University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 2 | Spring 2014 1 Culture Clash: A Comparative Case Study of American and Chinese Soft Power in 21st-Century Hong Kong Edana Ng and Dr. Aida Hozic College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Florida The purpose of this research is to compare the relative influence of American and Chinese soft power by using 21st century Ho ng Kong, a former British colony and current Chinese special administrative region, as a case study. Soft power is generally def ine d as the influence a country wields using its culture, institutions, and diplomacy. For this project, however, it will only encomp ass the cultural aspects of film, television, and music. This research will draw upon secondary sources such as box office records, radio song requests, television ratings, and opinion polls as well published books, journals, and magazine and newspaper articles. By co mparing American and Chinese culture in a city that is particularly open to both due to its historical exposure to both Western and Eastern customs, this research will provide insight into the current and future soft power capabilities of China in comparison to the United States. In turn, this will help clarify potential implications for American national security fro m a cultural standpoint and help shape Americas foreign policy initiatives. INTRODUCTION Soft Power in International Relations The past decade has witnessed an astonishing rise in Chinas political and economic influence on the world stage. This rise has led some scholars to predict China will soon become a legitimate superpower. Many nations have reacted to Chinas rise with increased vigilance in monitoring developments in its hard power, which is defined as the influence a co untry wields using its military and/or economic power. However, amongst all the alarm over the military and economic threat communist China poses which is of particular concern to the United States and Western Europe, the traditionally dominant, democratic powers in international politics Chinas soft power aspirations have been overlooked. Soft power, a concept coined by Harvard professor and political scientist Joseph Nye in the 1990s, is described as a nations ability to sway other political actors usin g its culture and diplomacy, among other tools. Although the attention paid to soft power has always taken a backseat to the emphasis placed on hard power, history has nevertheless shown how important a countrys appeal can be in global affairs. For exampl e, many scholars believe the soft power strategies implemented by the United States during the Cold War, such as conducting cultural tours of foreign capitals and establishing the Peace Corps, helped ensure an American victory in the war. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, did not even though it was already suffering from a negative image thanks to Stalins crimes in the mid to late20th century (Nye 2004). My research aims to bring the discussion about soft power back to the forefront through a compa rative case study of American and Chinese soft power in 21stcentury Hong Kong. Although Americas soft power has never been matched by any other nation, thanks to the massive appeal of American popular culture abroad, its international image has suffered in recent years thanks to its controversial involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, amongst other factors. Meanwhile, China is the one nation who seems to have taken the concept of soft power to heart the most, as evidenced by its concerted efforts to promote a positive national image to the rest of the world. Therefore, assessing Chinas current as well as its potential soft power capabilities is important in determining Chinas future role in international affairs and how it will affect the United States. C ase Study Subject: Hong Kong Hong Kong is the subject of my case study because of its unique position as a British colony turned Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR). Because Hong Kong has been exposed to both Eastern and Western culture, it is open to influence from both Chinese and American soft power. Moreover, Hong Kongs status as an SAR, which allows it to be governed by its own political system, insulates it from the quotas place d on American cultural imports in mainland China and from the Chinese government censored medias unduly influence (Tsang 2007). Due to the broad nature of soft power, my research focuses only on Chinas and the United States cultural appeals; more specif ically, I examined the success of Chinese and American films, television shows, and music in Hong Kong. The main focus of previous research has
