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China's Cultural Trade Deficit on Rise

Each year hundreds of Chinese performing arts gropus tour overseas. Their profits and influence, however, are dwarfed by those of foreign groups performing in China. 

In 2004, Beijing sent 61 performing troupes abroad, while 83 foreign troupes performed here -- "not a sharp contrast," according to Zhang Xinjian, the deputy director of culture market department with the Ministry of Culture (MOC).
The average box office return of each Chinese performance abroad, however, is less than US$ 3,000, about a tenth what foreign performances can earn in China.
That figure does not include international superstars such as Placido Domingo, who was paid US$550,000 in his concert held in Beijing in May 2001.
Tan Lihua, the art supervisor with Beijing Symphony Orchestra, has been quoted as saying "The world's performing arts producers all know they can earn more in China than in other countries."
He said China's rich culture and heritage don't necessarily translate into cultural products.
Since 1996, China's copyright imports have increased 57 percent annually, compared with a sluggish increase rate for exports. In 2003, the ratio of copyright import and export reached record high of 10.3:1, the Yearbook of China's Publishing Industry 2004 said.
China imported 12,516 copyrighted books in 2003, for example, while exporting just 81.
"China's foreign trade in culture is very weak," Zhang Yu, the general manager of China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG).
Zhang Xinjian said China is not sophisticated in developing and marketing its cultural products.
"The market share of Chinese cultural products in the United States is close to zero," he said. "Most exported Chinese TV plays are old fashioned and poorly packaged by international standards, which doom them to fail."
The China National Publication Import & Export Corporation imported nearly 1.2 million audio and video products, almost the same amount as it exported. The prices of the imports, however, are significantly higher than the exports.
"Most of our exported culture products only target overseas Chinese consumers, making it impossible to realize large profits," Zhang Xinjian said.
"Cultural trade dominates today's international culture market. We have to adapt," he said.
Zhang said the MOC will encourage culture companies to go abroad through market measures, participating in international competitions.
"The practice of performance groups only taking care of their performances and letting agents to do the marketing proved successful," Zhang said. He said the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals Cats and Phantom of the Opera had successful world-wide tours arranged by arts agencies.
The House of Flying Daggers by domestic director Zhang Yimou set an exemplary model for Chinese culture products to gain a foothold in international markets, he said, the film made US$12.5 million in America and US$10 million in Japan.
CAEG, the largest performing arts and entertainment company in China, has begun international operations recently. Its co-production of the stage musical Casablanca with US media giant Time Warner Inc. garnered audience enthusiasm and high box office in its world premiere in Beijing last Saturday.  

(Xinhua News Agency April 15, 2005)

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