The Belt and Road Initiative: cultural diversity instead of cultural imperialism
By Artur Leier  ·  2021-03-03  ·   Source: China Focus

Aerial photo taken on November 8, 2019 shows the extension of Southern Expressway in Sri Lanka (XINHUA) 

On December 31, 2020, the University of Hamburg, one of the largest universities in Germany with over 40,000 students, canceled its cooperation agreement with the Chinese Confucius Institute. This decision was made even though, since its opening in 2007, the Confucius Institute in Hamburg is a popular place to discover Chinese culture and learn the language. Especially students use the opportunities. Some participate to have better chances in their future working life, others are interested in Chinese culture and oftentimes both motivations go hand in hand. 

The Confucius Institutes aim for cooperation with the host country and usually they are joint projects with universities. The interest is there and grows further as the China’s economy advances. But the demand for such cultural alternatives also increases with the decline of culture in the West. The Confucius Institutes are part of Chinese efforts to promote cultural cooperation with partner countries. On a strategic level it’s about using the big financial potential of the Belt and Road Initiative, to oppose western monopoly also in the area of culture.

Although this cultural potential is barely realized, there is already political pressure. The University of Düsseldorf in Germany also canceled its cooperation agreement with the local Confucius Institute in 2020. Internationally nearly 10 percent of more than 500 locations were closed. In German politics the Green Party has the most aggressive agitation against cooperation and cultural exchange with China.

Is it about "Freedom" again?

What is the reason for such political pressure on cultural projects? Officially it is once again about hollow words like freedom and democracy. China is being accused of restricting the freedom of science and teaching. In light of the increasing neoliberal conformity at German universities, the hypocrisy is apparent. Their culture of freedom of speech and democratic tolerance looks as follows:

A study published in September 2020 in the research journal “Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie” found that about half of the surveyed students do not tolerate different opinions. Even more stated that people with other views should be excluded from teaching assignments. A third even wanted to banish disagreeable books from the libraries. It wasn’t asked if such books should also be burned.

Increasingly, the discourse at Western universities and in growing parts of society is limited to what is dictated by the neoliberal mainstream in politics, press and culture. Through this the capitalist sham democracies cultivate something that the Chinese call “Baizuo”: arrogant and intolerant petit burgeois – too cowardly for hard criticism against their domestic exploitative regime but very courageous in their condemnation of people and states that are resisting it.

Obviously, it is not about freedom. It is part of the political campaign against emerging China. Just like the informational and economic warfare, which becomes more active, the more successful China progresses on its own path. But the aggressive reaction against cultural cooperation has a further reason: Especially in Germany the transatlantic finance capital needs cultural hegemony to stay in power. Should alternatives to their neoliberal brainwashing arise, many would start questioning the one-sided Westbindung (alignment with the West).

Short history of cultural brainwashing

Since Reeducation and Marshall Plan after World War II, a cultural monopoly was imposed on West Germany. From Rock ‘n’ Roll to the current corporate music, people are manipulated since early childhood, by what the experts of social engineering develop. Today more than ever, the monopolized entertainment industry, from Hollywood to the oligopoly of music corporations, has a clear political agenda and barely hides it anymore. The same is true for other areas of culture, like literature or “modern art”. Now we know that awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pasternak was a CIA operation and modern art is a weapon of culture war. Culture has always been an important political battlefield, which aims at conquering the minds and hearts of people. 

The Cold War saw attempts to oppose this giant culture machine but none of that could establish itself in the West. Instead, individuals from socialist states were highly praised as great artists and showered with Western awards, when they turned into system critics for lack of artistic achievements. The longer the Cold War lasted, the further the socialist states fell behind in this fight. And when the possibilities of the Internet appeared, it was already too late. The 1980s were the aesthetic climax of Western offensive in the culture war. After the system competition disappeared, a deliberate process of aesthetic decline and accelerated cultural degeneration was initiated.

Today’s situation has a bad and a good side. It’s bad that the West, through decades of Americanization, manages to infiltrate countries, in which it has not yet been able to establish itself economically and politically. Through this it poisons the youth of the world with its anti-values and prepares the creeping takeover of independent states. Many are vulnerable to this degenerate, consumerist and egomaniac anti-culture. It’s good that the entertainment industry is now openly used as a political weapon. More and more people criticize the blatant social engineering in most Hollywood movies. The one-sided political interference of actors, singers and other celebrities on the side of the system is being increasingly rejected.

A future of cultural diversity

The peoples of the world are waiting for alternatives. Partly they exist but are not popularized enough. Also because, despite “free market”, Hollywood’s monopoly is being protected by all means available. Furthermore, there was a lack of experts and financial resources. Now, with the New Silk Road, there is a historical opportunity to break the American cultural monopoly. The financial funds exist and the importance of this issue has also been realized.

But it’s not about replacing one monopoly with another. It’s about paving the way for cultural diversity. Not for bad imitations, but for real, authentic alternatives. Particularly, these need to differ in the values they convey. Big differences would be: community spirit instead of egomaniacal madness, more education instead of more consumption, family instead of isolation. Also, the artistic realization should forge new, aesthetic paths.

China, Russia and Germany have good prerequisites to cooperatively establish such alternatives: Millennia of Chinese culture, Russian masterpieces in all art forms, half a century of German movie history in the German Democratic Republic. And they all have experience with the big cultural alternative of Socialist Realism. A development of this traditions would quickly spread across the Internet and prove that cultural diversity is possible. The New Silk Road wants to create the infrastructure for this.

The author works as scientific employee with focus on foreign policy, in German parliament. He is also executive director of German media platform Weltnetz.TV.  

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