China – next hub of creativity

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15 december 2011 | From world factory to hub of creativity: Giep Hagoort from Utrecht University reports on a major creative industries conference in Shanghai. A story on arts, creative entrepreneur and the conflict between freedom and stability.

Dr. Giep Hagoort, arts and economics professor at UtrechtUniversity/Utrecht School of the Arts, was the only Dutchmanselected to participate in the “Global Education Conference onCreative Industries Shanghai 2011”. In his report for ScienceGuideEU, he illustrates how China ischanging its focus from being the “World’s Factory” to becoming ahub for creative industries.

Full conference Report

This morning I bought a remarkable copy of the InternationalHerald Tribune. The 30 November 2011 edition is remarkable simplyfor the fact that it includes no news whatsoever about China. Not asingle word except the weather conditions. The next few days itwill be raining in Shanghai, that is where I am headed for.

No further news from the most prominent  world power?Strange. More than strange. Even the taxi driver that drove me fromUtrecht to Schiphol Amsterdam Airport was talking about the Chineseconstructors in his homeland Algeria when he heard that I washeaded for Shanghai. He was pretty clear about their raisond’être.

“Chinese workers are well experienced, work fast and have cheapprices for building hotels and railways stations”. Indeed thispersonal observation can be illustrated by more cases in otherAfrican countries, where Chinese companies dominate localagriculture and infrastructure sectors.

The Dutch daily ‘de Volkskrant’ also put China on the spot thismorning. It published an extensive article about the influence ofChinese business people on the Bordeaux area, where already sixChateaux de Vin (commercial wine houses) with important Bordeauxwines have been bought by Chinese investors. On the one side, thisis meant to guarantee the supply of exquisite wine for the fastgrowing Chinese middle class (escaping from its beer drinkingimago).

On the other side, wine houses are a promising option for returnhungry Asian investors that have increasingly more capital at hand.Of course France mourns the loss of ‘our French identity’, debatingthe fact that specialized knowledge on winemaking is leaking toChina. But French wine farmers involved are more than happy withtheir new Chinese friends. Business times are dire in the highlycompetitive global wine market and cash injections more thanwelcome.

construction site by kalmyket

(foto: kalmyket)


Day 1 – Welcome to Shanghai

Very soon I should have a better picture of what China is allabout. For the next few days I will stay in Shanghai to participatein a conference titled “Global Education Conference on CreativeIndustries Shanghai 2011 – Global Challenge & TalentDevelopment for the creative Economy”.

Being put forward by the UNCTAD Creative Economy Program, I am going totalk about education in cultural entrepreneurship. For a while nowI have been professor for Arts and Economics at the UtrechtUniversity/Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands and myexpertise precisely is built on research and education in thisspecific field.

The last 10 years ‘Utrecht’ has created a strong reputation inthis new knowledge domain within the cultural and creativeindustries. Our research was part of the recent UNCTAD CreativeEconomy Report 2010, underlining that management andentrepreneurial skills are important for a vital creative economy.I appreciate that I as a Dutch speaker-participant may representthe Dutch creative industries. And it will be a great opportunityto meet new research colleagues and teachers from other continents.The conference itself features quite an international audience asit is going to be attended by 30 researchers from over 20countries.

Shanghai by Albert K Law

(Shanghai, foto: Albert K Law)

China – challenges now and then

My expectations are very high. I believe that China nowadays isnot merely an icon in economic development, but also up to someserious challenges. Some of those are:

  • balancing the relationship between city population andcountryside,
  • feeding 1.3 billion Chinese people,
  • functioning as a role model opposing the dominant, neo liberalapproach of the US and (partly) Western Europe, and moregenerally
  • finding the middle way between the quantitative and qualitativeaspects of life.

After my first visit to China in 2007, I wrote an essay named”China: the Mecca of the creative industries?” Back then, I pickedthis title for several reasons. Most importantly, the Chinesecentral government had just implemented a policy giving creativeindustries the highest priority.

During interviews and contacts with key players in this area Ialso realized that this policy was put into practice. Allscientists I got in touch with told me about the crucial role thisissue played in their research. Finally, I visited the Art FactoryDistrict 978 in Beijing, where I saw what one could describe as anexplosion of creativity.

