Boosting China’s global impact: power of strategic communication

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-07-10

“Bronze zun with beast-shape” from Western Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1046 BC - 770 BC) unearthed from Zhangjiapo cemetery, Chang’an, Shaanxi. The historical treasure is displayed in the Chinese Archaeological Museum. Photo: WENG RONG/CSST

Enhancing the dissemination and influence of Chinese civilization is a strategic objective set out in the report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC. The report states that China will extend the reach and appeal of Chinese civilization: “We will stay firmly rooted in Chinese culture. We will collect and refine the defining symbols and best elements of Chinese culture and showcase them to the world. We will accelerate the development of China’s discourse and narrative systems, better tell China’s stories, make China’s voice heard, and present a China that is credible, appealing, and respectable. We will strengthen our international communications capabilities, make our communications more effective, and strive to strengthen China’s voice in international affairs so it is commensurate with our composite national strength and international status. We will deepen exchanges and mutual learning with other civilizations and better present Chinese culture to the world.”

Since entering the 21st century, China has participated in major international affairs, garnering increasing attention from the international community. Shaping the national image plays a crucial role in enhancing the dissemination and influence of Chinese civilization as China assumes a more prominent position on the global stage. With a history spanning over 5000 years, China is the only civilization that has continuously evolved without interruption. In the contemporary global political landscape, the revitalization of Chinese civilization encompasses the nature of a socialist society, an oriental civilization, and a developing country, and is increasingly becoming a focal point of attention.

Although dissemination and influence are two different things, they both point to the goal of letting the world accept a China that is credible, appealing, and respectable. Some believe that Chinese civilization, characterized by its advancement, richness, and openness, naturally holds a dissemination advantage. This perspective is overly simplistic. Throughout the course of Chinese civilization, there have been stages of advancement and regression, periods of openness and isolation. Chinese civilization has strengths in disseminating influence within the Confucian cultural sphere, but its influence is weaker in Christian and other cultural spheres. As Chinese civilization advances into a new era, it presents a more civilized, open, and confident demeanor. The exploration by the Chinese people in the new era for a more harmonious, prosperous, contented, and healthy societal pathway holds significant implications for the civilizations of other world regions.

The only way forward

Enhancing the dissemination and influence of Chinese civilization worldwide is an indispensable path for China’s rise as a global power and an integral part of the resurgence of the Chinese nation. From a global historical perspective, the rise of a great power inevitably accompanies the spread of its civilization. During the golden age of Greek city-states, Greek culture spread to regions such as Asia Minor, Egypt, and North Africa, forming a Hellenized era around the Mediterranean. The rise of the Roman Empire rapidly replaced Greek civilization with Roman civilization in most parts of Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, forming the Roman imperial discourse system with profound influence. The Han Dynasty, following the reigns of Emperor Wen, Emperor Jing, and Emperor Wu, quickly rose to power, with its civilization influencing vast regions. For a time, the Chinese civilization represented by the Han and Tang undoubtedly reached the pinnacle of contemporary world civilizations.

Some believe that there have been four peaks in the global spread of Chinese culture, namely during Han, Tang, Northern Song, and Ming. However, in reality, only the first two dynasties truly reached a peak, featuring strong national power and open self-confidence. The signs of the influence and dissemination of civilization are “blooming in all directions” and “receiving tributes from all sides,” meaning that Chinese civilization spread out and influenced other countries, while people from other nations also came to China to learn about Chinese culture. Rising powers such as the UK following the industrial revolution, France during the French Revolution, and the Soviet Union and the United States in the 20th century all attracted learning and emulation from around the world to varying degrees, demonstrating these two characteristics. The Chinese civilization is an integral part of China’s rising image, closely intertwined with the improvement of its path, institutions, economy, and military. It is imperative to carefully examine this phenomenon.

Image of China

The amplification of the reach and impact of Chinese civilization requires the portrayal of an authentic, three-dimensional, and holistic image of China.

To start with, the dissemination of Chinese civilization must suit the nation’s current positioning. Being the world’s largest developing country in its primary stage of socialism, China experiences regional disparities in development. These range from cities and regions at the cutting edge of world progress to underdeveloped or even backward areas. Thus, to project the current state of Chinese civilization to the world, it is crucial to align the portrayal with China’s national standing, ensuring an unbiased approach in its dissemination and publicity.

Next, the communication and promotion of Chinese civilization should encapsulate its authenticity and comprehensiveness. Addressing the issue of Chinese civilization’s reach and influence primarily involves facilitating global acceptance and comprehension of China’s development path, societal system, and way of life. Hence, an accurate portrayal of China lies at the core of this endeavor. It is imperative to “present a true, multi-dimensional, and panoramic view of China, and enhance our country’s cultural soft power.” Only by representing the collective image of China’s excellent traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture, can its influence be realized. In addressing the relationship between ancient and modern, advanced and backward, universal and unique, and by projecting a China that is making progress and developing in all aspects, can the international community perceive China as trustworthy, lovable, and respectable.

