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Ballet in China> Beijing Review Archive> 1980s
UPDATED: February 22, 2010 NO. 12 MARCH 24, 1986
Minister of Culture on Sino-Foreign Cultural Exchanges

China has carried out variousforms of cultural exchanges with more than 130 countries and regions throughout the world and has established relations with more than 2,000 of the world's cultural organizations. Such interflow has promoted mutual understanding and friendship between Chinese people and people around the world. Culture and art from foreign countries have also enriched the Chinese people's cultural lives and have added to China's culture and art.

Zhu Muzhi, Minister of Culture, recently answered our correspondent's questions concerning Sino-foreign cultural exchanges. The full text of the interview follows:

Beijing Review: Would you please outline and explain the development of China's cultural exchanges with other countries? Some foreign journalists have said a "cultural chill" has appeared in China's exchange work. Do you care to comment on this statement?

Zhu Muzhi: China's cultural exchange work has entered a new stage of vigorous development, embracing multi-channel, multi-layer and diversified exchange activities. Today, in every corner of the world one can find the footprints of our cultural envoys who have shared with other nations both ancient and contemporary Chinese national culture and art. In return, artists from other countries have entertained Chinese audiences and have displayed their traditional and modern art treasures in our exhibition halls. The ever-increasing cultural exchanges have become a bridge of friendship between the people of China and the rest of the world.

Ours is a country with an ancient civilization, and its cultural exchanges with other countries can be traced back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD). In creating their brilliant civilization, the Chinese people have constantly absorbed the best of foreign cultures in order to enrich their own.

We regard cultural exchanges as an important way to promote understanding and friendship between people from different countries. Since China opened to the outside world in 1978, its culture and art departments, adhering to the guideline of seeking friendship and knowledge, have actively promoted the cultural exchange work.

Whereas, from 1949 to 1965, China signed only 30 cultural agreements with other countries, it signed 73 such agreements, as well as 131 annual cultural exchange plans between 1978 and 1985. These involved culture, art, sports, education, medicine, publishing, antiques, film, religion, youth, broadcasting, television and books. Up to now, China has carried out various forms of cultural exchange activities with more than 130 countries and regions throughout the world and has established different forms of relations with more than 2,000 cultural organizations.

Prior to the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), China sent abroad and hosted an average of less than 200 cultural groups a year, with the participation of only 400 to 500 people. In recent years, however, the number of exchange groups topped 600 every year, and the people involved rose to 3,000 to 4,000. In 1985, the number of cultural exchange programmes sponsored by the Ministry of Culture was close to 700, and more than 4,000 people have been involved. These figures do not include exchange activities sponsored by other departments and various localities.

In the past, most of the art delegations we sent abroad were Peking Opera, song and dance, acrobatic, national music and puppet show troupes. Moreover, the Peking Opera performances staged abroad were limited to acrobatic fights, which led many foreign audiences to believe that Peking Opera is China's only traditional opera and that pantomime and acrobatic fights are all there is to this opera, such as what they found in At the Crossroads and Picking Up the Jade Bracelet.

Recently, we have diversified our programmes. The new entries include Kunqu, an ancient opera popular in many parts of China, and some local operas from Sichuan, Guangdong, Fujian and Taiwan, and the Hainan Island Qiong opera, the Huangmei opera from Anhui Province and the flower-drum opera from Hunan Province. The repertoire of Peking Operas staged abroad now is more varied and include both singing and acting performances.

A Sichuan opera troupe, popular in southwest China, attended the third horizontal international art festival held in West Berlin last year and was highly acclaimed for its strong ethnic appeal and unique performances. After the festival, the troupe successfully toured the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy.

Chinese dancers performing a pas de deux from Don Quixote at the Fifth Moscow International Ballet Competition in June 1985

The art exhibits we show abroad today not only include antiques and relics but also folk arts, traditional Chinese paintings, calligraphy, water colours, sculpture, ceramics and photographs. They have demonstrated the splendour of China's age-old culture and the vatality of its newer developments.

In recent years, the performances presented by foreign artists in China cover a wide range of fields-from ballet, opera, symphony, chamber music to folk songs and dances, pantomime, modern drama, puppet shows, magic shows and modern dance. Noted musicians Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin, Seiji Ozawa and Tean Perisson have also performed in China. The visits of these artists were enlightening and educational for China's artists as well as audiences.

Dozens of foreign art exhibits are now held each year. These included French paintings spanning the last 250 years, Italian paintings from the Renaissance and modern Soviet works. The art of French and Italian masters have long been admired by Chinese art lovers. Exhibitions of such works have satisfied the wishes of many to see the originals and have also promoted the development of China's own fine arts.

All this shows that the scale and scope of China's cultural exchanges with other countries since 1978 have expanded considerably, growing in both breadth and depth and becoming more colourful and varied.

There is a great interest in China's cultural exchanges with other third world countries, can you say something about it?

In the last few years China has been actively pursuing its cultural exchanges with other third world countries. A developing country, socialist China is also part of the third world. Because of their common history China and these countries have supported and helped each other in their prolonged struggle against imperialism and colonialism and have forged close ties of friendship. Today, China and these nations are confronted with the same tasks of building their countries and developing their economies and cultures. In major international issues and in the struggle to safeguard world peace, China and the rest of the third world share goals and demands.