In this paper, I formulated some critical issues: higher arteducation is still traditionally organized with a top downrelationship between teachers and students. No innovation regardingthe learning process takes place. Also, creative industries areoften understood as functioning like a large scale industry.Figures from Europe, by contrast,  show that 80% of the sectoris dominated by small and medium sized firms (SMEs) with not morethan a handful of workers per firm.

But what is the situation now in China? What happened during thelast few years?

After my transit in Zurich, the A340-400 of Swiss Air flies mein the direction of Shanghai with a speed of 900 km per hour. Sothere are still more than 10 hours to go. Meanwhile, my Chineseneighbor tries to explain in his own language why it is so crucialto visit Shanghai.  At least, I think this is the essence ofhis message.

Waking up so early this morning now takes its toll. After a mealof chicken and egg noodles I fall asleep.

departures screen at airport by Mathieu Marquer(foto: Mathieu Marquer)

Going from imitation to innovation

The conference takes place at the Shanghai Theatre Academy whichcelebrates its 66th anniversary. The academy co-hoststhe congress in cooperation with UNCTAD. Involving a theatreacademy is a remarkable point. Issues concerning creativeindustries and creative economy are usually not on the agenda ofhigher art education institutes.

But Shanghai is different. The academy has a strong reputationin initiating research projects and plans to stimulate localcreative industries. At the opening session, five officials – mostare women – emphasize the involvement of the academy in thisconference.

Apart from co-hosting the conference, the academy also helpedestablishing the research College of Creative Studies and theShanghai Creative Industries Association. The chairman of thisassociation, Professor Li Wuwei, also contributed to the conferencewith the presentation of his book titled “How creativity ischanging China”.

In this book, Li Wuwei stresses the importance of creativity forrenewing the Chinese industries from the perspective of a creativesociety. He also points out the smart and pragmatic way in whichChina combines political, historical, scientific and regionalforces in order to stimulate the development of the creativeindustries. By combining Western concepts with more genuine Chinesevalues, the booming economy creates its own approach.

Li Wuwei further strongly criticizes the ‘Shanzhai model’ whichis equivalent to the view of China as the “world’s mass producingfactory”. Especially in the Southeast China, existing industriesmainly focus on short term manufacturing. The problem is that thisproduction in this area is based on ‘imitation’ instead of’innovation’.

factory pollution by Monica McGivern

(foto: Monica McGivern)


Freedom of expression and sustainability

On the first day of the conference, a number of Chinese speakershighlight how the local government in Shanghai stimulated thetransformation of old industrial areas and buildings into hubs forthe creative industries, with a focus on applied art (design,fashion). This policy is transformed into reality by privateinvestment companies that develop areas in order to attractcreative businesses and new customers.

Part of this successful approach is also attributed to thecollaboration with prominent western experts like John Howkins,British author of the bestseller “Creative Economy” and key notespeaker at the conference. In his speech, he stated that one of themain elements of creative industry quality is freedom in culturaland economic markets. I believe this to be a hint for our Chinesecolleagues not to be too pragmatic in the (international) debate onthe freedom of expression.

The most prominent contribution comes from Edna dos Santos,Chief of the UNCTAD Creative Economy Program. She discusses theeconomic crisis worldwide pointing out that even Chinesemanufacturing operations are currently shrinking. The globalrecession would affect the creative economy too, she argues.

Having focused more on the global perspective of creativeindustries in the Creative Economy Report 2010, she now emphasizesthe importance of thinking local. This way, creative industriescould play a fruitful and innovative role to strengthen the localsociety. In one of her slides she indicates sustainability as animportant issue for the creative industries: “The creative andgreen economy are mutually supportive. Most creative products areenvironmentally-friendly with low carbon and water footprints.”

Chinese catwalk by Allen Liu

(foto: Allen Liu)

Interlude – Eating WITH the locals

Oh, by the way: the weather is sunny and today we had our lunchon a balcony with a view on a beautiful garden in the center ofShanghai. Even weather forecasting wise, the earlier mentionedInternational Herald Tribune failed for the day. This time,however, they will not hear any complaints from my side.

