Manufacturing “Culture”: The Promotion of Intellectual Property Rights in China

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


This research examines China’s persistent effort to promote intellectual property rights (IPR) since the 1980s. Laws of intellectual property were among the first batch of legislations in China’s market reform. Since the mid-1980s, the state propaganda apparatus launched nationwide campaigns in five-year cycles to “educate” Chinese people on the Party’s new market-oriented law and policy, including laws of IPR. When intellectual property became core state policy in the 2000s, new initiatives emerged under law promotion campaigns to “raise awareness” of intellectual property. Starting the late 2000s, the promotion of IPR became stand-alone endeavors devoted to an innovation-friendly “culture” of intellectual property that facilitated compliance with the law and promoted industrial growth in cultural and media sectors.

The notion of “IPR culture” played a key role in governmental promotion endeavors after China developed its national IPR strategy in the mid-2000s. In official discourse, “IPR culture” is instrumental and serves to shape mind-sets and regulate behaviors. It seeks to extensively use the Leninist media system to impose top-down pre-packaged understanding of intellectual property. While engaging actively with Western theories and corporate practices, IPR propaganda in China marginalizes and represses bottom-up challenges to the official stance in protection of private cultural property.

China’s intellectual property propaganda campaigns are part of the state’s efforts to legitimate and facilitate the market-oriented reform. Since the late 1970s, the market reform proceeded side-by-side with ruthless repression of bottom-up resistance. IPR stood out in the state’s reform scheme at a time when China’s (re)insertion into global capitalist political economy took place concurrently with communication industries playing a key role to propel growth and IPR systems serving as the cornerstone for the market. The state-led campaign to engineer a pro-market IPR culture manifests China’s adoption of the logic of the global IPR regime, which will only subject China to the hegemonic power of Western IPR discourse and distance the state’s cultural project from grassroots dynamics of meaning making.