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Research project: Digital China: from Cultural Presence to Innovative Nation

The aims of the project over three years are to:

  • critique how the Chinese government is co-opting key digital platforms to participate in its ‘going out’ campaign;
  • evaluate the reputation of these platforms internationally, and within China;
  • question the role of Internet users in the ‘going out’ campaign;
  • identify how the Internet is assisting Chinese culture to go out (zou chuqu) and international culture to find its way into the Chinese market (zou jinlai);

In the process, we will draw on social media analysis, interviews with business and policy makers, and conduct focus groups of consumers/users to construct and visualise a cultural power index. Such an index might be a way of evaluating the relative ‘power’ of foreign culture in China, including Australian culture.

Over the past decade the Chinese government has assisted many of the nation’s media and cultural enterprises to ‘go global’. We characterise the dissemination of Chinese culture as its ‘presence.’ Despite significant government aid, however, global consumption of culture is dominated by western stories, by Hollywood-based companies, by works on Broadway and in the West End. Aside from Chinese language territories and the Chinese Diaspora, and various arts and film festivals, Chinese culture has failed to make an impression. Following a number of scholars, we concur that Chinese culture lacks global influence.

Thanks to the rapid technological transformation of China’s economy and society, media producers, film makers, artists and designers are looking to scale new heights. A policy blueprint called Internet+, launched in 2015, gave companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Wanda a license to internationalise, and with this, more freedom to work with foreign partners. Digital entrepreneurship entered mainstream discourse, promising to rejuvenate China’s reputation as a copycat nation.

Our project will assess successes and failures of China’s digital platforms; in doing so we will investigate representative media and cultural outputs. The aim is to develop a ‘cultural power metric’; in other words, a means of evaluating what kind of Chinese culture connects with audiences (and users), how and with what effect it connects, and whether such connection is leading to an increase in hybrid forms.

The geographical scope is the Asia-Pacific, a region wherein one encounters a range of attitudes towards the Chinese nation, attitudes that are more diverse and critical than populations living on the mainland. In the Asia-Pacific, for instance, people enjoy the benefits of pluralism. Looking at Chinese media content through the lens of pluralism invites scepticism. On the other hand, many overlook the ideological fingerprints on television and film products, instead finding a cultural connection with traditional ideas of harmony. In this project, we examine such filters and drill down into the potential for Chinese culture to ‘rejuvenate.’

Areas for future research publications include the following:

  • How the project methodology is used to develop an index;
  • The dissemination of Chinese content (film, music, animation) on digital channels, its destinations, and audiences, both intended and accidental;
  • Regional developments with the mainland in relation to an emerging digital China (e.g. how Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, and Shanghai are developing their specific digital strategies, and how these relate to the national agenda)
  • Projects relating to ‘digital China’ in the Asian region (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, as well as digital encroachments on the new Silk Road;
  • Issues related to innovation and ‘innovative nation’ as it pertains to the resources and human capital of the BAT;
  • Contrasts between virtual expansion of networks and physical and logistical infrastructure;
  • Competition in and between platforms and platform ‘owners’ in China;
  • Tensions and synergies between three layers: government, platform owners and users;
  • Policy analysis of digital creative industries and its relationship with digital platforms seeking to ‘go out’, and inter alia soft power/ cultural power;
  • Internet sovereignty, territorial expansion strategies, and its relationship with the aspirations of the BAT;
  • Digital nationalism and its discontents, including techno-utopian ‘Chinese Dreams.’
  • Foreign digital companies and their (ad)ventures in China, for instance their investments in Chinese companies and vice-versa; does the hype of digital startup culture in China offer hope for foreign businesses, including aspiring Australian businesses;
  • New digital (and hybrid) forms of Chinese culture brokered by innovations such as VR and AR;
  • The Made-in-China 2025 project and its relationship to the rejuvenation of China;

   

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