In the evening and after a busy day I leave my colleagues for atrip around the impressive  Jingan Temple at the Nanjing Road.In a small side street I find a plain old restaurant visited by thelocals. For me this is a great addition to the world of five starhotels and their specific international (western) atmosphere.There, I meet ordinary Shanghai people from the lower strata ofsociety.

There is no need to talk, just sharing a meal is enough. Withwild gestures and a little help of my friends, I finally manage toorder a dumpling (again) with chicken, noodles and some vegetables.This second I completely forget about the conference. And whilebefore I paid 28 yuan (€ 3.25) for a cappuccino in apost-postmodern café at my hotel, I now hand over three 10 yuanbills to the waiter to pay for my meal. In this moment, ChairmanMao seems to be smiling at me from these notes.

Yuan note with Mao by Jason Wesley Upton

(foto: Jason Wesley Upton)

Five competences for creativeentrepreneurship

Back to the conference: The following days, Chinese conferencespeakers emphasize the need for an entrepreneurial approach withinthe creative industries. Entrepreneurship could be used as anational or regional instrument to foster innovation fornon-creative sectors, for cross-overs between the creativeindustries and other sectors, and finally for developing urbanareas in cooperation with the creative industries.

In my speech, I focus on the micro level, on individualcompetences of creative entrepreneurs – artists, designers,cultural workers, art managers – within the cultural and creativeindustries, pointing out how art education institutes can implementthe mentality and methods of cultural entrepreneurship.

I then mention some aspects of a study that was commissioned bythe EU and which I conducted with colleagues from the HKU lastyear. In “The Entrepreneurial Dimension of the Cultural andCreative Industries” the following five central competences areformulated to become part of a new strategy on education andtraining:

  1. Vision development (on creativity and growth strategy),
  2. Market positioning,
  3. Return on Creativity/Cultural Business Modeling,
  4. Communication skills,
  5. Teamwork and networking.

Still in the pioneering phase

Developing these competences is fundamental for eachentrepreneur, independent from the size or the state of his or herorganization. This pertains also to self-employed creative workerswhich represent up to 50% of the total amount of creative firms inthe western hemisphere. At this point, I also mention creative andentrepreneurial freedom as a fundament for this specific form ofcreative activity. This goes hand in hand with remarks made earlierby John Howkins emphasizing freedom as an essential component ofcreative industries.

As stated by some speakers, education in art management is stillin the pioneering phase in Mainland China. There is still a hugeneed for qualified teachers and adequate materials. Similaritieswith Europe exist nevertheless Professor Desmond Hui from Hong KongUniversity points out.

Similar to the HKU in Utrecht, art management programs aremostly offered by art schools. Hui himself is Associate Dean of theSchool of Arts, Centre for Cultural and Development and awell-known researcher on creative industries and their relationwith urban and regional development.

The difference between offering art management as part of abusiness or art school is remarkable. Business schools neglect art,culture and creativity as dominant values. Mostly, they then offeronly limited possibilities to do interdisciplinary work within theschool. An art management program within an art school takes a muchbroader perspective significantly enriching our understanding ofcreative industries.

The pioneering phase in China had another positive sideeffect for me personally. It was a great surprise to hear thatProfessor Xie Dajing, arts management expert and chairman of theChina Association of Arts Administration Educators from Beijing,wants to translate my handbook Art Management Entrepreneurial Style(Eburon Publishing house, 2005) for the Chinese market!


Atelier by Renaud Camus

(Atelier, foto: Renaud Camus)

Day 2 – Two opposing worlds yielding a ‘Third CulturalWorld’

On the second day, it became clear that this congress was notmeant to be a platform on creative industries where policymakers,bureaucrats, city planners, bankers and management researchers takethe lead. Instead, theatre director and Man of the Year in thecultural World 2010, Stan Lai, offered his vision and thoughts onartistic creativity.

Everybody is creative, he says. But can someone indicate thereal value behind creativity? And can you teach creativity? Laibelieves that this is impossible. In his eyes, creativity is notsomething that comes from outside an artist often say in what isoften dubbed a ‘creative moment’. Creativity is a quality insidehuman beings. The only question is whether people can formulate theright challenges in order to explore their creativity. Forformulating these challenges people need to use ‘wisdom’. Wisdom isabout the ‘Why’ rather than the ‘How’.

