India is planning a year-long soft power push in more than a dozen Chinese cities by bringing classical dance troupes, Indian food festivals, first ever Bollywood events in China and even a social media campaign in an attempt to raise the country’s cultural profile, especially among younger Chinese.
“The effort will be India’s biggest ever attempt to reach out directly to the Chinese public,” Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha, who took over as the envoy here in January, told The Hindu.
Detailing the initiative, he said the plan was unprecedented in being a first ever collaborative effort between India and provincial and local Chinese governments. Officials are hoping the initiative will also help boost the minuscule tourism traffic from China to India that has remained largely stagnant even as outbound Chinese travel across the world has boomed in the past decade.
“This is entirely a unique kind of joint venture between us and local institutions,” Mr. Kantha said. “What we are going to do is reach out to a much larger audience and to a newer set of people in China, especially the youth.”
On Sunday, the Kalakshetra classical dance repertory from Chennai will kick off the “Glimpses of India” festival with a dance drama inspired by the Ramayana at one of Beijing’s biggest venues, the Poly Theatre in the heart of the city.
The following day, the dance troupe will be hosted by the elite Tsinghua University, and will perform in front of several hundred students and faculty. Secretary of Culture Ravindra Singh, in Beijing for the launch, will also hold talks with Chinese Ministry of Culture officials on Monday to discuss expanding cultural interactions between the two countries.
So far, officials said the initiative had received a very positive response on Chinese social media websites, where it has been advertised —India’s tourism office has around 43,000 followers on the Chinese Twitter equivalent Sina Weibo. About 800 people, who were reached out to on social media, will attend the Poly performance, besides invited guests.
Mr. Kantha acknowledged that so far, Chinese interest in travelling to India, despite the Buddhism connection, had remained low. More than 97 million Chinese travelled overseas in 2013 — more travellers than from any country but only around 1.6 lakh Chinese travel to India annually — less than 0.2 per cent of the total traffic. This has meant lost revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars — Chinese travellers are expected to spend $130 billion this year.
Chinese tour operators say the reasons for low interest included visa difficulties, a lack of robust promotion by India, shortage of Chinese-speaking tour guides and safety concerns. Mr. Kantha said at least two of those problems are being addressed. While the festival hopes to rekindle interest, the visa issue has been sorted out.
The year-long festival will also look to tap Chinese audiences beyond major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The Kalakshetra troupe, which performed in Shanghai earlier this week, will travel to Chengdu in Sichuan province next week.
What is likely to appeal most to Chinese is a possible Bollywood event which could see a major star travel to the mainland for the first time, adding to considerable interest here in Indian films.
A quota limiting the screening of only two dozen foreign films in the mainland annually has seen Indian film companies show little enthusiasm in reaching out to the rapidly expanding domestic market despite wide interest, reflected in the millions of viewers who flock to watch Bollywood movies on popular Chinese film-sharing websites, which even subtitle every film.
A film industry delegation will for the first time travel to China later this year and hold talks with China’s State Administration for Radio, Film and Television, possibly finally opening the door to Indian film in China after a three-decade gap — in the 1970s, Indian films were the most popular foreign films in China, with actors such as Raj Kapoor still a household name here today.