Arts, Culture and Creative Industries

Engagement between Australia and China through the arts, cultural exchanges and the creative industries is steadily increasing. A bilateral Agreement on Cultural Cooperation was signed in 1981. Today, collaboration is organised through triennial Implementation Programs for Cultural Exchanges, administered by the Australia–China Council and the Chinese Ministry of Culture. The most substantial bilateral cultural initiative to date has been the ‘Imagine Australia’ Year of Australian Culture in China in 2010–2011, and the reciprocal ‘Experience China’ Year of Chinese Culture in Australia in 2011–2012.

The 2012 Australia in the Asian Century White Paper [topic link page] endorsed cultural diplomacy as a way to deepen Australia’s relations with countries in Asia. It stated: ‘Our links with Asia are social and cultural as much as they are political and economic’, and ‘The people-to-people links forged through arts and culture can open up new business, training and market opportunities and are an integral part of strengthening political and trade relationships’. It declared that rising demand from the expanding Chinese middle class for cultural experiences, design services and creative lifestyle products offers Australia opportunities. To this end, the White Paper recommended giving the leading role to a redesigned Australian International Cultural Council, previously paralysed by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade budget cuts.

However, little has come of these suggestions. Many within the Australia–Asia arts sector accuse successive Australian administrations of treating culture as a ‘last-minute addendum’ to strategic policy, citing continual funding cuts to creative diplomacy endeavours in Asia. Over the last twenty years, the Australia Council for the Arts has slashed the share of its international funding used for Asia exchange programs from (on average) sixty percent to ten-to-twenty percent. There are few Australian arts managers with meaningful China experience or expertise. The Howard government removed the specialist cultural counsellor position from the Australian Embassy in Beijing to save costs, but China still has such counsellors at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. Australian arts figures involved with China contend that Australian policymakers in China err in ‘defining culture in narrow terms of entertainment and recreation’ and thereby fail to grasp the significance of cultural diplomacy for achieving ‘broader’ Australian goals of a deeper economic and political relationship with China — where ‘culture’ is well-funded and ‘inextricably linked … with ideology and national vision’.

Nonetheless, the creative communities in Australia and China are becoming increasingly interconnected: cultural entities such as Asialink have sponsored hundreds of bilateral arts residencies; the Australian National Portrait Gallery and the National Art Museum of China have respectively hosted major Chinese and Australian exhibitions; the Sydney Symphony Orchestra frequently tours China; Australia and China boast a bilateral Film Industry Forum; ABC has launched the Chinese-registered AustraliaPlus website in conjunction with Shanghai Media Group; SBS has a dedicated Chinese-language website and regularly airs popular Chinese shows; Australians with Chinese heritage [topic link page] stage large and lively Chinese New Year festivals in Australian cities; an annual Australian Writers Week in China was established in 2008; and there are regular fashion, art, ballet, music and theatre productions and exchanges between Australia and China. Australia is also home to a number of renowned Chinese-born artists who were granted visas by then prime minister Bob Hawke following the 1989 Beijing massacre, including Guo Jian 郭健, Shen Jiawei 沈嘉蔚, Ah Xian 阿仙, Guan Wei 关伟 and the writer Ouyang Yu 欧阳昱.

The arts have sometimes caused conflict in the Australia–China relationship, most notably in 2009, when the Chinese Consulate in Melbourne demanded that the Melbourne International Film Festival cancel a screening of the documentary The 10 Conditions of Love and an Australian visit by its subject, Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer [topic page link]. In June 2014, there was an international outcry when artist Guo Jian was deported from China after making comments and showing artwork about the 1989 Beijing massacre.


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