If China seriously wants to challenge the frontrunners in the world super-power stakes, its leadership has got to do a bit better than its latest bumbling at Cannes.
As every dominant power in history can attest, super-power status is reserved for countries that others would choose to follow (or are forced to follow at the barrel of a gun), and this depends on much more than simply churning out things for other countries’ consumption.
That Beijing knows this is perhaps made most clear in the realm of sports, where it has left no gene-pool untapped in its bid to breed the next global super-star. With sport and business covered, two out of three of the holy trinity of international respect are ticked off.
But in the third determinant of international standing, cultural achievement, China suffered another setback this week, adding to an already comprehensive list of cultural cringe.
On Monday, China was looking good at the Cannes film festival. Not only were the festival president and one member of the jury Chinese, a Chinese film – the Lou Ye-directed Summer Palace – was among the favorites to win the competition’s top award, the Palme d’Or.
By Tuesday, China’s censors had banned the film for domestic screening. By Wednesday the Chinese producers were back in Beijing to plead with the cinema bureau. On Thursday, the film premiered at Cannes, with much more fanfare than it otherwise would have attained.
Given that the film explores themes of political openness and sexual liberation, complete with graphic sex scenes, and the film climaxes (pardon the pun) in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, it’s perhaps no wonder it is not flavor of the month back home.
But by banning the film on the eve of its international premier, China has again shot itself in the foot. If they were trying to boost the film’s exposure, Beijing’s censors should take a bow.
But as representatives of an emerging nation trying valiantly to gain credibility and cement its place at the top-table of world affairs, they have again let the country down.
It may just be a film about Tiananmen, and not an action replay, but the decision makes a mockery of the recent sanctioning of China as a guardian of human rights through its controversial election to the new UN Human Rights Commission.