Going beyond the world of economy and military, China is also emerging as a soft power with Chinese food, art and films challenging the global domination of Western culture, observes a book.

“A poor country cannot afford such a global cultural infrastructure, but as it climbs the development ladder, China can and will,” writes Martin Jacques in the updated edition of his book “When China Rules the World”.

Jacques, a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, argues that the Asian tiger’s growing global influence will be based on a range of different but interconnected forms of power which are both economic and cultural.

The Beijing Olympics, the Shanghai Expo, the growing number of impressive international channels offered by CCTV and the establishment of hundreds of Confucius Institutes around the world to teach and promote Mandarin are part of what might be described as China’s ‘going out’ cultural strategy.

In recent years there have been a series of big-budget, blockbuster Chinese movies like “Hero”, “Crouching Tiger”,” Hidden Dragon”, “House of Flying Daggers” which have been huge box office successes even in the West.

Chinese film directors like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige and actors like Gong Li, Let Li and Jackie Chan are becoming globally popular.

“In the longer run, the Chinese film industry is likely to challenge the global hegemony of Hollywood and also embody a distinctive set of values,” says the author predicting that Chinese companies will one day acquire Hollywood studios.

The growth of Chinese art is another case in point.

Neglected by the international market till now, Chinese art is now in demand in international auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

Through its food and martial art forms, the ‘Dragon Country’ is already exerting a major global cultural influence.

“Even if people know little about China, they are often familiar with a Chinese dish or two, and are conversant with chopsticks even if they cannot use them,” says the book.

With the rise of the country’s economic prowess, a growing number of people around the world are beginning to acquire Chinese as a second language.

“It is far too early yet to say what the reach of Mandarin might one day be, but it will in time probably join English as a global lingua franca and perhaps eventually surpass it,” predicts the book.

Citing the examples of some of the infrastructural wonders that the Communists are building, Jacques writes.

“Indeed, this can already be counted as part of China’s emergent soft power, not only in the developing world but also the developed world“.

Giving tough competition to American universities, those from China will, Jacuqes claims, in the next two decades rise steadily up the global rankings to eventually occupy positions within the top ten.

Published by Penguin, the book, rich with data and analysis, reasons that China too will build its hegemony in the cultural space just the way America could set the benchmark of global modernity by its wealth and economic growth.

(This article was published on August 9, 2012)
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