Since Chinese artists and films were invited to join the Golden Horse Awards in 1996, the festival has been a bastion of cross-strait cultural exchanges. Staging an annual event that highlights the best in Chinese-language film has been a boon to the global industry.
This makes the China Film Administration’s decision on Wednesday to ban all Chinese-made films and participants from this year’s awards puzzling.
As Executive Yuan spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said: “This is China’s loss.”
Economically speaking, Beijing has little to lose from its absence. Last year, domestically produced films took 62.2 percent of China’s total ticket sales, with even Hollywood failing to break into the top five highest grossers, although it is largely due to Beijing’s import restrictions.
However, the value of film does not lie only in economics. Cinema is a powerful way to communicate a nation’s perspective, and to generate goodwill and respect. South Korea knows this well, as studies have shown that the “Korean Wave” has contributed to its tourism industry and improved public perception of the nation.
By pulling Chinese films out of a festival in which they enjoy significant respect, Beijing is cutting off a crucial avenue of communication, especially among the Chinese-speaking world.
In relations that are already rife with miscommunication, cultural events such as the Golden Horse Awards are important to foster a sense of understanding. If the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “one family” as it claims, then its failure to connect with other Chinese-speaking nations would only drive them away.
There has been some speculation that the move is a step toward supplanting the awards with its own festival, but this too is misguided. The Golden Horse Awards in part draws acclaim based on its record of impartiality. Would a major Chinese festival ever accept a film on Taiwanese independence or LGBT issues?
It might argue that art is separate from politics, but successful art — especially film — often helps people navigate social and political anxieties. As such, to be recognized as a stalwart of good critical sense, a festival cannot ignore powerful films because they are “political.” Indeed, “political” films are often the most powerful.
Similarly, the justification of the ban championed by many commenters that the awards have become politicized is also incorrect, with one Sina Weibo user saying: “Taiwan made this award political first, don’t we have a right to punch back?”
They were likely responding to a spat at last year’s awards after Taiwanese documentary director Fu Yu (傅榆) voiced her support for Taiwanese independence in her acceptance speech. However, an isolated comment made by a director does not mean that the awards are politicized.
The event celebrates Chinese films and creativity, as evidenced by their consistently successful showing. China was even able to respond in the same capacity, as director Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) and actor Tu Men (涂們) used the phrases “Chinese films” and “Taiwan, China” in their speeches. If anything, Beijing is the one politicizing the event by pulling out.
This goes back to the question of what China has to gain from the move. As opposed to the ban on individual travelers to Taiwan that went into effect last week, which has the potential to affect the tourism industry, China is not hurting Taiwan by failing to attend. The awards ceremony is to be held as scheduled and it still received a record number of submissions, 685, despite a 35 percent annual decline in Chinese submission to only 148.