Adaptation in cultural industry under conservation pressure: case study of two Chinese embroidery clusters
In this study, we explore how tension between ‘culture’ and ‘industry’ can be effectively dealt with in promoting cultural industry, taking the Chinese embroidery sector as an example. The diverging performance of two leading centers of Chinese embroidery production suggests that local adaptive and networking capabilities are essential in creating a new path out of the tension, and these capabilities are largely determined by local openness/flexibility, entrepreneurship, and linkage capacity. In Changsha, cultural conservatism prevails, and the local embroidery sector largely maintains traditional product styles and target customers, sticking to the historic path. It is in question, however, whether such a strong bias toward the high-culture segment of the industry is good for cultural heritage protection in the long run, given that the industry at standstill has faced increasing challenges in sustaining a solid local pool of skilled labor. In contrast, Suzhou’s local embroidery sector has actively responded to the changing market environment, through increased product segmentation and customization as well as intra/cross-industry collaboration. Such a flexible, scale-up strategy has helped the industry attract local talent and meet the market demand, while maintaining space for high-end artistic products.