The term “creative industries” covers a range of fields, including advertising, architectural design, art, crafts, design, fashion, movies, entertainment software, music, theater, publishing, computer software, television and radio broadcasting. They are sometimes defined as activities using personal creativity, skills and abilities to develop intellectual property, which is then applied to create wealth and employment opportunities.
However, the concept of “cultural and creative industries” has become popular in Taiwan because it has the word “cultural” attached to it. Government departments involved with culture love to evoke this word as a catchphrase and to add a degree of gravitas. Unfortunately, this shows a clear lack of understanding about economic development.
The concept of “cultural development” first appeared in Japan in the late 1990s, while former British prime minister Tony Blair said that the UK should promote its creative industries to the world, as it had already succeeded in developing its manufacturing and financial industries.
Culture has since become the driving force behind the UK’s economy in the 21st century. The idea also supported Nomura Research Institute’s forecast that 2015 would see huge changes in Japan, marking the county’s third major transformation after the Meiji Restoration and the new direction embarked on after World War II.
In contrast, Taiwan has not yet left behind the heavily polluting manufacturing industry; and developing the country into an international financial center remains a dream. The term “cultural and creative industries” may sound more impressive than simply “creative industries,” but it is at odds with reality because all we have seen to date is creative industries in the narrow sense of the term.
Little wonder then that writer Chang Ta-chuen (張大春) dismissed the whole idea of cultural and creative industries as “bullshit.” Our government has departments like the Council for Cultural Affairs and the Council for Economic Planning and Development. There are some cities, counties and townships, however, that do not even have one decent bookstore. Chang’s criticism was harsh, but it did touch upon certain issues.
The concept of creative industries is a very new one in economics, and adding the word “cultural” is a bit pretentious. It is a throwback to a time when Taiwan was awash with grandiose slogans, when people thought they could solve all sorts of problems simply by affixing the word “culture.”
The Council for Cultural Affairs seems to have got totally carried away with this new slogan. That whole series of supposed “creative events” planned for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China is a prime example.
What is the economic value of these events and what is their real political meaning? Don’t these events just involve giving money to people to put on a show? In fact, how are we to understand the very nature of the “nation” that exists on Taiwan?
The UK is always looking for ways to develop. Japan, despite its economic problems and challenges, still has an annual per capita income of more than US$30,000, compared with just a little more than US$19,000 in Taiwan. The prediction that Japan will undergo another transformation in 2015 is the subject of continuous internal debate, with many Japanese hoping this will be the third time in their history that the country has opened itself up to the outside world.
We are being overly constrictive of our potential if we allow ourselves to be bogged down, obsessing over opening up or closing Taiwan, with China in mind.
Lee Min-yung is an author and a poet.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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