[Viewpoint]A hard look at soft powerI was in Beijing on New Year’s Day. Beijing, the host of the 2008 Olympic Games, is developing at the speed of a skyrocket. Downtown Beijing, once the site of parades of bicycles ridden by commuters, now sees parades of imported cars from the world’s most famous car makers. According to a businessman who visits Beijing once a week, drastic changes are being made there on a daily basis.
In addition, seven months before the opening ceremony, Beijing is a battleground between numerous leading architects worldwide.
French architect Paul Andreu designed the new titanium-and-glass half-dome structure which is China’s National Center for the Performing Arts, formerly known as the National Grand Theatre.
The eccentric new building which houses the headquarters of China Central Television is a masterpiece created by the renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. It is also called “China’s leaning tower of Pisa,” and rated one of the top 10 construction miracles in the world in 2007 by the British edition of Time magazine.
However, it was the two New Year’s music concerts that moved the people the most, an example of the influential power of culture.
On the last day of 2007, people came in flocks to the Great Hall of the People, on the west side of the Tiananmen Square. The temperature outside the building had nosedived to sub zero levels, due to the roaring winds in Tiananmen Square.
Spirits were high inside the Great Hall of the People, even though there was no heating there. Imagine thousands of people with a body temperature of 36.5 degrees Celsius (98 F) flocking from all quarters to the same place!
The Great Hall of the People is the world’s biggest conference hall, hosting the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China some months ago. A fabulous New Year’s music concert was also held there.
In addition, the world-renowned conductor Zubin Mehta gave an impressive concert for the audience, directing the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a good barometer to gauge how well China has developed in terms of culture. It began with “Olympic Fanfare,” composed by John Williams, and closed with the “1812 Overture,” Tchaikovsky’s most important work.
It truly made a deep impression on the audience.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s newly opened National Grand Theatre, not too far from the Great Hall of the People, also held a New Year’s music concert.
Renowned Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa led China’s national symphony orchestra.
Of course, I could not go to both concerts at the same time, so I attended Ozawa’s concert, which was in the evening.
The supersized, postmodern National Grand Theatre, built in a six-year period with a budget of more than 3 billion yuan ($412 million), overwhelmed people with its scale and brilliance.
His performances were so splendid in part because Ozawa was born in Liaoning, China and thus very familiar with the country.
He received numerous requests for an encore after finishing the joint concert with China’s young genius pianist Lang Lang. He sat on the platform and watched warmly during the piano performances by Lang Lang, who could be the same age as his grandson.
That day, Lang was a young symbol of Chinese culture and emblematic of China’s cultural power.
The fact that both top conductors held their performances at almost the same time is a good example of China’s soft power.
Beijing is no longer a place that just consists of the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Summer Palace. Even though it is notorious for “Chinaese-made fakes,” Beijing is taking a step forward to make new creations.
A variety of design experiments that boggled the imagination are underway.
We are astonished and frightened to see the economic growth of China still going ahead at a dramatic speed.
However, we need to be even more astonished and frightened about China’s soaring cultural power.
The economy, the market and even the Olympic Games will depend highly on that cultural power.
Bearing Beijing’s cultural power in mind, we need to take a look at Korea’s cultural power now.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong