China's soft power policies and strategies: the cultural activist state.

Author:Chen, Qi
Position:Special Issue: Cultural Economies and Cultural Activism

The term "Chinese Dream" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]was put forward by President Xi Jinping in November 2012. It has been heavily popularised in political circles and the mass media since that time, particularly on and since Xi's accession to Prime Minister in March 2013. The official interpretation of the Chinese Dream (as routinely articulated by government propaganda) is oriented towards a large-scale planning initiative for national capacity building and aiming for prosperity and "rejuvenation". (1) Xi subsequently delivered a significant speech in the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris on 27 March 2014, asserting that "the realisation of Chinese dream is the development of material civilisation and spiritual civilisation", and "with the peoples of the world together", China wants to "create a colourful civilisation for mankind and provide the correct spiritual guidance and strong motivation". (2) Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong, (in charge of culture and education), elaborated on the Chinese Dream in her speech at the third annual conference of the Tai-Hu World Forum (a Chinese NGO, aiming to promote cross-cultural communication). She addressed three points: first, China is set to build the strategic means to strengthen its culture, and for culture to play a major role in pursuit of the Chinese Dream; second, China will give attention to cultural development to boost its soft power; third, China will expand people-to-people exchanges with other countries, so as to open up larger room for "win-win" cooperation in the world. (3)

Liu used the term 'soft power', the now globally-famous term first forged by Harvard professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term in relation to a country's power of attraction and persuasion (as distinct from the "hard" power of force or coercion). (4) Since its introduction, the term has proven to be a flexible concept, generating an architecture of terms for strategic deployment within established international relations or foreign policy frameworks. Through both qualitative and quantitative analyses, this paper articulates the term's adaptation in a Chinese political context, ascertaining the effectiveness of China's soft power strategies in the West--on both the sender's and the receiver's side. This paper then assesses the factors contributing to China's soft power resources, and looks at potential ways of improving China's soft power against the background of its current, dominant, national policy framework --the Chinese Dream.

China's embrace of 'soft power'

The concept 'soft power' has found a receptive audience in China, entering Chinese academic and political debate as much as the speeches and documents of China's highest leaders. The enthusiasm for the 'soft power' concept is now firmly embedded in Chinese political, social and cultural spheres. The term appeared for the first time on an official occasion in the government report at the 17th CPC Congress (The National Congress of the Communist Party) in October 2007. The then-president Hu Jintao announced clearly that "China must enhance its cultural soft power". Some five years later, in his report to the 18th CPC Congress, (one of the most authoritative documents of China's current government), Hu elaborated on soft power and reclaimed its significance:

To achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation, we must create a new surge in promoting socialist culture and bring about its great development and enrichment, increase China's cultural soft power, and enable culture to guide social trends, educate the people, serve society, and boost development. (5)

Hu's successor, President Xi Jinping embraced the concept soft power as part of his ambitious Chinese Dream. On 30 Dec 2013, Xi presided over a conference on the topic of how to enhance China's national cultural soft power within current policy frameworks. Xi stressed that improving China's cultural soft power matters to the very realisation of the Chinese Dream, (6) claiming that "we should strive to spread the values of contemporary China, namely the values of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to increase China's international discourse power." (7)

Notwithstanding the confluence of the terms 'communism', 'socialism' and Chinese society', the term 'soft power' has proliferated in Chinese official discourse on both domestic and international issues in very specific ways. Especially after the humiliation of the torch relay for 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where because of protests China was forced to cut short the relay (and so reflect on its international image and political reputation). In the light of such global media exposure, the Chinese leadership has recognised soft power as an important indicator of a state's international status, contending that China's soft power must be strengthened so to match the nation's economic power and political status on the world stage. The government decided to make its own voice heard, investing in the cultivation of China's own global media brand.

Chinese scholarly discussions about soft power have mushroomed since 2008. Chinese scholars have gone to great lengths to explore the uses of soft power and its implications, and numerous papers have been published in China on the topic. Table 1. records the number of published Chinese academic papers on soft power from 2004 to 2013 (Source: It demonstrates that after 2008, the number of Chinese papers on soft power virtually doubled.

Chinese scholars have been actively exploring the concept's possibilities as much as its political or practical uses. The main academic issues that have emerged in China include: the appropriation of soft power in improve China's global standing; how to develop a peaceful national image and dispel perceptions of a 'China Threat'--otherwise tempering foreign suspicions of China's growing strength; how to enhance China's percentage in the global market of cultural and creative industries; how to maintain the balance between the exploitation and protection of cultural resources; how to harness the role and the power of the media in nation branding; how to influence the opinions of an audience through the transmission of ideas and values; and how to design 'public diplomacy' to serve the interest of politics.

Having explored and expanded the concept, evaluated its importance and implications, Chinese theorists have not reached a visible consensus on how to formulate soft power theoretically in a Chinese context. Notwithstanding specific deployments of the term by China's leaders, for scholars there seems to be no definitive distinction between soft power strategies and 'public diplomacy' or 'cultural diplomacy', for instance. The opaqueness in Chinese theoretical interpretations of soft power is due, in part, to the complex and non-quantifiable nature of cultural, affective, aesthetic, visual and image-based forms of communication, as well as events, the coordination of international relations through events, the particular and relational qualities of relations between nation states, and the nebulous nature of one's global 'image', perceptions, cultural identity, reputation, 'standing', influence, credibility, confidence, and the reception of expressions of one's national virtues--the armory of soft power strategy, combined with the vagueness in Nye's original conceptualisation of soft power, make for a difficult subject of theorisation. Nye (2004) did not specify how to translate soft power into actual political influence or to produce specific desired specific political outcomes within international relations; nor did he clarify whether the concept tailored for US foreign policy and orientated within US experience, would be effectively applied to the cases of other countries (even in the West, let alone the East). Although Nye updated a refined version of his concept through prescribing the use of 'smart power' in his The Future of Power (2011); the operability, measurability and sphere of application of soft power remained unspecified. In fact, Western academia has not reached a definitive clarification of the term either. For example, Hayden (2012) suggests that "soft power encompasses three broad categories: influence, the force of an actor's argument, the 'attractiveness' of an actor's culture and institutions" (p.5). Meanwhile, when Kurlantzick (2007) analysed how China uses soft power as its "charm offensive" to project a benign national image in the world, he controversially includes trade and overseas investment in the definition of soft power. (8)

Nevertheless, conceptual ambiguity per se does not prevent China appropriating the idea as a convenient tool of political science to understand China's position in the world. Instead, the complexity inherent in the term semantically actually allows Chinese political discourse the opportunity for an easier assimilation--for it can serve as an umbrella term accommodating various interpretations and uses. The proliferation of writings on soft power suggest that the mainstream Chinese politicians and scholars simply accept soft power as a general and infinitely variably political instrument, which has the potential to serve China's national and international interests, considering China's political and economic successes on the international stage often spark applause as well as fears.

The most significant feature of discussions on soft power in Chinese academia is that its usage is not limited to international image-building or international cultural communication for political effect: It is also applied used within domestic cultural affairs to strengthen national and collective consciousness. In other words, soft power is an instrument for deepening debates about culture at home. The definition of soft power has been broadened in Chinese discourse and thus is often interchangeable with the term 'national cultural soft power', implying of certain domestic...

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