Cultural Ties between US and China Plummet Amid Pandemic and Geopolitical Strife

 

Cultural Ties between US and China Plummet Amid Pandemic and Geopolitical Strife





July 22, 2023

Cultural relations between the United States and China have hit an unprecedented low point, with visitor numbers, student exchanges, and literary collaborations all facing a sharp decline. The Covid-19 pandemic, ongoing travel restrictions, and the persistent trade war have dealt a severe blow to the once-flourishing cultural exchanges between the two nations.

During the late 2000s and early 2010s, cultural exchange between the US and China witnessed a remarkable surge. However, since then, escalating tensions during Donald Trump's presidency and their continuation under Joe Biden's administration have caused these positive trends to reverse.

Education, a vital aspect of cultural exchange, has also taken a hit. For years, Chinese students sought a western education, resulting in a significant rise in the number of Chinese students studying in the US during the Obama administration, peaking at 350,755 in the 2016-17 academic year. However, the growth stagnated during Trump's tenure, and the Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated the situation, leading to the first drop in numbers since 2003-04.

Conversely, US students opting to study abroad in China also faced a similar trend. The exchanges flourished until 2012 but have been declining steadily since then, with the pandemic causing a massive drop from 11,639 US students in China in 2018-19 to merely 382 in 2020-21.

Journalistic relations between the US and China have also reached new lows, with visa delays, expulsions, and harassment becoming increasingly prevalent for foreign correspondents from both countries. In 2022, 56% of foreign bureaux faced delays in obtaining J-1 visas for their correspondents in China, and Chinese authorities often cited Covid-19 as a pretext to deny foreign journalists access. Similarly, the number of journalist visas issued to Chinese citizens by the US reached record lows in 2021.

Even literature, which once served as a bridge of understanding between the countries, has suffered. The annual number of Chinese fiction and poetry publications translated and published in the US has steadily declined since 2017, indicating a decrease in literary exchanges.

The entertainment industry, too, has seen a significant shift. While Hollywood films historically contributed substantially to Chinese box office revenues, domestically produced films have now taken over the majority share. In 2022, Chinese-produced films accounted for a staggering 85% of the Chinese market, marking a stark increase from less than 50% a decade ago.

The Covid-19 pandemic's global impact on travel has been felt in cultural exchanges as well. China's stringent border restrictions have resulted in a sharp decline in the number of Chinese tourists visiting the US, even before the pandemic. Though arrivals have gradually increased since China reopened its borders in 2023, they remain far below pre-pandemic levels.

The strained cultural relations between the US and China reflect the broader geopolitical tensions between the two nations. Rebuilding these connections will necessitate diplomatic efforts, mutual understanding, and a firm commitment to fostering cultural exchange and cooperation. As the world watches, the hope remains that both nations will find common ground to revive and strengthen their once-thriving cultural relations.


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