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Plenty of room for cultural improvement
By Nie Xin

A recent survey about cultural services in 21 cities around the world shows that while Shanghai may be leading the way in China, it still has a long way to go to match metropolises like New York and Paris.

According to the survey by Shanghai Normal University’s Urban Culture Research Center, which is led by the Ministry of Education, every Shanghai resident borrows less than one book from public libraries annually. In Toronto it’s 12.24 books while it is 8.32 in New York, 6.81 in Berlin and 3.98 in Paris.


According to the report, Shanghai ranks 12th on its public culture service index. Hong Kong is 14th with Beijing next at 15th. Paris is at the top of the list with London and New York rounding out the top three.

“The three Chinese cities in the survey all scored below average and didn’t finish in the top five in any single category,” says professor Sun Xun, who led the survey.

In Beijing, libraries loaned an average of 0.41 book per person every year. The results are surprising considering the country’s long history of respecting scholars and emphasizing reading.

Betty Wang, a 28-year-old Shanghai native who has studied in London for five years, says she was quite impressed to see so many people reading books on subways, buses and trains while she was in Europe.

“Here in Shanghai, however, most of the passengers are obsessed with their mobile phones and watching TV shows or films on their iPads,” says Wang, who works in the marketing department of a Chinese fashion company.

Wang, a mother of a 2-year-old girl, has started reading to her daughter in the hope that she develops a passion for books at a young age.

“I find the public library in our community is not as welcoming as I expected it to be. Even the books are not very up to date,” Wang says. “In public libraries abroad, especially in the US and Europe, there are regular salons and activities open to the public.”

Wang says the lack of choice in public libraries has forced her to shop online for books.

Meanwhile, the survey also shows Shanghai has fewer museums than its international counterparts. Yes, the city easily ranks near the top in China with 90 museums — Beijing has 41 and Hong Kong 32 — but Los Angeles has 221 museums, London 173 and Berlin 158. Paris and Amsterdam both have more than 130 museums, according to the survey.

“Although Shanghai is one of the top cities in China, the gap with international cities like New York and Paris is still very apparent,” professor Sun says.

Tourist Jimmy Tam is visiting Shanghai for the first time and he admits to being disappointed by the city’s lack of museums.

“As a tourist I like to visit the local museums to learn more about the culture, history and different sides of this amazing city,” the 24-year-old Taiwanese says. “But apart from the very famous ones like Shanghai Museum, there are not many good museums compared with US cities like New York and Los Angles.”An earlier survey of 31 Chinese mainland cities found Shanghai has invested the most in public culture and has the most public culture products. The city also finished first in public culture activities, public culture enjoyment and public culture teams.

Professor Bao Zonghao, who was in charge of the survey, says it also uncovered some problems.

He says the city ranks in the bottom five for “public broadcasting programs” and “annual public television program products.” Shanghai is also below the national average in terms of visits to historical relics and art performance attendance.

Dai Bo, vice secretary-general of the Shanghai Performing Arts Association, says there are fewer venues in Shanghai compared with cities like Beijing and south China’s Guangdong Province, which explains why attendance figures are not as high.

There are two main art festivals in Shanghai every year — the 3-week Shanghai Spring International Music Festival in May and the monthlong Shanghai International Arts Festival in October. They stage hundreds of domestic and international performances across the city. While the scale of both festivals continues to grow, organizers admit attendance could be better. “Very few performances sell out,” Dai says.

The association says a lack of interest and promotion are mostly to blame. But to say the city is the death of culture would be a big exaggeration.

Plays, especially original Chinese dramas, have become increasingly popular, especially among young women, according to the Shanghai Drama Arts Center. The center on Anfu Road produces many original dramas, presents Western classics and also invites well-known international groups and directors to collaborate.

Recently they offered a 50-percent discount for a performance and there was a large queue, even on a rainy day, at the box office when tickets went on sale.

Chen Li, public relations manager at the Shanghai Drama Arts Center, says they need to cultivate an audience.

“Tickets have to be reasonably priced for starters,” Chen says. “But we also have to teach the audience how to enjoy a show so they will want to come back again. There’s still a long way to go.”


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