Capitalizing Taiwan’s cultural soft power (Taiwan Today)

9 October 2011 0 h 26 min 12 comments

With Taiwan’s visibility around the world sometimes limited due to its special relationship with mainland China, making good use of its soft power, particularly in the cultural and creative sector, is crucial to increasing the country’s exposure and influence.

By  Grace Kuo

In Taiwan Today (9/10/2011)

Soft power, in the words of Harvard professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term, is “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” It “arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies. When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced.”

According to Emile Chih-jen Sheng, minister of the Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan began to promote the cultural and creative industry in 2002, when the Cabinet listed it in Challenge 2008, a six-year national development plan (2002-2007) “to foster the creativity and talent Taiwan needs to transform itself into a ‘green silicon island.’”

In 2009, ROC President Ma Ying-jeou further named the sector one of the six emerging industries to be developed to boost Taiwan’s competitiveness, along with biotechnology, green energy, high-end agriculture, medicine and health care, and tourism.

CCA official Fang Jy-shiuh said that after the financial tsunami hit the world in 2008, the focus of the cultural and creative industry shifted from West to East, particularly to the mainland Chinese market, due to changes in its economic structure and a significant increase in spending power. “Taiwan should grab the chance to demonstrate our strong points, especially now that the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is in place,” Fang noted, adding that “Taiwan’s advantage is its freedom and democracy.” 

She pointed out that ECFA provides an in to the mainland Chinese market for films, an important part of the cultural and creative industry. “In the past, mainland China allowed only 50 foreign movies, including those from Taiwan, to be screened every year.”

“As ECFA exempts Taiwan-made films from this quota, many countries, including Japan and other Asian countries, hope to cooperate with us in making it into the Chinese movie market.”

According to Fang, the government’s role in encouraging the cultural and creative industry is to “let private sectors take the lead and develop freely, create platforms where artists can demonstrate their abilities and help clear away obstacles to growth.”

A major step in this direction was the passage of the Cultural and Creative Industries Act in January 2010, providing for the development of the arts through tax rebates, discounts and subsidies.

The government now offers a range of resources to assist those in the sector, Fang said. For example, the Government Information Office provides subsidies to filmmakers and is injecting NT$2.13 billion (US$66.2 million) into the pop music industry over a five-year period starting last year.

The Plan to Promote Private Investment in Cultural and Creative Industries, passed last May, calls for the CCA to coordinate with the Cabinet’s National Development Fund to allocate NT$10 billion to boost investment in domestic cultural and creative enterprises, with NT$6 billion going to joint ventures and NT$3 billion directly to flagship projects.



In Taiwan, a study by the GIO indicated that the nation’s television industry generated revenue of NT$113.6 billion (US$3.8 billion) in 2009, up 1.6 percent from a year earlier. The small growth resulted in part from the financial crisis that struck in 2008, which led to a decrease in TV advertising income and affected the production and export of TV programs, according to the report.

The study also noted that Hong Kong, Singapore, mainland China and Japan screened the most Taiwan TV dramas from 2007 to 2009. In contrast to South Korea’s exports, Taiwan’s overseas sales are mainly oriented to the ethnic Chinese market, with similar cultures and lifestyles leading to greater acceptance.


In Taiwan, pop music, like TV programming, has experienced only mild growth in recent years, partly due to illegal and free downloading channels, according to a GIO report, which showed estimated revenue of NT$7.66 billion in 2009, a 1.1-percent increase over the previous year.  

Sizhukong, a band known for mixing traditional Chinese music and jazz, plays a piece before departing on a performance tour in South America last September. To help expand the market for Taiwan’s popular music, the GIO has been supporting performers’ participation in international events. For example, in 2010 Sizhukong, a band blending traditional Chinese music and jazz, and Matzka, a group of four young musicians from the Paiwan and Puyuma tribes, toured El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

“As Taiwan’s pop music is a culturally and commercially valuable type of soft power, the government is assisting the industry in connecting to the world, arranging for outstanding bands to play abroad in Canada, South Korea, the U.K. and other places,” the GIO noted at the time.

To move forward, Lee, like Fang, recommends that the government maintain a certain distance from the development of the cultural and creative industry.

“The government should not be too close or else creativity will be strangled, nor should it be too far, as the local market is small and new emerging industries need support and resources from the government,” he said.

Lee and Fang agree that the sector helps boost tourism when fans of TV dramas and movies can visit filming locations, eat food that appears in the shows and purchase products seen in use by their favorite actors. Such integration of different parts of the cultural and creative industry through TV programs and film is one lesson Taiwan has learned from South Korea, according to Fang. “Love You/While We Were Drunk,” a local TV series that aired earlier this year, will soon reappear in an animated version, she said. Meanwhile, business has picked up at shops and restaurants along Wenzhou and Yongkang streets in Taipei, featured in the show, as devotees flock to the area. The bread of world-renowned baker Wu Pao-chun has also gained greater fame through its role in the series.

“The cultural and creative industry is an important basis for our competitiveness, as countries will be going head to head with soft power in the future,” Fang said. “We need to make a strong push now to take the lead in terms of creativity and talent. If we let up, other nations will catch up, and we’ll lose our chance.” 

SOURCE: Taiwan Today (9/10/2011)

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