Pop culture wins star billing as means to broaden economy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 October, 2005, 12:00am

Central bank chief looks to Korean model in injecting life and money into China's cities

South Korea can provide a model for China in promoting vibrant cities on the back of a successful entertainment industry, the central bank governor says.

The popularity of Korean pop culture - films, television programmes and music - had done more than just aid the country's exports, Zhou Xiaochuan said in an interview with Caijing magazine. The so-called Korean wave had stimulated cultural life at home, with the embrace of a celebrity culture spurring citizens to go out and spend money.

Mr Zhou contrasted Korean attitudes with those found in cities such as Frankfurt, where a lack of entertainment choices after work turned the city centre into a desert as workers headed home for a night in front of the television.

Mr Zhou presented these contrasting examples in encouraging the development of China's service sector while avoiding an over-dependence on foreign trade to drive the economy.

Services accounted for 32 per cent of gross domestic product last year, far below the comparable figures in India, Brazil and Russia. While government consumption accounts for 19 per cent of this figure, consumption by individuals is weak.

The target consumer group is the wealthiest 20 per cent who account for about 80 per cent of the 12 trillion yuan in individual bank deposits. 'Whether or not this is acceptable from a moral point of view, the greatest buying power is concentrated in this segment,' he said.

Mr Zhou said the sectors with the greatest potential were medicine, culture, sports, entertainment, food and beverage and domestic service. The culture industry had important economic spillover effects on other sectors, he said.

China is in the grip of a Korean boom, with television channels carrying its programmes and the media awash with articles about its stars. This has boosted the sales of some Korean products.

Mr Zhou also cited France and Italy as countries that had succeeded in turning their history and culture into commercial products and promoting tourism. On the other hand, Egypt and Greece, which boast even greater historical heritage, had failed to do so.

He said successful cities created a vibrant social and cultural life that encouraged citizens to spend. One element of the culture industry was 'the star effect', which made people willing to buy costly products endorsed by celebrities.

'But, in China, except for our Olympic sports stars, most of the stars of our entertainment world are Hong Kong, Taiwanese and South Korean performers who earn our money,' he said.

What Mr Zhou did not say is that this is largely the result of the policies of the propaganda department, which tightly controls domestic entertainment and culture. Its job is to prevent any mainland 'stars' becoming too big so that they could challenge the fame of leaders of the government and the Communist Party.