Hollywood's Love Affair with China

Three decades ago, China was a mystery to Americans. Its society and economy were closed, and we viewed it as an appendage of the biggest and baddest of them all, the Soviet Union.

Today, the situation couldn't be more different. I, for one, find China's cultural history fascinating, and I'm crazy about the Chinese people I know in Washington and China. That's not to say that the United States and China are chummy, but China's on the front pages of our newspapers every single day. In Washington, it's at the heart of just about any debate on outsourcing, competitiveness and power.

But it's not just the politicians who're noticing the rise of the dragon — Hollywood has a growing love affair with China. Ziyi Zhang, easily one of the country's most famous actresses, took the world by storm with her performances in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Memoirs of a Geisha."

2008 simply confirms the fascination with China.

Take "Kung Fu Panda," the heartwarming movie about an overweight panda who dreams of becoming a martial arts star. It grossed $515 million worldwide and is one of the biggest films of the year.

Or take the latest Batman movie, which is one of the most successful films of all time. In “The Dark Knight,” the Caped Crusader has to take a villain from Hong Kong and return him to Gotham City.

Or take "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," which is also generating a buzz. "The Dragon Emperor" refers to Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of unified China. The tomb in the movie is identical to the city-sized mausoleum, guarded by a Terracotta Army, that Qin built 2,200 years ago.

The fact that many of this year's biggest blockbusters spotlight China isn't an accident. China's sending a message: We're not just about low-cost manufacturing. We have a rich culture that we're proud of. The country is already a powerhouse, but if it can woo the world with its soft power, it'll be unstoppable. And the global community had better get with it!

Friday is the opening ceremony for this year's Olympic Games. It's China's big day. Many would say that it marks China's official debut on the world stage. I salute the People's Republic of China. I hope that the sun shines, I hope that China impresses the world community, and I hope that it wins some medals … but not more than the U.S. of A!


Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.