Ian Yang
Advisor - China I Japan I South Korea
i.yang [at] dutchculture.nl

The impact of COVID-19 on cultural cooperation with China in 2020 

The impact of COVID-19 on cultural cooperation with China in 2020 

What have Dutch artists achieved together with Chinese partners? What do the numbers reveal about the impact of the pandemic on the international activities?  
By Ian Yang

Every year DutchCulture creates an overview of the cultural activities planned in each country in its international database. The year 2020 is no exception to the rule, albeit an exceptional year in many aspects.

Making an analysis of cultural activities in China in times of COVID-19 is not easy. Usually, you hope for bigger numbers, more activities, more interaction, but now this was not the case. The world came to a standstill in spring 2020, including all planned performances, screenings, concerts, exhibitions and training by Dutch professionals in China.

Impact of COVID-19 

Entering 2020, international travelling to and from China has faced restrictions since late January due to the first outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan. Although the massive lockdown ceased already in April/May 2020 and people can move freely within China, until today strict border control still applies. This unfortunate matter of fact inevitably influenced Dutch cultural activities in China throughout the year 2020. A good many events and projects had to be cancelled or postponed to still unknown dates. However, some Dutch cultural practitioners could find alternative ways, at times tailor-made for the Chinese context, to reach out to their partners and audience in China.

In 2020, 114 Dutch artists and cultural organisations participated in 161 cultural activities across China. Comparing to a ‘normal’ year, it’s striking that nearly 90% of the activities took place virtually. These events took place at 49 venues across 18 cities/towns in the country. The southern city of design, Shenzhen, hosted most (25%) of the activities of the whole year, followed by Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, where are the home bases of the Dutch embassy and consulate generals.  

Looking into each month/season, there were only countable Dutch activities in the first 5 months as cultural venues closed down across China with hardly any international programme. Online presentations and events dominated the second half of the year with two peaks in August and December, thanks to the extensive Dutch participation in the Shenzhen Design Week and the dense programme of the Netherlands Cultural Institute Online (NCIO) when the Dutch embassy in Beijing paired up with Tencent Art, one of the major streaming services (and specifically targeted for art lovers) of the country.  

The World Press Photo Special Exhibition in Shanghai, Nov 2020. Photo by Dutch CG in Shanghai
World Press Photo Special Exhibition in Shanghai, Nov 2020. Photo: Dutch CG in Shanghai.
Dutch CG in Shanghai

Comparing to 2019

In comparison, the total amount of activities shrunk about 80% of the data of 2019, contributed by nearly one-third of the number of artists and organisations. Despite the modest amount of activities, we could still see a good variety in disciplines, which reflects the fact that online presentations were carefully programmed with balance.  

Music events usually take up more than 50% of the yearly amount of Dutch cultural activities in China, largely contributed by electronic dance music/DJ performances. However, its percentage dropped drastically down to only 8% in 2020 due to the fact that the musicians (still) could not travel to concur the numerous stages across China.  

With no dominance of music, visual arts and audiovisual media easily took up 45% of the entire amount of activities in 2020, which doubled in percentage comparing to the 2019 data. Architecture related events also rose prominently from 2% in 2019 to 17% in 2020. This is believed to do with the targeted planning of online events.  

Nederlands Blazers Ensemble joined NCIO at Tencent Art in 2020. Photo by:Nederlands Blazers Ensemble
Nederlands Blazers Ensemble joined NCIO at Tencent Art in 2020. Photo: Nederlands Blazers Ensemble.
Nederlands Blazers Ensemble

3 types of online presentations

The exploration of digital or virtual applications in international cultural cooperation is clearly the by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic. To cast an overview of online Dutch cultural activities in China throughout the year 2020, we could see 3 different types or formats.

The first one is an offline venue with an in-house audience. A good example is the collaboration with Sky Culture Foshan in Guangdong Province with various artists. Under the curated title Art without Borders, a dozen of the so-called hybrid events were organised in June and July including a classical music concert and a visual arts presentation. This way, Dutch artists managed to have a special interaction with their gathered audience thousands of miles away in China.  

The second is to take part in or showcase at a digitalised existing/established platform, for instance, the Shenzhen Design Week. For its 2020 edition in late August, a group of Dutch urban planners, firms and organisations in architecture such as International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, MLA+ and NL Urban Solutions ‘easily’ gathered at a virtualised international conference.  

The third type is to set up a new partnership with popular Chinese streaming services to reach out to a massive audience. The aforementioned and still ongoing Netherlands Cultural Institute Online (NCIO) is a new initiative of this format. The Chinese partner Tencent Group is the top digital tech company in China. The first phase of the NCIO successfully gained more than one million views for its exciting programme presenting the spectrum of Dutch art and culture from the National Ballet, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, to Sinfonia Rotterdam and Korzo Theatre.

Read the full factsheet.

Check out the complete overview of Dutch cultural activities in China in our database. If you are a cultural professional who wants to cooperate with China, feel free to contact our China advisor Ian Yang.

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