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China Daily Website

Power of culture

Updated: 2013-05-10 11:22
By Li Lianxing ( China Daily)

"We have signed similar cultural agreements with Russia and France and translated our words into actions," he says.

"For instance, the French Cultural Season helped bridge the gap between South Africa and France in arts. It is these kinds of engagements that we are expecting to have with China also," he says.

During President Xi Jinping's recent visit to South Africa, there was also widespread attention on China's First Lady, Peng Liyuan, an exemplary singer and artist. Mashatile says Peng would have a big influence in enhancing cultural exchanges and China's cultural image to the rest of the world.

"If we have a chance, we would like to invite her to give us a lecture about her own experiences in arts and singing, and to let us know more about her experiences in China," Mashatile says.

Lamenting that trade and commerce always get priority in bilateral relations, the minister says that, "it is a pity that very few people realize that culture is also an economy and business.

"Culture is a big industry, involving several aspects, like producing music, movies, making crafts and publishing books. That in itself represents a huge market.

"Ideally it should be a win-win situation wherein cultural productions make money and people from both sides benefit by gaining knowledge about each other.

"If artists from Beijing and South Africa can work together to produce books, songs, paintings or even make films, as we have rich experiences in film-making, it would accelerate the cultural cooperation between the two sides, while making money to ensure future investment."

To facilitate such exchanges, China has already set up many cultural institutions in Africa, such as the Confucius Institute. Mashatile says it is crucial for African countries to adopt a similar path in China.

"It's very important to do such projects as it will boost the overall relationship. But it also should be done step by step," he says, claiming that South Africa has the best credentials among all African countries for furthering such exchanges.

"We are already looking into it and we view the FOCAC as a good platform to set up cultural institutes in China."

Mashatile adds that a South African cultural institute, similar to the Confucius Institute, would be set up in China. "We are waiting for a good and feasible proposal," he says.

During his visit to Beijing in 2012, Mashatile was really impressed with the "way the Chinese government was focusing on arts in its education system. It is a lesson that needs to be emulated in South Africa".

"There are so many academies of art, including dance, songs, paintings etc in China," he says. "This is an important and sustainable method to boost cultural education."

For Africa, culture can be the ideal platform to showcase its economic advantages on the world stage.

"We are now cooperating for development and common interests, but for sustainable and long-term cooperation, cultural exchanges need to be much more integrated," Mashatile says.

In Africa, most countries have a distinct cultural history and customs. Cultural exchanges and communication should be the "glue" that connects all the members in this bloc, he says.

"The good thing about culture is that you don't need to be similar, but still you can be united, and this is what we call in South Africa 'united in diversity'."

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