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China’s Rising Soft Power

Back in college I learned about “soft power,” the term Joseph Nye coined to describe the way America uses its cultural products (movies, music, sports, etc.) to expand its power overseas.  Soft power is an alternative to hard power, whereby America flexes its muscles with military might.

American preeminence shows that it takes a combination of both hard and soft power to retain hegemony.  So it makes sense for a rising nation like China to follow the same model.

China is funding a Hollywood film for 2014 anchored by a Chinese superhero that saves the world.  Concurrently, China is building up its military and roaming the Asia Pacific to compete with the United States.

China is therefore building up the might to fight America on two fronts.  But it won’t win the culture marketing battle.

For one, China is not a cultural hodgepodge like the US.  American diversity allows it to tell a multitude of stories that can relate to anyone the world.  China is too uniform with non-existent enclaves.

Secondly, there’s no entertainment business foundation in China.  Hollywood and even Bollywood in India are the results of intense investment in monetizing cultural enrichment.  Chinese actors are rare and few, musicians more so.

Lastly, China is doing itself a disservice by keeping tight control of the Internet.  The Internet is the fulcrum for word of mouth marketing.  Even a negative tweet review about a new release is spreading awareness, something the great Chinese Firewall might block.

Remember America too resisted internationalism before it found itself with the global responsibility to save and entertain the world.

Cultural packaging and export will be a tough sell for China.  The market is already crowded with good stories and quality content from the West.  Not too mention the glut of user generated content.  If China is going to all of a sudden make hits to spread its power it should get the backing of its own people first.

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of Discvr.blog and four books.