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Chinese Performing Arts Groups Thrive With Private Funding

In another sign that China is continuing its decades-long march toward a more open and market economy, the world famous Chinese opera troupes have thrived since they were allowed to find private funding. The number of performances went up 9.8% after the market reforms and revenues increased 18.7% from 2006 to 2007.

For long, State-owned performance groups like the Peking Opera Company used to be subsidized by the Chinese government.

But, since 2004, many of them have carried out reforms in line with government policies that encouraged cultural units to tap market resources and cut their dependence on State funds.

"It's really different from three years ago when we used to get fiscal support and subsidies from the government," said Wu Jiang, president of the Peking Opera Company, which also owns an experimental theater, Changheyuan, that performs a modern-style Peking Opera as well as classic arias at comparatively lower rates for cost-conscious audiences.

Other State-owned performance troupes, including the China Children's Art Troupe, China Puppet Art Troupe, China Arts and Entertainment Group, Jilin Opera and Dance Performance Co, Shanghai City Entertainment Co Ltd and Jiangsu Opera and Dance Group, have also followed in Peking Opera's wake.

The groups have found private partners and investors, upgrading facilities, and focused on meeting the desires of their customers. As a result, sold-out performances are boosting the budgets of the troupes and allowing them to be more competitive in the market place for key actors and performers.

"This kind of project-oriented cooperation would have been unimaginable before the market-oriented reform process," said Hu Huiling, a Shanghai Jiaotong University professor who specializes in China's cultural industry.

"Now (after reform) we have got the right to design products independently; but since we cannot get fiscal support anymore, we are forced to make every effort to cater to the audience and become competitive in terms of products, services and business operations," Zhang Yu, the general manager of China Arts and Entertainment Group, said during a recent interview to CCTV.

Wang Hongbo said raising funds from the market meant that the company was free to devise a long-term development strategy instead of coping with short-term issues like balancing its meager budget.

To all intents and purposes, the move out of the government's shadow seems to be paying off.

Another key result of the reforms was moving toward a more market-based salary structure to increase the quality of the performances:

"In the past, the salary was fixed under a system formulated by the government; the market mechanism has made the payment system disparate, resulting in competition within the industry," Hu said.

"But management of actors, who are usually emotional people, is not easy. In addition to money, more chances to perform, encouragement and open communication should be fostered," Hu said.

Wang Ying, the general manager of China Children's Arts Troupe, said her company has adopted a flexible salary system in line with performance metrics and a top artiste at her company can earn more than 10,000 yuan per month, compared to a monthly income of 2,000 to 3,000 yuan under the State-subsidy regime.

The annual salary and insurance expenses for its 100-plus employees surged from 2 million yuan in 2003, a year prior to the market reform, to more than 7.5 million yuan last year.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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