BOOK REVIEW: How Creativity is Changing China by Li Wuwei

Photo by Stufish Architecture

Photo by Stufish Architecture

Recently I have grown an interest for cultural entertainment and in view of my upcoming trip to China I was keen on learning more about what it meant there. I read about Wanda’s Tourism Cultural Cities popping up everywhere and I wanted to understand what big idea and political reality lies behind this (apparent) sudden urge for cultural things.

So I looked on amazon for books related to cultural entertainment, soft power and creativity in China and bought a couple. The first is by Li Wuwei, who is regarded as the leading spokesperson on the cultural and creative industries in China and it’s called How Creativity is Changing China.

Because Li Wuwei is an economist and senior policy advisor his approach is quite theoretical at first. But he is also an independent thinker and therefore comes up with some thought-provocative perspective at times, which I found explained a lot of what is happening in China.

Economy

Li Wuwei spends time explaining the transformation of the Chinese economy and the need for industries using less perishable resources, which integrate with other industries in ways that create more value and growth opportunity. This is where creative industries fit in.

When applied to tourism, he explains that creative tourism “seeks to apply creative strategies to transform tangible and intangible resources into marketable products [   ] it establishes a cross-sector, multi-level industrial chain by expanding the range of activities and attractions and by taking the initiative to integrate with primary and secondary industries”.

When applied to cities, he explains that “creative cities are nourished by creative industries while creative industries flourish in the appropriate environment provided by the creative cities”.

Towards the end of the book Li Wuwei establishes the basis of a creative society and agrees with Richard Florida’s idea that “Today, the terms of competition revolve around a central axis: a nation’s ability to mobilize, attract and retain human creative talent”.

Society

Beyond the economic reality of industrial transformation, Li Wuwei explains how creativity will impact the lives of Chinese people and much of it is linked to urban development and creative communities. He says for example that “Creativity plays a key role in shaping a city’s cultural atmosphere and city branding. It can also help improve the quality of urban life”.

A bit further he goes “The various experiential products, a kind of integration of entertainment culture, leisure culture and fashion culture, are advocating a fashionable trend of ‘bringing art to life and life to art [   ]. These products are creating a new lifestyle and have improved people’s quality of life”. He gives the example of Xintiandi on Shanghai blending history and culture and offering a place of nostalgia for the elderly and fashion for the young.

In tourism Li Wuwei recognizes a “shift from the era of mass tourism to the era of mass leisure and now to the era of personal experience”.

Culture

For me the biggest impact of creativity is on culture. Going back to Richard Florida’s point, the challenge of China as a leading nation is the attractiveness of its image and culture, what Li Wuwei refers to as soft power. He recognizes that cultural resources are underutilized and creativity is meant to leverage them.

Starting with cities, culture contributes to their competitive advantage by providing them with uniqueness, personality and charm. Then Li Wuwei adds “And China is more powerfully placed as a rising power because of the many fledgling creative cities”.

So here is what I take from this reading: China needs to retain its creative talents with increasing creative communities and a new urban lifestyle (personal note: this explains the obsession with cultural entertainment in real estate developments) to leverage its culture and further develop its soft power therefore consolidating its leadership.

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