Sunday, May 23, 2010

A beautiful anecdote...

...about economic realities within the belly of the Paper Dragon. You simply cannot make this stuff up.

(from the FT)

Before his arrest on corruption charges, Wang Yi was not only a powerful financial official in the Communist party but also one of China’s most celebrated modern classical music composers.

But since his detention and arrest last year, Mr Wang’s magnum opus – a symphony called Ode to China – has been dropped as a repertoire staple of the China National Symphony Orchestra and his compositions derided by formerly adoring media commentators and critics.

Mr Wang is described now as someone who has trouble reading music, had no formal training and was reliant on ghost writers to produce what was once hailed by state media as “China’s answer to Mozart” and “music for rejuvenation of the nation”.

Official reports suggest that most of the millions of renminbi spent on tickets to see Mr Wang’s works came from businesspeople and officials hoping to curry favour with him.

The case is one example of the extraordinary influence senior party officials with few or no artistic credentials wield over the Chinese arts.

Critics say these factors are the main reason China, the world’s biggest exporter of manufactured goods, has produced relatively few cultural or artistic exports in recent years – despite a multibillion-dollar global campaign and regular exhortations from leaders to develop the “cultural industries” and “soft power” of the nation.

“The officials want China to be seen as a cultured, creative nation, but in this anti-liberal political society everything outside the direct control of the state is seen as a potential threat,” says Ai Weiwei, a well-known contemporary artist and a bold critic of Communist party rule.

“The people who control culture in China have no culture, and in this system art provides a hugely lucrative source of corruption.” Mr Ai notes that artistic works, because they are not officially included in the assets of officials, have become popular as bribes, and many officials have learnt to paint, write or compose music so they can sell their works to people who expect favours in return.

Because of the patronage and benefits officials can bequeath, their work is lauded as genius, unless they fall from grace, as in Mr Wang’s case. Two weeks ago a Beijing court handed him a death sentence suspended for two years, so he is likely to remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Mr Wang served first as vice-chairman of China’s securities regulator in charge of share issuance and fund management, and later as vice-governor of the powerful state-owned China Development Bank, which owns part of Barclays in the UK.

Although he had never studied music and had not heard a full symphony until eight years ago, Mr Wang decided to nurture his latent talent after a trip to Tibet, during which he was struck with an overwhelming urge to sing.

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