The other day I visited a film studio on the outskirts of Foshan City, China – in a place called Xiqiao, nearby the famous Xiqiao Mountain. Myself, my girlfriend and my friend, we walked around the site for a few hours looking at the small scale replicas of Shanghai and Beijing, Hong Kong and Foshan.
What struck me initially was how much about pre-Mao Chinese architecture I did not know, or had never seen, since the country has, in the process of the years since World War 2, been torn down and built back up again in the most commercial of Bauhaus, communistic guises.
The National Arts Entertainment and Culture Group LTD run the National Arts Studios in Xiqiao, and according to their website, the group are committed to making Foshan the largest centre of film and television in Southern China.
Apart from seeing someone, presumably an actor, soar through the air over Foshan’s own version of The Forbidden Palace, all we saw were Wedding Photographers and soon to be wed couples standing in front of Trams from the era of adopted Hong Konger Eileen Chang.
Perhaps we arrived in the midst of a lull in the entertainment season. Given the amount of renovations undergoing, including one Hong Kong alley of which we were not even allowed to take a picture, that must have been the case.
Whether or not Hollywood Guangdong, the name of the proposed plan to make Foshan the biggest centre of entertainment in Southern China, comes to fruition is impossible for me to predict. But, despite my lack of knowledge of Chinese media, some ideas occurred to me.
Why, when Foshan suffers such a dearth of culture, is such emphasis placed on mass media like films and television? Some lines could be drawn to the current role of Wanda Media in world entertainment. Money is an easy way to define success, and the success of Chinese culture has now been drawn in the large, and sometimes, overbearing colours of cinema and tv culture.
Also, in reference to the idea that Foshan may become the largest centre for entertainment in Southern China, where do nearby provinces place on the list of potential rivals to that end?
So to answer the first question maybe it is best to delve into the recent growth and investment undertaken by Wanda Media.
Dalian Wanda Media Co. have made a series of investments, including Nordic Cinema Group Holding AB and Carmike Cinemas Inc. AMC Entertainment Inc is a US cinema chain owned by Wanda founder Wang Jianlin.
While news emerged recently that the Chinese Government is taking steps to curb Wanda’s overseas investment, and their own personal Hollywood ambitions, at the core of the acquisitions made by the large Chinese conglomerate may reside ideals similar with those held by companies like The National Arts Entertainment and Culture Group LTD, and perhaps some discrepancies.
Wanda represents the new Chinese dream. At first the group’s intentions are firmly set upon creating a Chinese national conglomerate, whose name is instantly recognisable both nationally and globally. Wanda represents the new strength of the Chinese economy and the countries ability to make its mark on global markets.
Wanda before made the claim that they would create a theme park empire large enough to rival the Disney Group’s. That was before the group sold off large amounts of their Wanda City developments, which include hotels, shopping malls and theme parks, just last week. This departure represents a growing ambition to stray too far from the Chinese dream.
While Wanda remains and will be one of the most recognisable names in Chinese economy, it seems imperative for them that they retain at least a large emphasis on national development. The government was swift to clamp down on the group after its recent sale of Wanda City ventures, in light of their growing investment in international entertainment companies.
So with that being said. Competition and growth, ambition coupled with success has been seen as undeniably a positive in China, up until now. Communistic competition, in which national companies pit themselves against one another for predominance, seemed very much to create a burgeoning and fecund economy which couldn’t fail to establish China on the world stage. However when the bubble gets so large, as with Wanda, that there is nowhere left to go but outwards, that is when it bursts, or unravels outwards.
What we see here then, is a dilemma facing the conservative, staid, stoically national Chinese Government. When the bubble eventually grows to large, where will they turn.
Enough of that though.
Back here in Foshan, we still have none of these problems. The only problem is how to get bigger, and how to get one over on the neighbours. Foshan is in a unique location. I’ve spoken already about Foshan’s economy, about how the small suburban city has taken up the position as South China’s furnace.
Not content with providing the world with refrigerators and air-conditioners, it seems that Foshan is also trying to get a foothold on the entertainment market. Foshan, unlike Hong Kong, has plenty of land available for ventures such as the one in Xiqiao. Foshan lies just upriver from Guangzhou, a veritable blip on the map, an hour at the very most from China’s third city. Hong Kong, site of “China’s” (we say here about the Special Administrative Region in inverted commas) largest source of films and tv programmes, is another hour on from Guangzhou. The Pearl River is perhaps the second or third most important section of land in terms of economy in China today, after Beijing and Shanghai.
So, while southern neighbours, like Yunnan, Fujian and Guangxi are just as beautiful, if not more so, Guangdong has the economic clout to clean up on a venture like this.
Anyway, who would have known that a relaxing Sunday would turn to rain the way it did for us when we went to climb Xiqiao Mountain, and ended up on a movie set. And who could have known the places where my brain would eventually lead me. Certainly not me.