The rise of China's soft power
China is getting richer, stronger and more influential. That is well known. But what’s less known is how the country’s soft power is gradually expanding too.
In the past there were the old agents of China’s cultural influence like the Confucius Institute efforts at primary, high schools and universities. These were more state promoted efforts to enhance the image of China. But nowadays China’s growing soft power is more economical derived. In the growing movie business China is a market to be reckoned with. In 2015 there were nearly 30,000 movie screens in China (second biggest market in the world), which equals an annual turnover of about forty billion USD. Half of that amount comes from foreign movies (mostly Hollywood) which are well received by the Chinese audience. The third Jurassic Park grossed in its first weekend nearly 550 million USD, of which one fifth in China. In 2015 Forbes Magazine calculated that actor Robert Downey Junior was the best paid actor in the world. That success came largely thanks to his second Avengers film, which in China earned 200 million USD.
Another aspect why Hollywood is paying attention to China is that Chinese cinemas are only allowed to show a maximum of 34 foreign films per year which obviously increases competition between the various Hollywood productions. There are ways to avoid the quota system though. If productions are co-financed by Chinese producers or if studios incorporate some positive Chinese elements in the storyline, it’s easier to get admitted to the very lucrative Chinese market. Iron Man 3, Transformers IV and X-Men are just some examples of Hollywood blockbusters who did the latter to avoid the quota system. Therefore Beijing determines not only with how American movies are shown to the Chinese, but also more and more how they are shown to the American public.There is also Chinese mogul Wang Jianlin, who's been scooping up US entertainment companies for Dalian Wanda Group, who bought the all-American Dick Clark Productions for an eye-popping $1 billion. China's richest man now owns the Golden Globes, American Music Awards and Billboard Music Awards – as well as AMC Theaters. The China to Hollywood story is similar what is unfolding in Silicon Valley, where Chinese companies have been paying huge sums of money to buy innovative Silicon Valley tech companies.
Other new agents of China are successful entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, the Alibaba founder who is regularly invited to speak at international meetings like in Davos. It is said Beijing even asked him to meet the then US President-Elect Trump (what also happened) in an effort to scale the waters of the future China-US relationship.
Stories like Hollywood and Silicon Valley will unfold more in the near future. Western countries and companies will need to deal much more than they think with China’s soft power.