EDANA NG and Dr. AIDA HOZIC University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 2 | Spring 2014 2 been on how China utilizes diplomacy to increase its soft power, while popular culture, an important aspect of s oft power, has been neglected. METHOD T o examine the success of American and mainland Chinese popular culture in Hong Kong, this research was carried out in two stages. The first consisted of literature review while the second consisted of empirical data a nalysis. The sources used during the literature review process included books and peer reviewed journal articles that provided either a broad understanding of soft power as a concept or information about specific soft power strategies that had been employed by the United States and China thus far. The background information presented in the literature offered a context in which the more specific, data analysis results could be understood. Data analysis in the second stage of this research focused specifical ly on box office records, TV ratings, and official music charts from Hong Kong. Such sources were chosen for both their objectivity and their reliability, in that the data is presented in a consistent manner on a timely basis. For example, box office recor ds consist of numbers such as how much a movie makes in ticket sales over one weekend that cannot be legally altered based on an individual or an organizations subjective beliefs or desires. Moreover, box office records are available on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and the methods through which the numbers are obtained stay the same from year to year. Therefore, data sources such as music charts, TV ratings, and box office records are useful for examining the success of American and Chinese popular culture in an objective, empirical manner. The records and ratings were obtained through Internet websites that track film, television, and music records in Hong Kong. Since comprehensive records on every movie shown in Hong Kong could not be obtained, f ocus was placed on available statistics from weekly lists of the top ten highest grossing movies (calculated in US dollars) and separated them by year during my research process. In particular, the number of m ovies in the top ten lists were noted. Lists w ere made in either the United States or China. The data on screen showings, grosses, and list rankings were separated into two groups based on whether the movie in question originated in China or the United States. The total gross of all American movies sh own was divided by fifty two weeks to create an annual average for that data set. The data averaging process was repeated for Chinese movies. A nnual averages from 2004 to 2012 were calculated and the performance of American films and Chinese were compared to see if there were any n oticeable trends regarding the success of the two nations films. The empirical data does not take into account Hong Kongers opinions and reactions regarding the music they listen to or the movies and television shows they watc h, nor does it reflect the role quality plays in determining any given cultural products individual success. RESULTS Popular Culture In terms of box office revenue, the average annual gross of the top ten highest grossing American movies at the Hong Kong box office has risen steadily year to year from 2004 to 2012; the lowest average annual gross was $42.6 million dollars in 2004, and t he highest average annual gross was $129.6 million in 2012. The average amount of change between years is $10.8 million, with the highest percentage of change (30.5%) occurring between 2008 and 2009. Figure 1 Average annual gross of American and Chinese movies in Hong Kong (in US dollars) between the years 2004 and 2012 The trend of Chinese movies performance at the box office is less clear since it fluctuates more. There is a short, three year period of increase, encompassing 2006 ($5.5 million in average annual gross), 2007 ($10.4 mil lion), and 2008 (where it peaked at $13.7 million). From 2008 to 2011, there was a downward trend; Chinese movies grossed $10.9 million in 2009, $8.6 million in2010, and $7.8 million in 2011, before the gross rose again to $11.6 million in 2012. The lowest annual gross in the years surveyed was in 2005, where the average annual gross of the top ten Chinese movies at the box office was only approximately $700,000. The highest average annual gross was $13.7 million i n 2008. The average amount of change in absolute terms between years is $3.06 million, with the highest percentage of change (89%) occurring between 2006 and 2007. Overall, American movies outperformed Chinese movies substantially every year. The average difference between the two countries box office performances, in absolute dollar terms, is $83 million. The difference has also grown larger from year to year, starting with a difference of $40.1
CULTURE CLASH: A COMPARATIVE CASE STUDY O F AMERICAN AND CHINESE SOFT POWER University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 2 | Spring 2014 3 million in 2004 to a difference of $118million in 2012. The only exception is the year 2007, whose $54.9 million difference is $2.4 million less than in 2006, but the general trend of increase continued from 2008 onward. Moreover, while over half of the movies that are shown in Hong Kong are of American origin in the years surveyed, the average number of Chinese movies shown per year is only approximately ten. International Opinion According to a 2007 poll conducted by BBC, asking the opinions of people from twenty five different countries their opinion on the U.S. governments handling of various global issues, a majority of the international audience disapproves of how the U.S. handles all the issues listed. The highest disapproval rate is 73% for the war in Iraq, followed by a 67% disapproval of the U.S. treatm ent of Guantanamo detainees; 65% disapproval for the Israeli Hezbollah war; 60% for Irans nuclear program; 56% for global warming, and 54% for North Koreas nuclear program. Figure 2 2007 poll conducted by BBC, asking people in twenty five different countries their opinions of the U.S. governments handling of various international issues. Copyright 2007 by BBC World