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Contagious culture

Updated: 2012-12-27 14:53

Then, there is the satire in Gangnam Style. It is so over-the-top in both music style and production value that you intuitively know he is making fun of somebody or something. Could it be K-pop, or lifestyle of the rich and famous, or himself, or something deeper only the analytical scholar can decipher? We don't know, and we probably do not need a consensus. If you see it as polished pop with earnestness, that's fine, too.

But here lies the greatest hurdle for Chinese imitators. We can invent melodies and dance routines that are simple and joyous, but it is not in our genes to infuse the fun with an attitude, let alone social commentary. Our education discourages that. If a kid tells a joke about an authority figure at the dinner table or in the classroom, he or she will surely not get encouragement from the parents or teachers for being sharp-tongued or quick-minded. More likely, the kid will be met with a stern look or gentle chiding for being naughty. And that is the better scenario.

The fusion of social criticism and entertainment is a powerful tool and by no means Western in nature. Browse China's Internet, and you'll encounter an avalanche of black humor and social satire. But they exist in the so-called underground and rarely surface into the mainstream media or entertainment. (OK, some movies incorporate it in their comical moments.) We have no Jon Stewarts; we don't even have a Jay Leno equivalent. Our standup comics dare only make fun of the unfortunate.

All this forms an invisible obstacle for China to promote its cultural products. Soft power is not equal to tourism-style ads. It is not just about the beautiful sceneries we have and the dense skyscrapers on our horizon. Neither can our ancient sages and young sports stars embody the rich diversity of our civilization.

Soft power exudes from every corner of our society and every strip of our artistic gamut. It includes our ability to laugh and to cry, to be proud of our uniqueness and to find common ground with others. I'm sure Gangnam Style does not encapsulate all the interesting things Korean people are capable of, but it told me one thing: Koreans are fun-loving. That's good enough for one pop sensation.

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