Hong Huang: Zhang Ziyi and “China’s Soft Power Army”

Elliott:  This is the first post of a series of new translations by C. Custer of the now ubiquitous ChinaGeeks.  To paraphrase a famous leader, revolution is not a dinner party, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly and modestly…but only through incisive blogging, critical commentary, and sharp, selective translations of Chinese-language content. (OK, I added the last part, but that’s where Custer and we are fellow travelers).

The following is a translation of this blog post by Hong Huang. Hong Huang (sometimes spelled Hung Huang) is a magazine publisher and an extremely popular blogger on the Chinese internet. For more on her, readers can check out this post on Danwei.

Translation: China’s Soft Power Army

Zhang Ziyi

Zhang Ziyi on the January cover of iLook

In 2006, Professor Zhang Yiwu wrote in his article “How to Sell Chinese Culture” in New Weekly, “One Yao Ming, one Zhang Ziyi are more effective than ten thousand Confuciuses. “Jewel in the Palace” [a popular Korean drama] is a good example of Korea getting both high culture and low culture [into other countries].”

“Only if we emphasize Zhang Ziyi the way we emphasize Confucius does Chinese culture have a future.”

These sentences were quickly twisted by media-watchers into “Peking University Professor Says Confucius isn’t as Good as Zhang Ziyi” and “One Zhang Ziyi is Better Than 100 Confuciuses,” etc., then it was published on the internet, and poor Professor Zhang took quite a lashing online. It was so bad that even in this issue of our iLook Reader magazine, which is on soft power, Professor Zhang is still having to explain himself.

When I went online to look up information about the incident, I found a statistic saying that 99% of netizens were opposed to the statement  ”One Zhang Ziyi is Better Than 100 Confuciuses.” In that case, it seems I really am one of the poor, deserving-of-abuse 1%.

First of all, as far as China is concerned, I think soft power and hard power are equally important. Secondly, we currently have hard power, but our soft power is very weak. In terms of manufacturing, we are a giant exporter, but in terms of culture, we are importers; we import 15 times more culture than we export. Third, we often talk about the great achievement of thousands-of-years-old Chinese culture, as if China today had no culture to speak of.

Put it this way, let’s look at the great “soft power armies” of other countries: France’s definitely wear Dior army uniforms, carry Louis Vuitton satchels, the army marches out with glittering Cartier emblems, and when they fire over a volley of red wine, China’s fashion industry definitely lines the streets to welcome them, as though they were looking upon excellent fashions. The most unwelcoming thing they might do is strip them and send the French home naked!

And if it’s America? There would be a column of Mickey Mouses, a column of Donald Ducks, and a column of Tom and Jerrys. There would be Transformers, Superman, Batman, and Spiderman; Chinese children under 16 would happily think it was a promotional activity for a toy store.

And then there’s the Chinese soft power army; if we go with what netizens want, then it’s a 2000-year-old rotten old man? If Confucius hadn’t once denounced the daughters of peasants, most Chinese wouldn’t know what “the Master” was talking about even if he spoke all day.

Soft power can’t open a bunch of schools, or bring thousand-year-old etiquette back to life, and speaking official jargon that no one can understand isn’t soft power, either.

Soft power should be an army of Zhang Ziyis, who wouldn’t exclaim upon seeing that! No matter who we attacked, no one would resist. Right? So don’t look down on those who are alive, or those who are smaller or prettier than you. Soft power is something that, when you see it once, you want to hand over your guns, can Confucius do that? Explain all you want, but you can’t explain [how that would work].

This month’s January 2010 issue of iLook has special meaning, as it will be published in Taiwan as well as on the Mainland. We are happy to announce that ours is the first copyrighted Mainland periodical to be published in Taiwan. The magazine [called Metro City in Taiwan, apparently] will hit newsstands in Taiwan on January 20th.

This counts as our contribution to China’s soft power, it’s also why we were absolutely sure we wanted Zhang Ziyi to be on the cover on both sides of the Strait. If it was Confucius instead, [prospects for the magazine] would have been hopeless, right?

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