Meanwhile, the dissemination and promotion of Chinese civilization should aim to preserve its essence while discarding its undesirable elements. Chinese civilization has birthed a rich heritage, from its origins to its contributions to global civilization in the new era. While it has generated excellent traditional Chinese culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture, it also carries aspects of backward and uninformed cultures. Choices should be made from the perspective of the core socialist values.

Soft power

This endeavor is a significant aspect of the nation’s soft power building. Academia generally accepts Joseph Nye’s view, which suggests that soft power focuses on areas such as institutions, values, culture, and policies. China must also follow the general principles of soft power building. It is crucial to launch soft power cultural products that reflect the achievements of Chinese civilization in areas such as institutions, values, culture, policies, and especially works of art. Culture and art are image-oriented and intuitive forms of expression, offering more tangible results than pure ideological propaganda. Next, the dialectical relationship between soft power and hard power must be properly handled. Soft power emphasizes its procedural nature, existing as indirect forms and metaphors. What’s more, soft power strategies are comparative. A strategy that is effective for Western countries may not necessarily work for Asian or African countries.

Art of communication

Respecting the principles of art in communication is crucial. Communication possesses its own unique artistic and historical laws of evolution. It is an art form, at the heart of which lies the ability to be vivid, tangible, intuitive, and imagistic. In order for ideas and concepts to possess communicative strength, they must be transformed into palpable and vivid images. Following the Industrial Revolution, English-language media has been the primary vehicle for the transmission of British cultural soft power. The combination of “Strong Ships, Powerful Guns, Advanced Productive Products, and Christianity,” under the influence of the English language, became a worldwide trend that influenced the global historical course for over 300 years. From the 17th century up until the First World War, Anglo-Saxon civilization epitomized Western civilization.

The US’ ascent in the 20th century, particularly post-World War II, signified an era marked by the influence of American cultural dissemination, characterized by popular culture. This was founded upon the Hollywood film industry, television industry, consumer entertainment, modern art, and sports industry. The advent of radio and photographic technology, alongside digital technology, supplanted the role of language, making audio and visual media the dominant means of communication. Nye recognized that Hollywood, Harvard University, Microsoft, and figures like Michael Jordan were significant contributors to the soft power of the United States. During the Reagan-Clinton years (80s-90s), the U.S. emphasized the development of computer technology. Presently, digital technology encompasses almost all forms of communication, leading the way in innovation.

The contemporary focus of cultural communication is network-based convergent media. English civilization relies on media; film and television are representative of audio-visual composite media, and digital technology symbolizes multiplex technology, an interactive facet of convergent media. This interactive convergent medium encapsulates the potential of all media forms thus far, boasting undeniable technological superiority. In this new era, securing the upper hand in digital and network technology is imperative to boosting the influence of Chinese civilization.

Grassroots culture and AI

To amplify the communicative power and influence of Chinese civilization, it is key to emphasize on grassroots culture and power. This implies acknowledging the role non-governmental organizations play in the propagation of culture and appreciating the unique worth of folk arts. Folk arts, being the bedrock of exceptional traditional Chinese culture, hold irreplaceable value and intrinsic strengths in the realm of cultural diffusion. Folk arts have evolved hand in hand with Chinese civilization, vividly illustrating 5000 years of Chinese cultural heritage. Unlike “culture” that relies on texts and abstract concepts, folk arts embrace a wide range of categories such as handicrafts, folk beliefs, folk songs, customs, and elements of everyday life including food, clothing, housing, and transport. The exhibition of various forms of folk culture—ceramics, embroidery, carvings, the game of Go, folk dances, tea ceremonies, ethnic clothing, and cuisine—presents a friendly, appealing, and admirable image of Chinese civilization.

Next, folk arts inherently possess a communicative edge. They have a unique charm and their content and forms find favor amongst global audiences. Meanwhile, folk arts serve as recognized and applied methods for countries to convey their own cultures. The majority of nations base their cultural diffusion strategies on their own unique folk culture and civilization traits. Nations like India, Egypt, and Greece showcase traditional symbols of their respective folk cultures to the world. These may include Indian folk beliefs, clothing, and dances, the Egyptian Sphinx and pyramids, and Greek Olympic ceremonies. Meanwhile, countries that have developed their civilization on the bedrock of ancient Greek civilization—such as the UK, France, Germany, and Russia—underscore their recent national and cultural attributes. Countries like the US, that emerged later, are more inclined to display their modern cultural accomplishments. Chinese civilization has successfully shared cultural symbols like the Great Wall, bronzeware, and the Yellow River with the world. Enriching these symbols with aspects of folk culture, which are more intimately tied to daily life, can facilitate their acceptance by people worldwide. We also need to develop AI to improve the mutual translation level between Chinese and the world’s major languages. Using advanced AI technology to overcome language barriers is a key link in enhancing the communication power and influence of Chinese civilization.


Qiu Yunhua is a member of the national committee of CPPCC.

Editor:Yu Hui

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