Service. Reprinted with permission. In 2012, another poll was conducted by BBC. This time it was its annual Country Ratings Poll, which surveys people from twenty seven different countries (with every continent represented except Antarctica) asking them to rate the global influence of seventeen countries as positive or negative. The most favorably viewed country was Japan at 58%. China, wh ose 50% mainly positive rating puts it in fifth place, outranks the U.S. for the first time by three percentage points; the United States 47% positive rating makes it the eighth most favorably rated nation, after Japan, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom China, France, and the European Union (in that order). Figure 3. BBCs 2012 Country Ratings Poll, asking people in twenty seven different countries to rate the global influence of the abovelisted nations as positive or negative. Copyright 2012 by BBC World Service. Reprinted with permission. DISCUSSION The results of this case study confirm that while the United States international image has suffered a hit in the past few years due to its involvement in the Middle East, amongst other factors, its sof t power still far outranks that of China, despite the latters efforts to increase its soft power capabilities. While a majority of people surveyed disapprove of the way the U.S. handles a number of global issues, and while more respondents rate Chinas in fluence more positive than the United States, these attitudes do not seem to affect the strength of American popular culture. In fact, the performance of American movies at the Hong Kong box office has increased every year. Chinese movies are vastly outper formed by American films, indicating that despite Chinas desire to increase its cultural appeal, it still has a ways to go before it reaches the standard set by American culture. It is also important to note that American movies have a much stronger block buster appeal than Chinese movies. From 2004 to 2012, there have been movies and/or franchises that are so successful they somewhat skew the average gross of the year they were released. For example, in 2012, The Avengers brought in almost $13 million in ticket revenue, and accounted for approximately 10% of the average gross of American movies that year. However, the highest grossing movie at the Hong Kong box office in the years analyzed was Avatar whose $23 million tic ket revenue made up 23.4% of 2008s average gross. In fact, the highest grossing movie of every year from 2004 to 2012 has been American. To put it in perspective, the most successful Chinese movie in Hong Kong thus far was 2008s Red Cliff: Part I, which ranked only eleventh in terms of that years highest grossing movies with a total ticket revenue of $3.1 million.
EDANA NG and Dr. AIDA HOZIC University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 2 | Spring 2014 4 As a result, it is clear that American blockbuster films are a major factor behind its soft power strength. China has yet to produce a movie that can rival American blockbusters in scope, size, and appeal. While China has been producing more and more films every year, only 42% are played in theaters. In contrast, almost 75% of films produced in the U.S. are released in theaters. In addition, Ch inese cinema suffers in quality due to government censorship and the existence of statefunded propaganda films that are being shown in place of nonstate sponsored movies. Unfortunately for the Chinese film market, propaganda movies are generally disliked by the audience and fail to draw big numbers at the box office. Meanwhile, the movies that arent considered propaganda still generally lack the quality and star power of many American films, due in part to government oversight of the content and the fail ure of Chinese movie stars to attain the universal appeal of their American counterparts (Lin 2013). In the future, this study will be expanded to encompass not just the film aspect of popular culture but also music and television shows, which will provide a broader look at how American and Chinese culture compare to each other in Hong Kong. However, it is important to note that popular culture is not the only component of soft power. While this study only focuses on popular culture in order to lend a more specific focus to a broad concept, there are other soft power factors such as diplomacy and policies, to name a few. Nevertheless, it is clear that the results from this study strongly indicate that Chinas soft power is still weak. Some scholars theorize that this may be due to the Communist nature of Chinas government, whose authoritarian rule and censorship greatly limits its appeal to a majority of other states no matter how much it strives to strengthen its soft power. Consequently, it is predicted that U.S. national policy towards China will continue to be shaped by considerations based on Chinas hard power namely, its economics and military rather than its soft power (Pan 2006). REFERENCES Lin, Lilian. 2013. Why the Majority of Chinese Films Never Make It to Theaters. Wall Street Journal, March. Nye, J oseph 2004. The Decline of Americas Soft Power. Foreign Affairs, 83(3). Nye, J oseph 2004. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics Cambridge, MA: Public Affairs, Perseus Book Group Pan, E sther 2006. China s Soft Power Initiative. Council on Foreign Relations May. Tsang, S teve. 2007. A M odern H istory of Hong Kong New York City, NY: I.B. Tauris & Co