Skip to main content

About this book

This edited volume presents the results of a three-year comparative study on Chinese cultural diplomacy (CD) across Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, which contributes to the broader theoretical debate on China`s increasing soft power in international relations. The study, ‘China's Cultural Diplomacy and the Role of Non-State Actors’ was conducted by a research team at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic from 2015 to 2018. This book pays special attention to China’s localized forms of CD, focusing on the regional variations and involvement of non-state actors, especially local actors outside China. Local actors involved in Chinese CD diplomacy are characterized by their intermediary status as working for the aims of two states, while trying to bridge conflicts and enhance mutual understanding.
This book will be of interest to scholars, diplomats, and China watchers.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction: The Soft Edges of China’s Hard Power

The cultural and public diplomacy of many countries allows for or solicits the involvement of actors that are not controlled by the state but can have a significant influence on the image-building of a society or a country. In the People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, the ruling Communist Party perceives public and cultural diplomacy as ‘external propaganda,’ a category within the vast portfolio of ‘ideology and propaganda work,’ and tends to make the participation of non-state actors conditional upon their conformity with the party-state’s metanarrative and policy. The cultural and public diplomacy of China is thus performed mostly by government agencies or actors associated with the government, including various ‘people’s organizations’ established or coopted by the party-state. The notion of culture is an essential channel of engagement of Xi Jinping’s China with foreign state institutions, non-state entities, transnational actors, and the general public, through which it seeks not only to build ‘cultural soft power,’ but also to promote broader strategic policy objectives and to solidify the regime’s domestic and international legitimacy. This collective monograph presents a conceptual introduction to cultural diplomacy and case studies of China’s use of Xinjiang in public diplomacy in Kazakhstan, ‘Silk Road’ diplomacy in Central Asia, the appropriation of the historical figure Admiral Zheng He in cultural diplomacy in Malaysia, the role of two Confucius Institutes and a university in cultural diplomacy in Malaysia, the promotion of the image of ‘Muslim’ China in cultural diplomacy in the Middle East, transnational and local actors’ impact in cultural diplomacy in Berlin, and the trajectory of China’s cultural diplomacy illustrated by the international co-production of documentary films. The publication is an outcome of the research project China’s Cultural Diplomacy: Role of Non-State Actors and Regional Variations (GAČR GA15–21829S) funded by Czech Science Foundation and running from 2015 to 2017.
Jarmila Ptáčková, Ondřej Klimeš, Gary Rawnsley, Jens Damm

Chapter 2. Cultural Diplomacy Today: A ‘Culture of Dialogue’ or a ‘Dialogue of Cultures’?

This chapter lays the conceptual foundations for building an understanding of cultural diplomacy. It evaluates the ways in which the idea and practice of cultural diplomacy has developed in both western and non-western (specifically Chinese) contexts, and positions cultural diplomacy within a typology of other communicative activities, such as public diplomacy and cultural relations. Given the Chinese government’s almost uncritical embrace of ‘soft power,’ this chapter considers how these activities advance China’s soft power ambitions, while addressing the difficulties facing China’s cultural diplomacy and evaluating the prospects for overcoming these obstacles through initiatives such as the Confucius Institute.
Gary Rawnsley

Chapter 3. Xinjiang in China’s Public Diplomacy in Central Asia: Case Study of Almaty

This chapter presents a case study of China’s public diplomacy in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The research draws on textual sources and media reports, as well as on field research conducted in Almaty in January and February 2016 and September 2019. The discussion focuses on how China’s public diplomacy and image-building efforts make use of its Xinjiang region and its transnational Turkic Muslim nationalities, mainly Uyghurs and Kazakhs. It is demonstrated that the Chinese authorities perceive Xinjiang and its Muslims as potential mediators of Sino-Central Asian relations and incorporate them, to a certain degree, into China’s localized information activities and public diplomacy. The chapter goes on to show that China’s public diplomacy in the region seeks to construct a national image of ethno-cultural diversity, religious freedom, historically grounded inter-cultural contact, opportunities for dynamic development, openness, reliability, peacefulness, and other positive values. China’s efforts in Kazakhstan also benefit from the fact that some Kazakhstani intelligentsia view Xinjiang, its transnational Muslim nationalities, and related issues in ways similar to those of PRC actors. Overall, the PRC’s public diplomacy is inhibited by the fact that the party-state has simultaneously regarded its Xinjiang Muslim communities as a security threat and subjected them to repressive domestic policies, particularly since 2017. This research thus reveals a major shortcoming in China’s public diplomacy, in that China’s resolve to use Xinjiang and its transnational Muslim ethnic groups as actors of its public diplomacy in Central Asia contradicts its simultaneous domestic representation and treatment of these very communities as a security threat. It follows that the message of China’s public diplomacy in Central Asia is inconsistent with its domestic policies and thus lacks credibility.
Ondřej Klimeš

Chapter 4. China’s ‘Silk Road’ Public Diplomacy in Central Asia: Rethinking the ‘Network’ Approach to the Study of Public Diplomacy and Its Instrumentalism

