Why is Shanghai the most culturally creative city in China?

With China’s rich historical heritage, Shanghai opened the door to the construction of a global cultural modern city from 1992, under the environment of the reform and opening policy proposed by Deng Xiaoping. In recent years, under the agenda of the gradual infiltration of neoliberalism into the cultural and creative industries, China has used Shanghai as a pilot and clearly stated in the policy of the “Shanghai Twelfth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2011–2015)” which is necessary to accelerate the construction of a global film and television creation center, an internationally important art trading center, the Asian capital of performing arts, the global capital of esports, the highland of the network culture industry, and the highland of the creative design industry.

The Shanghai Economic Commission launched the Shanghai Creative Industry Center (SCCI) and the official listing of the M50 Creative Park in 2002, marking the beginning of Shanghai’s cultural industry development model with art as the core driving force and the market as the center. Due to the particularity of China’s national ideology, the only criterion for the development of the cultural industry is its contribution to the city’s GDP. As shown in the table below, the average annual growth rates for the creative industry’s general value-added over this period between 2005 and 2010 were significantly higher than Shanghai, which averaged 13.04% annual growth of GDP. Value-added growth rates and overall output ranged from over 20% annual economic growth between 2006 and 2007; this coincides with rapid CICS growth. At the same time, the cultural industry also needs to implement the regulation of the national macro policy. On the one hand, under the implementation of policies, Shanghai has accelerated the development of cultural industry clusters, such as the collective settlement of museums, art centers, and art galleries in the M50 Creative Park, providing artists and related cultural companies with official subsidies to fund their creation and development.

Furthermore, the Shanghai International New Cultural and Creative E-sports Center, which started construction in January 2021 with an investment of RMB 5 billion, will attract 80% of China’s domestic esports clubs to Shanghai and conduct professional process management. This undoubtedly promoted the modernization and professionalization of China’s cultural industry.

Nonetheless, the cultural industry in Shanghai blindly commercializes and privatizes culture under China’s unique system. The government has restricted the investment and management of private enterprises, especially foreign-funded enterprises, in the cultural industry to a certain extent, in order to achieve its goal of regulating the development of cultural industry clusters. And eventually merged and developed by state-owned enterprises (Kraus 2004). The original intention of the combination of cultural industry and policy is to create urban landscapes and shape the modern image of the city. Shanghai already has the most spectacular creative industry cluster in China, and the over-commercialization of the cultural sector makes the creative cluster lose its function of creating culture. A part of the cultural department merely aims to link the success, fame, and profit of the industry and increase its own value, while depriving the public cultural industry of its basic function of modernizing its infrastructure to better spread culture to the citizens (Gu, 2014). This casts a shadow over the future development of Shanghai’s cultural industry.

Postgraduate student in cultural and creative industry of Monash University

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Chenxuan Gao

Chenxuan Gao

Postgraduate student in cultural and creative industry of Monash University

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