Cheese. (Nov 10). Also featured were articles on the battle between "freedom" and "copyright" (Nov 15) and the destruction of 42 million pirated CDs (Aug 13).
          Admittedly, these articles are reproduced on the newspaper's web site for an English speaking audience (inside China's borders and without), but I wonder if a Chinese version of, say, The New York Times were published on the Web, whether on September 12, 2003 the number one story would have been the death of American country singer Johnny Cash. In The People's Daily listing, it was.

     Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr., a university Dean in Michigan, currently writes music reviews for The Saginaw News. For the last 25 years, his music criticism has appeared in local, regional, and national publications.
     Proctor founded and for many years conducted a madrigal ensemble called The Campion Consort, and he has had many years' experience in arts and artist management.
     He is Executive Director of the Alden B. Dow Creativity Center and Northwood University's National Arts Programs.
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