This chapter shows how the Chinese government’s foreign policy agenda offers opportunities and benefits to public and cultural actors in Central Asia through the ‘Silk Road’ initiative. It begins by contextualizing the ‘Silk Road’ public diplomacy strategy in terms of the general debates on soft power and the public diplomacy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It analyzes the conceptual framework for studying people-to-people exchange and the involvement of local actors and notes that the Chinese state and its policies are mostly studied as imposed, top-down, and thus inauthentic initiatives. The chapter then uses the ‘network approach’ to public diplomacy (Hocking 2005) as well as debates on the instrumentalism of cultural policy (Nisbett 2013) to introduce a new perspective into the debate. The approach is illustrated using examples of dynamics within the academic and cultural networks in the major cities of Almaty (in Kazakhstan) and Tashkent (in Uzbekistan). In the conclusion, the chapter suggests adopting insights from transnationalism to study public diplomacy and, specifically, explores how the scope of the study of the ‘new public diplomacy’ might be theoretically broadened in the future. The chapter argues that public diplomacy not only needs a ‘new’ name or perception, but also needs to step outside of critical or applied approaches and to change units of reference and analysis that are not dependent only on ‘China’ (or the nation-state) and the idea of monocentric distribution of power, interests, and resources.
Věra Exnerová

Chapter 5. Establishing a Common Ground—Admiral Zheng He as an Agent of Cultural Diplomacy in Malaysia

Selective mining of history for examples of harmonious cooperation is one of the more pronounced features of China’s cultural diplomacy. In Southeast Asia the voyages of Zheng He, the world-famous eunuch admiral, are often invoked as a common ground on which to build new and beneficial relations with various countries of the region. Portrayed as an intrepid explorer as well as an envoy of peace bringing the know-how of an advanced Chinese culture, the admiral is ideally poised to embody the values the PRC government is eager to propagate. This is especially true in the case of Malaysia, where the Ming voyages coincided with the rise of Muslim political power and the founding of the first Malay state, the Sultanate of Malacca. In Malaysia the PRC’s message of friendly cooperation and peaceful contacts has been readily adopted and heartily promoted by government as well as certain non-governmental actors including members of the local Chinese community, who for various reasons contribute to the dissemination of the image the PRC would like to project. Focusing on selected sites of transnational societal spaces in Malaysia (The International Cheng Ho Society, Zheng He Museum in Malacca, and Malacca itself), the chapter analyses various ways in which the voyages are utilized, explaining why the idea of Zheng He’s voyages seen as a culture quest appeals to the respective actors involved in its promotion. Focus on the sites of interaction provides a much clearer, if more complicated picture of converging and overlapping interests and enables a better understanding of the various factors shaping and influencing cultural diplomacy in a complex relationship in which ethnic, social, and political conditions of the target country play an essential role.
Jakub Hrubý

Chapter 6. Two Confucius Institutes and a Cross-Border University as Sites of China’s Cultural Diplomacy in Malaysia: The Limitations of ‘Domestic Structures’

This chapter aims to analyze the role of two Confucius Institutes (CI) and an overseas campus of a top Chinese university in Malaysia as primary transnational sites of China’s cultural diplomacy (CCD) in this Southeast Asian nation. The text specifically looks at the motifs, developments, and activities of major Chinese educational institutions in Malaysia during the latter part of the premiership of Najib Razak, when the relationship between these countries reached its historic peak. The reason why it is important to inquire about the operations of the two CIs and a satellite campus in Malaysia is twofold: (a) these institutions are among the most visible and most focused projections of China’s cultural diplomacy in the country during the studied time frame; (b) the educational sector as a target of CCD in Malaysia has proven to be a fertile field for such activities. On the other hand, other sectors usually targeted by cultural diplomacy in other countries, such as film or traditional arts festivals, are less dominant and the prevalent focus of CCD is rather on ‘shared histories.’ This is due to specific domestic political, social, and ethno-religious structures—most particularly the existence of the large and economically strong Chinese community, which welcomes growing opportunities to do business with China but, at the same time, is increasingly patriotic and comprised of individuals who see themselves as multicultural citizens of Malaysia.
Tomáš Petrů

Chapter 7. Attracting the Arabs? Promoting ‘Muslim’ China to Boost Regional Development in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region

On September 24, 2016, a caravan of twenty motorized vehicles left Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, to drive 11,000 km along the Silk Road from China to the Middle East: ‘An event entitled Driving along Silk Road, a Journey of China-Arab States Friendship aiming at promotion of cultural exchanges between China and the Arab States’ ( 2016).
Jarmila Ptáčková

Chapter 8. China’s Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin: The Impact of Transnational and Local Actors

The research presented here is based on the premise that a variety of actors involved in various transcultural and transnational networks shape cultural diplomacy in the cases examined. While their general aim of promoting interest in China is identical to that of Chinese state actors, their choice of topic and methods of presentation may differ widely. Therefore, this paper highlights the role that local actors, both foreign and Chinese, play in cultural diplomacy, discussing transnational networks and the involvement of cultural capital.
Jens Damm

Chapter 9. Trajectory of Chinese Cultural Diplomacy: The Case of International Co-production of Documentaries

This chapter focuses on the historical development of international co-production of Chinese documentaries. The authors map this history onto a broader contextual discussion of Chinese foreign policy and the development of China’s understanding of cultural diplomacy and soft power.
Gary Rawnsley, Ming-yeh T. Rawnsley, Ming Yu


Additional information

Premium Partner

    Image Credits