To cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, landlords are reducing rents everywhere except in cultural and creative parks. In Taiwan, bookstores are a sunset industry and a hundred of them have closed, but this is not the case in South Korea.
The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has helped establish Paju Book City. About a 40-minute drive from Seoul, it is the world’s largest publication industrial park, and has attracted more than 300 companies employing 10,000 people.
In Taiwan, all that has been done to encourage publishing is to rent Huashan 1914 Creative Park to Yuan-Liou Publishing Co. Huashan is one of five creative parks making a profit, but most of it is unrelated to culture and creative industries; some lawmakers call it a “community of exotic restaurants.”
Paju is near the Demilitarized Zone, where rent is low. The government helped negotiate a favorable deal with the military, exempting it from taxes for the first five years and halving taxes for the next three years. It also enjoys water and electricity concessions.
In Huashan, the Ministry of Culture only serves as the landlord.
For Paju, apart from private-sector efforts, an important factor in its success has been the five-year incentive project former South Korean minister of culture, sports and tourism Choe Kwang-shik introduced in 2012.
Over five years, the project injected 79.2 billion won (US$64.2 million) into the publishing industry, aiming to place South Korea among the top 10 publishing countries. It reached that goal in 2016, making publishing a national strategic industry.
The cultural and creative parks in Taiwan tell a different story. Amid the spread of COVID-19, the Hualien Cultural and Creative Industries Park has closed and the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park has lost NT$60 million (US$2 million), but the Ministry of Culture insists on raising the rent, drawing criticism from lawmakers who say it is an odd way of supporting creative industries.
There is also evidence of bad apples and corrupt officials in the Ministry of Culture. For example, in April 2018, the Ministry of Justice’s Agency Against Corruption received a bribery report involving the former director of the Department of Humanities and Publications.
According to the report, a ministry official had allegedly accepted NT$600,000 in bribes and overseas travel from an association of Taipei publishers, which in turn received NT$1.5 million in subsidies.
The official was transferred from his post in July that year and made deputy director of the National Center for Traditional Arts, where he was allegedly also involved in corruption.
The Agency Against Corruption also found that an executive officer in the department’s digital publishing and newspaper and magazine divisions was to receive monthly bribes for three years beginning in 2018 in exchange for awarding government subsidies of NT$600,000 to the Indonesia International Book Fair, NT$1.25 million for the BookExpo exhibition in the US and NT$1 million for the Hong Kong Book Fair.
These cases have damaged the Ministry of Culture’s prestige and the quality of cultural affairs.
Former Council of Cultural Affairs chairman Chen Chi-lu (陳奇祿) praised the success of the Korean Folk Village, which was transferred to the private sector.
Former minister of culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) has said that the nation’s cultural and creative industry has failed.
Will the Ministry of Culture make the effort to change it?
Lu Ching-fu is a professor in Fu Jen Catholic University’s applied arts department.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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