China to Undertake Sweeping Cultural Reforms as Country Looks to Foster Industry

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Plans for a new court to protect intellectual property rights and reform of state companies in the cultural arena to allow greater private input were among the Hollywood-friendly reforms announced in a landmark 60-point roadmap by China's ruling Communist Party.

The reform plan, seen as the biggest program of change in more than 30 years in China, also includes major social reform, including an easing of the One Child Policy and the abolition of "re-education through labor" camps.

The reform outline was issued several days after a four-day, closed-door conclave of its top leaders earlier this month, and contains unprecedented policy shifts. It's a strong sign that President Xi Jinping has asserted his authority at the helm of the world's second biggest economy.

"Reform and opening-up will decide the destiny of modern China. It is also the key to realizing the dream of national rejuvenation," Xi said, in a text carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

As an acknowledged fan of Hollywood movies – Saving Private Ryan is said to be his favorite film and he personally oversaw the expansion of the number of overseas movies allowed under the quota system – Xi's approach is good news for foreign firms trying to break into the booming China market, as a key element in the plan is the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR).

"China will strengthen protection of intellectual property rights, improve the mechanism to encourage innovation, and explore ways of setting up an IPR court," the plan reads.

A court to help protect against piracy is good news for film producers who incur major losses in China because of illegal downloads and pirate DVDs, and film companies have little revenue stream outside of theatrical release and an Internet video system still in its infancy with regards to licensed content.

The document is quite broad in what it says about how to develop the cultural industries, but the direction is clear, saying the Beijing government would aim to "encourage the development of non-state owned cultural enterprises."

The government would also "encourage state-owned cultural enterprises to change their systems to become shareholder enterprises."

This could be a reference to companies such as the state-owned film colossus China Film Group, which has been planning a stock market listing for years.

There should also be more private ownership, including controlling stakes, in state-owned film and TV companies, and a reduction in barriers to entry into publishing and online publications.

As expected, the broader plan deals heavily with economic reform, but the changes in social areas go far beyond what anyone had expected.

The government would also support various small and micro "cultural enterprises" to help them develop, and art troupes would be restructured to allow more private input.

The document said based on the principle of sticking to copyright rules and broadcasting franchise rights, there would be greater efforts to promote "multi-level cultural production markets," while government funding in this area would also be improved, and copyright protection would be strengthened.

The reforms would aim to "expand cultural exchanges and strengthen international communication and external discourse system, to promote Chinese culture to the world."

There are few details as of yet, but the direction it contains makes this a ground-breaking reform plan.

Xi specifically name-checks former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, whose reforms in the 1970s and the early 1980s helped China open up to the world and triggered decades of economic growth.

This article was first published by The Hollywood Reporter