Chou Wen-chung

Excerpts from “US-China Arts Exchange: A Practice in Search of a Philosophy”

Speech at the International Symposium, “Music in the Dialogue of Cultures, Traditional Music and Cultural Policy,” Berlin 1988; published in Intercultural Music Studies, Vol. 2, International Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation, 1989.

Cultural interaction has always taken place wherever and whenever individuals of different cultures have come into contact — whether along the so-called Silk Road or in the course of the spice trade. The efforts of individuals ultimately contribute to major cultural changes, such as those that took place in the centuries preceding the rise of the Tang dynasty, or after the downfall of the Byzantine court. In the more recent centuries, the work of the Jesuits, merchants engaged in the clipper trade, colonization by Western powers, and the war in the Pacific, for example, have all brought about cultural interaction. As in the case of Tang culture or the European Renaissance, the cultural “by-product” of political, military, or economic struggles of recent history has been the foundation of the modern world, as we know it.

Today, when international cooperation is widespread and when organizational skills are highly developed there appears to be surprisingly little coordinated, broadly based, long-range planning for intercultural dialogue — particularly in the creative arts. At least in the United States, what is often referred to by the buzz-word, “cultural exchange,” is no more than a one-time extravaganza, aimed at goodwill, publicity, social glitter, or, in all honesty, profit. For such events, there is neither theory, nor methodology; certainly not philosophy.

The Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange and its Programs

The Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University is the only nationwide organization in the U.S. that researches exchange needs in the arts, designs and manages its projects, evaluates exchange results, and aims at exerting influence on cultural development in accordance with its program findings.

The concept of the Center was initially developed during the years 1972 to 1977, as a response to the perceived need for an exchange of information between two cultures on each other's traditions and current artistic development.

The projects carried out by the Center can be categorized as follows:

  1. for the creative arts…
  2. for professional education for both creative and performing artists: visits, conferences, professional activities, exchange of materials, etc., aimed at both theory and practice;
  3. for arts in general education: a focus on multi-year programs of material exchange, delegations, field work, conferences, and publications;
  4. for children: sharing joint artistic experiences;
  5. for artistic productions [and]
  6. for the public: concerts, ballets, plays, films, television programs, and exhibits.
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