Research Seminar: Red Creative: China’s Cultural Reforms

It is commonly believed that China, along with many other East Asian countries, adopted the ‘creative industries’ model in the first decade of the 21st century.

This adoption was presented by both western and Chinese commentators as a sign of a new stage in the country’s modernisation – for the West, of China’s transition to some form of liberal democracy, for China, a new stage in ‘catch-up’ going back to 1978, 1949 and the 1920s. In this paper, I will suggest that the ‘creative industry moment’ was short-lived, and proved not to be useful to China. ‘Creative industries’, invented in the UK in 1998, involved a policy ‘bundle’ that was more about ideology than actual industry. China’s cultural industry reforms of the 1990s were far more important, as they sought to re-organise the production and distribution of cultural ‘content’ rather than promote ‘creativity’. In this China was closer to South Korea than it was the UK, applying the resources of the ‘developmental state’ to the cultural industries.

I will also argue this focus on cultural industries not only allowed a more effectively targeted policy but it also involved a recognition of culture’s social and political importance. In the West, the ‘creativity discourse’ undermined the idea of culture and transformed it into an economic input. Whilst China also sought economic benefits, it has retained a sense of culture’s social importance which is also something distinctive about the China model. Finally, I will suggest where China’s challenges are in this area, and look back to the reforms of the 1990s and how these might inspire new directions in the next decade.

Justin O’Connor, is a Professor of Cultural Economy at, University of South Australia. He is also visiting Professor in the Department of Cultural Industries Management, Shanghai Jiaotong University. From 2012-2018 he was Professor of Communications and Cultural Economy at Monash University. Between 2012-18 he was part of the UNESCO ‘Expert Facility’, supporting the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Cultural Diversity. 

Justin has produced Creative industry policy reports for the Australian Federal Government and the Tasmanian State Government, and for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DEFAT) on Creative Industries and Soft Power. Previously he helped set up Manchester’s Creative Industries Development Service (CIDS) and has advised cities in Europe, Russia, Korea and China. Under the UNESCO/EU Technical Assistance Programme he has worked with the Ministries of Culture in both Mauritius and Samoa.  

Justin is the author of the 2016 Platform Paper After the Creative Industries: Why we need a Cultural Economy; co-editor (with Kate Oakley) of the 2015 Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries and Cultural Industries in Shanghai: Policy and Planning inside a Global City, (2018). He has just published Red Creative: Culture and Modernity in China (2020) and co-edited Re-Imagining Creative Cities in Asia (2020).  

Location TBC. Please contact before 12 pm on 23rd February to request an invitation.