Stan Lai says that he has met MBA-alumni who have no otheranswers on the Why-question than: earning money to have a living.In his eyes this answer lacks a certain level of understandingwhich is essential to creating ‘wisdom’. Based on his experiencesas a teacher, one cannot teach creativity, but you can supportstudents to ask the right questions and to develop their ownviews.

Another expert on culture and creativity, Professor ZhenglaiDeng from Fudan University, then looks at the differences betweenthe western and the eastern approach regarding creative industries.In his opinion, the western approach – based on the concept of ‘theindividual’ as developed in the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18thcentury – comes to an end as seen by multiple crises in theworld.

This ‘First Modern World’ (in the west) will be followed by the’Second Modern World’ (in the east). The latter can becharacterized as ‘relationship-oriented’, and rooted in morecollective-centered societies. He believes that the value of’relationship’ is vital for the development of the creativeindustries and society as a whole.

Only few western conference participants react to Deng’sparticular view of the two opposing worlds. I do remark that incooperation with each other we can work on a ‘Third CulturalWorld’, in which we merge the best qualities of both approaches inorder to face the challenges of a world that asks for bothcreativity and sustainability.

Dancer by Lucas Krech

(foto: Lucas Krech)

Art caught between freedom and society

For a western visitor it is difficult to grasp why the Chinesecentral government implemented strict social media controls. It wasvery helpful for me to watch the Dialogue-program on CCTV-newsduring my visit.  CCTV-news is an English language state-ownedtelevision channel. According to CCTV, the new rules try to avoidinappropriate and anonymous messages online. One of the new rulesis that each internet user has to identify himself with his or herown real name and ID.

To explain this policy, CCTV-news brought together an internetentrepreneur, a scientist and a journalist, who discussed the newsituation openly under the guidance of a moderator who brought inthe argument of the legislator. According to the government,freedom of expression is misused if the online communicationsattack the social domain. All of the speakers voiced strongopinions but in the end they all agreed that freedom is notunlimited.

One of the main points of the discussion was that the internetis very dynamic and constantly changing. Regulations of today wouldtherefore have to be updated on a regular basis. In the end, acompletely new bureaucratic system would be needed to control theinternet and its freedom.

For all three debaters the social impact was an important issue:how can riots be avoided that might be initiated by anonymousinternet use? Here, the negative example of the London riots oflast summer are mentioned. Some of the possible solutions includedthat China had to introduce content self-regulation in order torealize social stability. Children should furthermore be educatedin how to properly use internet media education.

From the western perspective, questioning freedom of speech insuch a way is unusual. In China, issues are always analyzed from asocial perspective. Main question is: how is society affected? Agood example for this conflict between freedom and society can beseen in the reactions of Chinese readers to an article a Chineseprofessor published the state-owned China Daily newspapers. In thisopinion piece, he called upon the Chinese society to make room forabstract and contemporary art.

The Chinese society would only take ‘beauty’ as the mostimportant quality, which hinders the introduction of modern artthat also has a critical function in society. Art academies wouldbe strong in technical skills, but poor in imagination, he stated.Readers react to his statement arguing if art is not serving theideal of ‘beauty’ there is no reason for the people to enjoy it inthe first place.

Iphone by William Hook

(foto: William Hook)

Bringing together cultural policy and arteducation

One thing strikes me during my stay in China. It is that ourwestern societies focus their creative industry research mostly oneconomic issues. Main worry: How can this industry create jobs? Howdoes it contribute to GDP? How does innovation foster economicgrowth? The Shanghai conference, however, showed me that you canlook beyond these questions. While Europe usually debates culturalpolicy in isolation, the Chinese discussion takes into account arteducational policies as well.

This diversity is also represented in the program of theconference. To illustrate this, here a short selection of topicsthat were talked about: Global music education in the 21st Century;a multimedia Puppet Planet Project on sustainability and education;Art Administration and Social Development; Creative Industries andCivil Servant Development; the Role of Universities in the CreativeIndustries; Performing Arts in the new Environment of Technologyand Design & Social Dynamics.

Professor Lou Wei, Chairman of the Shanghai Theatre Academy,emphasized this variety when he wrote in his typically Chineseapproach that:

‘Facing the economic transformation and revolutionarychanges of information technology in the new era, the educationsector is also adapting to the rhythm of time. From the traditionalto the modern, from the integral to the fragmental, from theordered to the disordered – serious reflections are called for tosolve the dilemma between consistent tradition and courageousinnovation in the constantly changing world.’

