Back in September, new laws on the digital distribution in China flashed into our consciousnesses briefly. If you want to read about that, go HERE.
We thought we would come up with a more thoughtful analysis. If you are interested, please read on.
by Nick Papa
Last month, China’s music community struggled to digest Beijing’s latest installment of music censorship protocol. As reported by an entire constellation of international and domestic media outlets, beginning on December 31st, all music-disseminating outfits in China must submit song lyrics, translated into Chinese, to the Ministry of Culture in order to gain permission to upload music to the internet. Basically, it’s like the climax of Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade where, in order to save his father, he must retrieve the Holy Grail by navigating an antiquated gauntlet meant to weed out those of impure intent. Except in this case, the Holy Grail comes in the form of a license to operate as an “Online Cultural Business”, and those who seek it (online music providers) may suffer financial, rather than physical, hardship. (For a more detailed explanation of these regulations, see HERE).
On one side of the coin – an issue congruous with the majority of coverage on this topic – is the question of how this will affect the small, creative end of the market. Navigating a thickening slab of bureaucracy and its corresponding costs, especially one requiring twenty days to think it over before granting approval, could put online music communities in a real bind. However, on the other side of the coin, how increased regulation in the realm of cultural dissemination will affect musicians and China’s creative community is a whole is a question rendering only a very opaque answer at best.
Some food for thought:
(1) Blowback, or the unintended consequences of actions, i.e. gauging the Chinese creative community’s reaction to Beijing’s action. Historically speaking, the Chinese creative community has had considerable success circumventing the vast forest of cultural controls since the onset of the opening reforms implemented in the early 80s. However, how it will react in the twenty-first century, an era defined by the benefits of high-speed and wireless communication systems – factors of integration as opposed to the 80s’ separation – is a bit of a quagmire. It’s entirely possible that while trying to plug one big leak, Beijing may create six smaller ones. The opposite is equally possible.
(2) Where does it end? Take for example Marilyn Manson, an artist chided as corruptive and satanic for his image rather than the insightful lyrical content of his music. Will the parameters of the new regulations extend to the visual media associated with music? If so, should bands expect a mandate detailing proper grooming techniques and application of cosmetics?
(3) Harmony. Beijing views its economic growth as a phenomenon explicitly linked with a calm, united domestic front. This sentiment is echoed throughout the country and embodied by the word “harmony”. More of a means without a distinct end, this interesting addition to the lexicon of development conjures images of Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere. The definition of “harmonious”, i.e. exactly what the Ministry of Culture is willing to approve, is opaque at the least. Artists hoping to profit from their product are thus presented with a rather disturbing scenario in which they must write for the system rather than about the system.
That’s not a first round knock-out, but it is something akin to a vicious kidney punch.