US Performers in China
To perform in China, foreign performing individuals or troupes first need to find a local art agency, company or government organization as their sponsor. When the two parties agree to a performance arrangement after initial discussions, they should sign a letter of intent to confirm the basic agreement that has been reached. After the two sides have worked out details (time and place of tour, number of visitors, and respective responsibilities of the two parties, etc.), they need to sign a contract.
The sponsor may then send a letter of invitation to the invitees, which they will need to apply for Chinese visas (the sponsor should pre-clear all performers' names with the consulate where they will apply, and will need dates of birth and passport number, issue date and expiration date for all performers). In the meantime, the local sponsor will submit an application, including the signed contract, to the Ministry of Culture for official approval of the planned performing tour. The approval process may take a few weeks as the documents have to move from one department to another in the Ministry.
Three Categories of Performing Arts Agencies/Companies
Category 1 has government authorization both to send Chinese performers abroad on performing tours and to sponsor foreign performing troupes in China. There are twenty-four such agencies/companies in Beijing. Many of them were founded with support by or affiliation to a government institution. Some of them are no longer very active nowadays. Performing arts agencies/companies represented by China Performing Arts Agency (CPAA) and China National Culture and Art Company operate under the Ministry of Culture. Agencies/companies under provincial or municipal cultural bureaus belong to this category. The major difference between CPAA and other agencies of this category is that CPAA, as a government-funded agency, has the responsibility to implement cultural exchanges under government agreements while also doing commercial programs.
Category 2 refers to those performing agencies/companies that do not have direct government authorization to sponsor performing tours by foreign troupes. Some of them are affiliated to a government institution and undertake mainly non-profit cultural exchange programs. They may still receive some institutional support in carrying out these activities, but they are allowed and encouraged to undertake profit-making projects. Many of the private performing arts companies belong to this category. Many agencies/companies of this category are active in sponsoring performing tours by foreign individuals or troupes. Some of them have successfully brought performing troupes into and out of China. After entering into relationships with foreign individuals or troupes, they have to seek cooperation of one agency of category one in issuing invitation letters and submitting applications to the Ministry of Culture.
Category 3 refers to those agencies/companies that have no authorization to undertake performances by foreign individuals or troupes. They may sponsor performances by Chinese nationals in China only.
All the above three categories of arts agencies/companies have interests in sponsoring performances by foreign performing artists. It is widely recognized, however, that most of the category one performing agencies/companies are stronger in terms of funds, human resources, experience and government support in sponsoring performing tours by bigger foreign troupes. In cases where these agencies take the initiative to invite a foreign art troupe to perform in China, government approval is almost pro forma. Performing arts agencies/companies of category two are still growing in number in China. Usually small, they are quite efficient and flexible. However, consideration should be given to the possibility of tour cancellation due to approval, financial or other administrative problems.
Planning of a performance tour of China by big troupes may take a full year or even longer. Usually, the Chinese sponsor covers local board, lodging and transport and provides nominal per diem instead of paying performance fees. In most cases, the Chinese sponsoring organization books the hotels and buses for group tours. It is often necessary for American performing companies, bigger ones in particular, to raise funds to cover their international airfare and performance fees. It is advised that terms for performing tours be set out clearly in the contract.
How the Embassy Can Help
The Public Affairs Section of the American Embassy provides moral support and referrals when possible to cultural exchange programs between the U.S. and China. It is not in a position to assist with arrangements for specific programs, but may be able to put American performers in touch with organizations who can.
American organizations communicating with their Chinese contacts are advised to tell them clearly what they would like to do, how they would like the Chinese organization to help, and what the American organization can offer in return. Americans proposing to present concerts in China should provide their Chinese contact with an audio or video tape of a representative performance and clear, attractive publicity materials that can be duplicated. Audio and video clips for TV and radio ads can be very effective. Chinese sponsoring organizations will need to help American guests with a number of logistical procedures, such as documents for visa applications and coordination with different sponsors in other cities so that required documents and internal travel are taken care of.