Today, there exists a great potential for the development of cultural co-operation and exchanges among third world countries, since this represents their common desire. In the past few years, China's cultural exchange programmes with the third world accounted for 50 percent of its total exchanges, and the number of cultural agreements signed between them has also increased annually. In 1984, and 1985, China signed 14 cultural agreements with other countries. Of these, 12 were with third world countries, including seven African countries. In the past two years, China has drafted 40 annual cultural exchange plans with other countries, and 27 of them involved third world countries. In addition, China sent seven governmental cultural delegations to visit more than 30 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These countries reciprocated by sending cultural delegations to China. The number of third world performing troupes and art exhibits hosted by China has continued increasing. Third world performances and exhibitions have been very popular with Chinese audiences, while Chinese cultural envoys have in the past few years toured many third world countries and have been warmly received everywhere they have gone. These exchange visits have provided an opportunity for all concerned to learn from each other's cultural traditions for the development of their own national cultures. And of course they have also strengthened understanding and friendship between China and the rest of the third world.

Could you elaborate on the positive effects of Sino-foreign cultural exchanges?

I have already said that generally speaking, Sino-foreign cultural exchanges have helped people of other countries understand China, and have promoted friendly relations between China and countries all over the world. I want to point out such exchanges have also promoted the development of socialist ethics and cultural development in China. On the one hand, through these exchanges, we show the world our rich and colourful culture and art. In recent years, there has been an intense interest abroad in Sichuan opera, Chinese acrobatics, Peking Opera and Chinese modern drama. Some Western art colleges have established courses on Chinese traditional opera departments, and some foreign enthusiasts of Peking Opera have begun to perform the opera themselves. On the other hand, many excellent aspects of foreign culture and art have entered China and have enriched our stage and the people's cultural lives.

Another gratifying result has been the increasing number of Chinese artists winning prizes at international competitions in recent years. The prize winning programmes have included traditional acrobatics and painting, as well as voice and instrumental performances and ballet, which has attracted the attention of international cultural circles. At the Ninth Monaco-ville Interational Circus and Acrobatic Competition in 1983, the 16-year-old Chinese acrobat Li Liping won the Gold Buffoon Prize - the highest award of the competition. After the Chinese suprano Hu Xiaoping won first prize at the Budapest International Vocal Music Competition in 1982, Fu Haijing, Liang Ning, Dilber, Wang Yanyan and other Chinese singers also won prizes at international vocal competitions. Since such superlative performances, a number of Western music critics have stressed that China's musical achievements should be re-evaluated. With the constant expansion of China's cultural exchanges with other countries, more and more foreign audience come to know and appreciate Chinese culture and art.

Chinese writers and artists have also learnt a great deal from the outstanding culture and art of other countries. The Oriental Song and Dance Ensemble, founded at the suggestion of the late Premier Zhou Enlai, stresses education and performances in Asian, African and Latin American songs and dances. Since its founding in 1962, the ensemble has learnt more than 200 songs, dances and instrumental performances from more than 40 countries. Their repertoire now includes, for example, Thailand's Peacock Dance, Burma's Box Dance, Bangladesh's Foot Bell Dance and many African and Latin American songs and dances. Many have become the favourites of both Chinese and foreign audiences. These performances have helped bring about an interflow of ideas and feelings among the people of third world countries. Such advancements indicate that cultural exchanges have played an active role in promoting friendship and advancing China's cultural development as well.

Are there any criteria which China follows in its selection of foreign culture during such exchanges? If there are, what are they?

Every country has its own criteria in conducting cultural exchanges, and the criteria are set in accordance with that country's social system, moral standards and traditions and customs. China is no exception. Although the Chinese people's interests are varied, they do favour those cultural pieces with distinctive national flavour and great ideals, those that are close to life, bring out the best in people, enrich their knowledge and provide them with aesthetic enjoyment. With the rise in the Chinese people's economic and cultural levels and improvement in the living standards, the public will have a broader horizon, and their interests will become more varied. They will not only be concerned with the development of China's traditional culture and art, but will also have an increased desire to keep themselves abreast of culture developments around the world. Thus, there exist broad prospects for China's cultural exchanges.

Could you please brief us on the plans for cultural exchanges in 1986?

Troughout the Seventh Five-Year Plan period, China will continue to carry out its open policy and independent and peaceful foreign policy. Side by side, with the constant growth of international interests in China, we should also learn more about the developments of foreign cultures so as to draw the best from them to stimulate our own development. During the Seventh Five-Year Plan period, this work will surely grow apace.

As for the exchanges in 1986, the Ministry of Culture plans to arrange 700 programmes for the year, with the participation of 4,000 to 5,000 people. Other departments and various localities will arrange additional programmes according to their own needs and capabilities. The exchanges will involve 100 art troupes and 100 art exhibitions. In addition, we will send a number of outstanding artists to attend international competitions. There will also be exchanges between film makers and other cultural workers and professionals.

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