China’s Cultural Power

chinese new year in londonLast week, I briefly addressed my Country Profile topic in our discussion by including an article that describes one of China’s public diplomacy programs known as the China-Africa Think Tank Forum. This past week, China has made the news once more for the notable increase of diplomacy, or more specifically “soft power,” that is popularizing Chinese language and culture all over the world. In China, the meaning of “soft power” not only carries diplomatic and economic objectives, but a consistent spread and revival of culture takes an unprecedented precedent. Pamment discusses the “diplomatic strategy for exerting influence” as a means of “developing relationships” through different channels, i.e. key media sources in order to reach large publics. He then adds, conveniently enough, a Chinese Proverb which basically says involving others is the best form of perpetuating mutual understanding. At the end of chapter 3, he addresses the topic of “cultural diplomacy.” He describes this area of PD as a way to use culture as a communication tool. China is in many ways capitalizing on its increased ability to promote its culture through not only the media, but the diaspora populations of Chinese people throughout the world also perpetuate the growth of a foreign understanding of Chinese influence.

As China’s economic power continues to grow, this emphasis on culture and language as a means of influencing both foreign and domestic perspectives is China’s way of making itself a more attractive nation. This is important in order to substantiate the increasing number of Chinese public diplomacy programs around the world. For example, there are now more than 50 Confucius Institutes in Africa alone. One of the elemental ways this is down is through the spread of Chinese language. Popularizing the use of Simplified Mandarin not only corroborates public interest in Chinese culture and history, but more predominantly makes China “valuable” in the world’s flow of information. Undoubtedly, these establishments such as the Confucius Institutes are meant to aid relationship-building between the countries; but for China, this is an equally economic endeavor (I’ll get into this further is my following posts on my Country Profile). My blog today was inspired by this article:


8 thoughts on “China’s Cultural Power”

  1. Brooke, thank you for bringing up a good point concerning China’s soft power. China has indeed invested a seemingly vast amount of resources into their soft power program (in the form of their Confucius Institutes, panda diplomacy, and exchange programs, to name a few that have been addressed by others within the blog) in an attempt to assuage international fears and anxiety about China’s rise.
    But how successful is China’s strategy? One of the basic goals for soft power/public diplomacy is for the audience to build trust with the host nation, but how well has China accomplished this? This further leads to the issue that soft power does not exist in its own little universe – perceptions towards a country are shaped by a panoply of factors and are not just products of that country’s manufactured soft power. My completely amateurish, uneducated belief is that, because China is still struggling with this aspect of international relations (it is a foreign concept to a country like China that for thousands of years served as the center of their perceived world without needing its use), they engaged in these soft power efforts with the expectation that foreign audiences would wholly consume them without question and wholeheartedly support China.
    But obviously that’s not how this works, because a country’s perception is shaped by numerous sources outside of its soft power program. China seems to continue to undermine its soft power initiatives (see my previous post re: January 29th).
    Clearly, many perceptions, particularly in the West, are shaped by a media more than willing to stoke the popular fear of China’s rise/US decline narrative. It’s difficult, though, to balance this with any public diplomacy efforts made by the Chinese government, which can ring hollow and not wholly representative of China (see Anqi’s post in Week 2 about the Confucius Institutes).
    For China to succeed in shaping foreign perceptions, Beijing needs to understand that every action it takes will have an effect on how it is perceived by the international community.

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