During my stay in Shanghai, I also take some time to experiencethe creative industries in my own way. On the People’s Square Ivisit two impressive buildings: the modern Grand Theatre ofShanghai and the Museum. This is culture and status. The museum isfor free, and a lot of Chinese visitors, especially youngsters,roam the different exhibitions. Interactive media to satisfy theyounger digital generation are not to be found.

Strolling around the city, I ask myself: where are the CulturalMedia SMEs? In this area there is still much room for improvement.Taxi drivers in Shanghai prove to be more innovative by showingvideo clips in their cars. The images (of hotel facilities) do notparticularly appeal to me, but still they represent some form ofdigital media involvement.

The Forbidden City by Francisco Diez

(The Forbidden City, foto: FranciscoDiez)

Back to the Netherlands and some finalwords

Time to say farewell  to my colleagues and to fly back toAmsterdam Airport and ultimately travel to my final destination,the City of Utrecht. As I have explained during informal meetingsto my new friends: Utrecht (‘Yourtrack’) is the fourth biggest cityin the Netherlands, which is a member of the EU. Utrecht wasfounded by the Romans in the year 50 and has features the motto’Knowledge and Culture’. Utrecht University itself is one of themost prominent research universities in Europa (ranked on place 12of European universities in the global Shanghai ranking). Utrechtalso aspires to become European Cultural Capital in 2018.

In this personal report my focus was mainly on the contributionsof the Chinese speakers. This is not meant to neglect the importantcontributions made by non-Chinese speakers. For the officialreport, I would therefore like to refer you to

In March 2012, I will see some of my international colleaguesagain at our own international research conference onsustainability and creative and cultural entrepreneurship. Thisconference is organized by our Research Group Art and Economics atthe Utrecht University/Utrecht School of the Arts,  togetherwith Associated Professor  Aukje Thomassen from AucklandUniversity for Technology and Rene Kooyman, Ars Nova, expert in thefield of creative cities.

The first edition of this conference in March 2010 included 25international researchers from five continents. Our art school, inDutch: Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU), will celebrate its25th anniversary in March 2012, which will give an extra flavor tothis conference.

Edna dos Santos-Duisenberg and Professor Desmond Hui from HongKong University will be keynote speakers, among others from Europe,Africa, Latin America and America. Dr. Marina Guo, director of theShanghai Conference 2011, will present the research results of theconference discussed here, to the participants in Utrecht, whichwill spread our findings to a broader audience creating an impulsefor further debates.

Edna dos Santos will furthermore talk about the UNCTAD CreativeEconomy Academia Exchange Network. Indeed, I am happy to say thatour research group will join this network as well. The inaugurationwill take place during the conference including a number ofadditional (Dutch and Belgium) partners.

The Anniversary Publication, a peer reviewed research book, willfurthermore be presented with contributions from 25 authors fromall over the world. The conference Program Committee has planned aninteractive debate on the most prominent themes from thesearticles. Finally, I would like to say that I consider thisconference as an important follow up for the Shanghai congress thisyear.


Edna Dos Santos-Duisenberg, Building Capacities for aninclusive and sustainable creative economy, key notepresentation,  Shanghai Global Education Conference onCreative Industries 2011.

Giep Hagoort, Art Management Entrepreneurial Style,Eburon 2005.

Giep Hagoort, Cultural Entrepreneurship. On the freedom tocreate art and the freedom of enterprise, Inaugural Lecture,Utrecht University/Utrecht School of the Arts 2007.

HKU/EACEA, The entrepreneurial dimension of the cultural andcreative industries, Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Utrecht2010

Li Wuwei c.s., How Creativity is Changing China, withcontributions from John Howkinds, Michael Keane and Marina Guo,Bloomburry  2011.

UNCTAD, Creative Economy report 2010, UNCTAD, Geneva2010.

*Dr. Giep Hagoort (1948) is cultural entrepreneur andchairman-professor of the research group art and economics at theUtrecht University/Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands.He is founder-dean of the private network institute AmsterdamSchool of Management, specialized in interactive strategicmanagement and operations.


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