Meryl Streep, Eric Fischl, and Alice Waters Join Cultural Mission to Beijing as China Cracks Down on the Arts

Meryl Streep, Eric Fischl, and Alice Waters Join Cultural Mission to Beijing as China Cracks Down on the Arts

Yo-Yo Ma will play his cello. Alice Waters will prepare dinner.Eric Fischl will discuss his art. Meryl Streep will give a reading. A who's who of 14 American cultural stars (which also includesJoel Coen, dancer and producer Damian Woetzel, opera directorPeter Sellars, and others) will descend on Beijing November 16 for the first U.S.-China Forum on the Arts and Culture. But, as the United States prepares to enrich the country with its luminaries from the arts, China is reining in its own cultural offerings by restricting entertainment shows and tightening its grip on microbloggers.

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Perhaps fearing an impending Jasmine Revolution poised to blossom, the Communist Party's Central Committee held an annual meeting focusing on culture and ideology for an "Internet management system" that would regulate social network and instant-message systems, punishing those who spread information "harmful" to the party. Authorities are also discussing a requirement that microbloggers use their real names rather than anonymous handles.

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In addition, the New York Times reports, China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television aims to get rid of  "excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies" by placing limits on 34 satellite television stations, ordering them to broadcast no more than two 90-minute entertainment shows each and 10 collectively. The stations must also broadcast two hours of state-approved news each night and disregard ratings in making programming decisions. The order goes into effect January 1.

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China has been cracking down on artists and rights advocates who are calling for domestic reform, most notably detaining artistAi Weiwei for about two-and-a-half months last spring after he became increasingly outspoken about the government.

With Internet activity exposing atrocities in the country, like the government's attempts to suppress the July high-speed rail crash that killed at least 43 people, the Communist Party is growing more and more wary of the potential whistle-blowing that could occur on Twitter-like microblog Web sites.

Even the approval of the U.S.-China Forum on the Arts and Culture was a lengthy process. The Chinese government took a year and a half to give a lukewarm yes to Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations and the main organizer of the event.

"We had to be thoroughly analyzed," Schell told the New York Times. "They saw us as a potentially catalytic force. They just had to figure out for what."

While the forum's participants are aware of China's history of suppression, they believe that engagement and exchange is the way forward. "One hopes that these things are useful," said one of the program's participants, journalist Mark Danner, to the New York Times. "But it can be a fool's errand to try to detect any immediate use for them."

Audience members of the four-day forum's events, which include discussions on films, photography, and food, will be selected through tickets made available to government officials, educational institutions, and perhaps the public. The exchanges will also be streamed live on umiwi.com, but in light of China's increasing cultural restrictions, it will be interesting to see if the government will attempt to suppress any of the star-studded activities of the U.S.-China Forum on the Arts and Culture.