Chou Wen-Chung

Writings by Chou

Music ‘Commercialism’ and ‘Globalization?’

Keynote speech, Chou Wen-chung Festival, Taipei, Taiwan, 2003

It is understandable that the current generation of composers is having difficulty in breaking through this barrier, even though their achievements in Western contemporary music has been outstanding.

Unfortunately at the moment, the arts in the United States have been completely taken over by giant corporations and converted into commodities for entertainment.

…Even worse is to ignorantly apply and distort the essence of Eastern cultures under the banner of cultural exchange. Whereas, on the other hand, composers who are not yet controlled by the entertainment industry are ignored entirely. All of these should be recognized by composers and educators elsewhere so as to maintain one’s own “independent” spirit, thereby avoiding the pitfall of blind emulation or imitation, or worse, being manipulated as merchandise.

The peak of Western civilization is over. In the future, the civilization of the world will have to depend on interaction among all cultures, and on uncovering sources or tides that have contributed to cultural changes. Chinese civilization should be one of the mainstreams in the future. Whether that is achievable depends completely on the wenren artists and cultural scholars of China in the future.

To arrive at such a sublime stage of accomplishment in culture … particularly in composing … we urgently need serious efforts in learning and research, in fieldwork, and in cultural conservation. Even more urgent is the need for developing a fresh perception for composing based on knowledge of our own cultural evolution and expectations for its future. Therefore, what I regard as education reform must not be limited to our colleagues at educational institutions. Besides, we must eliminate on a broad scale all the viewpoints perpetrated by feudalistic attitude and colonial psychology. This is why over the past half-century, I was always willing to compose less so as to conduct more research and fieldwork, and to lead projects on cultural conservation and development.

In the U.S., according to its tradition, education and culture always depend on contributions from its private and financial sectors. Coordination and funding are usually provided by non-profit foundations established for such purposes.

…It was such encouragement and support that made it possible for me to carry out my objectives with results. In other words, it offered opportunities for me in the past half-century to contribute to culture and education in the States. It also enabled me to dedicate my efforts to culture and music around the world. The U.S. is indeed one of the few societies in the world that can so effectively encourage people with resolve to achieve their vision. I am deeply grateful to the attitude and initiative of the American society on matters of this nature.

Unfortunately, in the past twenty years or so, there have been huge changes in these aspects-a truly regrettable development. A tendency towards total commercialism has by now reached a stage of all embracing control for commercial interests. With excessive profit-making as its goal, the new American economy has gradually converted all such areas that directly affect the wellbeing of the American people, including health, welfare, environmental protection, and notably culture and education (even politics, diplomacy and defense), into the domains of multinational corporations. Today, as a result, the substance of artistic creativity, cultural ambience, and even education is almost totally subject to the profit-making planning of the industries.

The idea of “globalization” started to be promoted more than a decade ago. The objective then was how to globalize American trade practices so as to expand American business globally and multiply profits. Today, however, “globalization” in commerce, as advocated by the United States, has in reality become “globalization” of culture or of music. The question is who “globalized” whom? Who is “globalized” by whom? Taking it one step further, is this to say that we do not need to continue and develop Asian or Chinese culture anymore? Is this to say our creativity needs only to follow the memos from corporate executives? The truth is answers to these questions are already taken from the hands of educators, scholars and artists of all cultures. It is obviously clutched in the hands of businessmen. As for American culture itself, it has already been completely converted into entertainment merchandise by now.

Culture is the supreme essence in the continual development of the humanities, passed on from one generation to another, never interrupted. How is it possible for us to allow our culture to be turned into a profit-making commodity or gimmick? If Western intellectuals have forsaken their responsibility, does it mean the whole world must also give up their responsibility to their own cultures for the sake of “globalization”? Should not Asian or Chinese intellectuals have a clear understanding of their inalienable role to strengthen the foundation of their own culture so as to resist “globalization”? Is it not possible at a moment when Western culture is in an accelerated plunge to create a counter factor so as to activate the yin-yang interaction according to the philosophy of I Ching? This is why I always say the future of human civilization depends entirely on East-West cultural interaction. However, are Asian and Chinese intellectuals prepared? Do they have the capability? The pity is perhaps it is already too late! Perhaps too few people agree with my views. But then as long as there is determination, awakening, and a will to fight, there is always hope for the future. My expectation remains on the shoulders of the youth. So our future, and the only future, is in education and social reform!

My fondest wish is for the future wenren of Asia, especially China, to possess the clear vision of the path they must take to once again bring about a cultural rebirth so as to interact with Western culture on an equal basis, but in a yin-yang polarity, to pave the way for the future of a culture for all humanities. On the other hand, I also hope Western intellectuals will be resolved to retrieve their culture from the clutches of American and European venture capitalists and to resume mutual influences with the East, so as to help create a genuine global culture that consists of the essence from all cultures…

In the mid-twentieth century, American culture demonstrated the significance of a mutually supportive and beneficial relationship between culture and commerce in our modern world. If through social and cultural reform we can find a chongyong (equilibrium) relationship between culture and economy, then the two can jointly make a fundamental contribution to the future of humanities.

By Chou Wen-chung

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