China Focus: From silver screen to gaming, China levels up soft power

2024-July-4 10:26 By: Xinhua

by Xinhua writer Zhang Yunlong

BEIJING, July 3 (Xinhua) -- In a move that has sent shockwaves across the global entertainment industry, celebrated auteur Zhang Yimou is set to front the big-screen adaptation of the hugely popular Chinese sci-fi novel "The Three-Body Problem." The announcement has reignited intrigue worldwide into Liu Cixin's celebrated book series following the Netflix TV adaptation release earlier this year.

The announcement marks a crowning moment for the quintessential Chinese sci-fi trilogy as it finally reaches the silver screen -- a symbolic achievement reflecting the growth of China's cultural influence over the past decade. From "The Three-Body Problem" novels being translated into more than two dozen languages, to the global success of the online game "Genshin Impact," Chinese cultural exports are captivating global audiences like never before.

The Three-Body Problem movie will join the likes of other culturally influential productions such as the blockbuster film series "The Wandering Earth" and historical costume dramas such as "Story of Yanxi Palace," both of which have substantial overseas followings.

The roots of this ascendant cultural influence, in a way, can be traced to the Communist Party of China's third plenum of the 18th Central Committee in November 2013. The meeting sounded the bugle for comprehensive reforms to be deepened across all sectors, with explicit directives to further reform the cultural system to improve China's cultural management system, develop a modern cultural market system, and enhance the country's cultural openness to the world.


The overseas success of "The Three-Body Problem" is widely touted by the sci-fi community as a breakthrough for Chinese sci-fi literature on its route to global prominence as it transcended cultural unfamiliarity and truly entered the vision of Western readers. The publication of the English translation was a pivotal step outward.

In 2014, the English edition of the trilogy's opening novel made a celebrated debut, going on to win science fiction's prestigious Hugo Award the following year.

With funding support from the "China Classics International" program, "The Three-Body Problem" novels were translated into English, followed by French, German, Spanish and numerous other languages thanks to initiatives like the "Silk Road Book Publishing Project."

"Works like 'The Three-Body Problem' address issues like artificial intelligence, space exploration, and environment from the perspective of a human community with a shared future, striking a chord globally," said Han Song, president of the World Chinese Science Fiction Association.

"They integrate unique thoughts derived from 5,000 years of civilization to reflect current technological revolutions and social transformations through a Chinese lens -- offering distinctive answers that the world craves," he said.


Adapted from a short novel of the same name by Liu Cixin, the blockbuster films "The Wandering Earth" and its prequel "The Wandering Earth II" were released in 2019 and 2023 respectively.

"The Wandering Earth II" boasts an impressive 83 percent Tomatometer score on review platform Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics.

"I like the philosophy of it -- there is no villain, per se, it's the problem that they have to overcome while working together to preserve mankind," remarked a moviegoer in Los Angeles after watching the prequel. "I can't tell the difference between its visual effects and what James Cameron does, so I think it's really impressive."

In the films, humanity joins hands to save Earth from being engulfed by the aging sun by putting their home planet on an epic journey to seek a new solar system. "It's a plan driven by Chinese cultural values about home -- very different from the typical Hollywood savior plot. This unique perspective gives the films immense cross-cultural appeal," observed Han.

China's film industry has seen explosive growth in recent years, buoyed by new supportive policies. These include the film industry promotion law that took effect in 2017, which encourages innovation within the sector. Box office revenues skyrocketed from less than 22 billion yuan (about 3.09 billion U.S. dollars) in 2013 to a pre-pandemic peak of over 64 billion yuan in 2019. After the pandemic, the Chinese movie market bounced back rapidly to reach 54.9 billion yuan in 2023, cementing its status as the world's second-largest film market.

Domestic productions are increasingly dominating the box office, reflecting both improved quality and a growing alignment with audience preferences. Last year, the top 10 highest grossing films in China were all domestic productions.

TV series also exemplify the appeal of Chinese cultural products. Realistic dramas like "A Lifelong Journey" depicting contemporary Chinese society won high acclaim, while period pieces such as "Story of Yanxi Palace" wooed overseas viewers with its oriental aesthetics.


In the gaming sector, the open-world adventure game "Genshin Impact" has emerged as a global phenomenon since its release in September 2020, skillfully blending high-quality graphics, an engaging storyline, and various cultural elements, including those from China. It has been viewed by communication studies experts as part of the emerging "Chinese digital flow," a new force in cross-cultural exchange.

According to German statistics platform Statista, "Genshin Impact" is one of the fastest mobile games to generate 100 million U.S. dollars in player spending, achieving this feat in just 13 days. "The Diplomat," an online magazine, characterizes the role-playing game's massive success as "a win for China's soft power," noting it as the first Chinese video game to become a global hit.

"The game masterfully blends multiple cultural codes, achieving a dissemination effect of 'cultural hybridity,' and revitalizes traditional Chinese culture in an animated form," remarked Professor Shi Anbin, director of the Israel Epstein Center for Global Media and Communication at Tsinghua University, on the international communication value of "Genshin Impact."

As China presses forward with cultural reform and innovation, the charm of Chinese culture is finding expression through novel forms and mediums on the global stage. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's cultural and related industries contributed nearly 5.38 trillion yuan, or 4.46 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 2022.

Editor: WXL
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