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Study of cultural industry needs more theoretical exploration

Author  :  HAN HAN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-04-28

Cultural industry has been the focus of humanities and social science research in China over the past decade, a trend which is closely related to the reality of China's rising cultural industry. As the industry has become an important part of China's national economy, its disciplinary development has lagged behind. One of the major reasons is inadequate theoretical construction.

For a long time, the study of cultural industry in China has mainly been characterized by the study of countermeasures, that is, to focus on one particular case, cultural enterprise or the cultural status quo of a certain place or municipality. Such a study is helpful in discovering and solving practical problems in time and providing guidance on what to do next.

However, it cannot become the entirety of the study and fails to underpin the whole knowledge framework of the discipline, which requires cultural industry study to place a high premium on theoretical construction.

Based on the study of 3,980 Chinese academic papers themed “cultural industry" published by CNKI in November, 2019, it was found that 3,649 papers were about applied studies such as suggestions on countermeasures, case studies, policy interpretations or research reports, accounting for 91.68% of the total. There are only 51 papers about the basic research of cultural industry, accounting for 1.28% of the total. The rest are interviews, translations and other articles. It can be seen that the academic circle of cultural industry in China pays little attention to theoretical exploration.

In addition, the academia at hand relies strongly on Western theories of cultural industry, theories that can not fully interpret the the industry of China. For example, the cultural industry theory of the Frankfurt School has long before been outdated in the West, let alone effective in China, and it would easily lead to the confusion between cultural industry and such concepts as cultural consumption, cultural market and cultural economy.

There are also some scholars who are keenly aware of the limitation of the interpretive effectiveness of Western cultural industry theory. Hu Huilin, a professor from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, believes that the concept of "cultural industry" proposed by the Frankfurt school and its related theories are increasingly far from the cultural industry studied by the academic circles of today. Tao Dongfeng, a professor from Guangzhou University, also believes that when bringing in Western critical theory of culture, one should be soberly aware of its limited applicability in understanding and analyzing Chinese problems. Otherwise, mechanically applying Western critical theories to Chinese social and cultural studies will inevitably obscure some important theoretical problems, resulting in blind spots in cognition and misunderstandings in evaluation.

Chinese cultural industry has evolved over nearly two centuries since the late Qing Dynasty when Western learning spread to the East. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese cultural industry, as a socialist cultural undertaking, has achieved great development. Especially since the 18th CPC National Congress, the industry has made great efforts with the proposal of such national strategies as the “Belt and Road” initiative, culture and tourism integration, deep integration of culture and science & technology. It has formed its own complete innovation mechanism and development law in line with China's national conditions.

Early on, Chinese scholars reflected on the Chinese path of cultural industry from different theoretical perspectives. The theoretical construction of Chinese cultural industry study began in the 1980s, but has not made a major breakthrough. Despite the fact, some fruitful results have been produced. For example, “On Socialist Cultural Industry” authored by Li Jianzhong, an assistant research fellow from the Institute of Economy at Zhejiang Provincial Planning and Economic Commission is one early paper that tries to interpret the Chinese path of the development of cultural industry in China.

Furthermore, given the cross-disciplinary trait of cultural industry itself, experience from other disciplines can be drawn. For example, theories of art and literature, history, economics and other disciplines can provide reference for enriching the theoretical system of cultural industry from different perspectives.


Han Han is from the National Institute of Cultural Development at Wuhan University.


(Edited and translated by Bai Le)

Editor: Yu Hui

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