China: Science, and “Avatar”

A couple of interrelated China articles on today’s

The first is a discussion on its “Room for Debate” blog on whether China will become a leader in science. The first writer, Gordon G. Chang, is a harsh skeptic:

China’s one-party state cannot produce world-class historians, economists, political thinkers or even demographers. Beijing’s increasing demand for obedience smothers creativity in many of the social sciences and “soft” disciplines.

Meanwhile, in the World section, there’s an article titled China to Pull Back ‘Avatar’ for Domestic Film .

“Avatar,” the Hollywood blockbuster that has proven wildly popular with Chinese moviegoers, will be pulled in the next few days from the majority of Chinese theaters where it is showing, Chinese media outlets reported Tuesday.

The film, which can be viewed in standard format or in 3-D, will be yanked from theaters without 3-D technology in order to make way for a domestically produced biography of Confucius, according to reports in state-controlled media that mainly quote theater operators.

“Avatar” seemed like the one feature that could overcome the alleged depressing effect that China’s piracy has on ticket sales. Personally, I can’t imagine “Avatar” being worthwhile at all except for seeing it in 3D on the big screen. Chinese culture bureaucrats apparently don’t think a movie about one of their country’s greatest philosophers can attract more yuan than a movie about half-naked blue people. They’re probably right; a movie featuring George Washington traveling forward in time to kill Hitler probably would draw less American viewers than “Avatar.” But let the people decide, and let the moviemakers be pushed to innovate (a 2009 foreign language movie about Brad Pitt launching an operation to kill Hitler didn’t do too shabby, thanks to a ballsy director).

Science is a different field than art, but it’s hard to believe that the heavy-handed mindset that quashes innovation in one field won’t hesitate to do it in the other.

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