The word "culture" remains very sensitiveby Yuan Ren / April 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
I recently asked a friend what he thought was mainstream culture in China. “It’s car, money and house,” he said. “That’s it.”
He may be exaggerating, but such comments suggest an uncomfortable truth about the place of culture in today’s China—most people couldn’t care less about it. A Saturday evening spent at the theatre? Unthinkable for the average person. You certainly must be very well educated if that’s what you’re doing.
When Chinese people say that someone “has culture,” it doesn’t mean that he or she is cultured in films, books or the arts. It means they’ve had a good education, and are knowledgeable in history and Chinese Classics. To say of someone that they “have no culture,” is effectively to call them a peasant.
London and New York are associated with culture: the pop-up food markets, the concerts and film festivals. It’s hard to find a Chinese equivalent for much of this. While there is a growing appreciation, as well as offering of culture, very few Chinese participate in cultural happenings. The few that do will attend talks, exhibitions and music salons, held in venues that range from the Capital Library to independent bookshops. Many of these events are niche and small, much less visible than in London or New York.