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President, China International Publishing Group


Zhou’s speeches emphasized the importance of finding commonalities between Chinese and Western cultures and values, as well as developing Chinese cultural products that actually appeal to Western audiences.

Zhou said that when China attempts to introduce Chinese cultural products and literatures worldwide, they need to pay more attention to the connections and common values between Chinese culture and world cultures. In addition, China needs to spend more time understanding other cultures, especially those of developing countries. The Chinese culture “going out” strategy should adopt a systematic approach, instead of only entertaining domestic audiences. In order to better tell China’s story to the world, focusing on the market and tailoring cultural products to the audience is essential.


Deputy Director, Center of International Strategic Studies at the Central Party School

Men listed five points on strengthening China’s soft power:

  • Hard power is still fundamental. We should continue to strengthen hard power and learn to better utilize it and consolidate its influence. At the same time, we need to change how we use hard power by increasing support for important international events and domestic cultural development in order to provide a material basis for soft power development.
  • We should do our best to promote traditional Chinese culture. Let traditional Chinese culture directly propel our concepts, development model, international institutions, and international image. Let this culture lead the advancement of soft power. In some sense, the discussion about Chinese soft power is about the modernization of traditional Chinese culture.
  • Improve and optimize China’s development model. To some degree, China’s development model can determine the success of China’s soft power appeal.
  • Increase engagement in international institutions. Firstly, enhance China’s ability to set agendas in international institutions and participate in international events more proactively. Secondly, if China truly wants to be regionally and globally influential, it needs to provide more public goods for international institutions. Third, China should play a more active role in pushing forward innovation of international institutions in East Asia.
  • Improve China’s international image by building a better domestic image. China needs to first be responsible to its own country and people. China should accelerate the development of a “harmonious society” and build positive domestic and international images.


Dean of the Globalization and Global Issues Institute, China University of Political Science and Law

Cai Tuo states that strengthening soft power and utilizing the effects of soft power should be the key to Chinese foreign policymaking in the 21st century. First, soft power is inherent in Chinese traditional culture. China’s national power has declined significantly since the First Opium War. Even though soft power has deteriorated as national power fell, ideas, culture, and concepts that are valuable to soft power have not completely disappeared.

Cai also argues that soft power, which has lagged far behind, significantly restrains the development of society and comprehensive national power.

Corruption, moral decline, and money worship are pernicious societal problems; public policymaking and public affairs management lack transparency and supervision; culture, education and technology have been too utilitarian.

Therefore, strengthening soft power is vital to creating a positive Chinese image and better positioning China globally. China’s early stage of soft power development has already shown some good results.


Dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations, Tsinghua University;Editor-in-Chief, the Chinese Journal of International Politics

Cultural Strength ≠ Soft Power

Soft Power = Political Power ×(1+Cultural Power)

An increase in political power can facilitate the development of cultural power; however, the development of cultural power would not necessarily propel the development of political power. This is the reason why in the past, some countries’ strong cultural power declined. China’s comprehensive national power will increase at a higher rate if we use political power, instead of economic power as the foundation for our comprehensive national power.

Soft power means that other countries would voluntarily support a government’s policy. Political power is a form of operational strength; while cultural, economic and military power are forms of resource power. Political power allows cultural, economic and military power to operate; without political power, any form of resource power is ineffective. Thus, political power is fundamental to a country’s soft power.


Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China

Huairou” 怀柔is an ancient Chinese ruling strategy. It means mollification—in other words pacifying and winning the hearts of foreigners through tributary trade. Pang argues that soft power is an American concept, which has been misunderstood and misused in China. He asserts that “huairou” is a better strategy than soft power. If China can modernize the concept of “huairou”, a governance idea that actually originated in China, it might play a unique role in solving problems pertaining to China’s foreign relations.


Director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, Claremont McKenna College; non-resident senior fellow with the Asia program, German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Pei states that China has good conditions for fostering soft power. Chinese cultural values are more open and more acceptable than those of Japan. In addition, Chinese culture has a great sense of internal unity. Another important component of China’s soft power is the overseas Chinese network around the globe.

China’s soft power is relatively weak in several respects. First, traditional Chinese culture is the primary source of China’s soft power. However, China still needs to form a political ideology and appeal with its own characteristics to balance Western society’s value system centered on “liberty and democracy”. Without a competitive political value system, it would be difficult for China to be fully respected internationally.

Second, bureaucracy is a major obstacle that impedes China’s utilization of soft power. Chinese institutions lack internal energy. If China wants to enhance its soft power, it needs to implement the social opening up policies. Third, China lacks innovation in several sectors, from technology to pop culture.

Soft power is vital in order for China to become a superpower. However, China will inevitably face some difficult issues of reforming institutions and concepts in its attempts to strengthen its soft power


Professor, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Symposiums held by newly established Chinese think tanks or institutions that are planning to develop think tanks in China are all small and only open to a limited audience. Why? Senior leadership in the Chinese Communist Party and the government have consented to build a better think tank system that serves to advise on domestic and foreign policy, as well as political, economic and military security issues. However, institutions have been reluctant to hold large and open discussions because these topics are politically sensitive. Recently, senior officials repeatedly underscored the notions of “Do not reproach the Party Central” and “Do not falsely discuss fundamental policies.” 

However, think tanks exist to let scholars analyze, discuss about, and evaluate drawbacks and mistakes in senior-level decisions, and to criticize or come up with potential policy alternatives and improvements. What is the point of spending money and building think tanks if everyone simply “unswervingly supports, agrees, and follows” the existing policy?

Chinese senior leaders need to find a novel approach to operating think tanks—they should invite the retired Dr. Ma Ying-jeou to be a short-term Visiting Professor at an institution in Beijing; the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China would be the best option. Dr. Ma’s teaching tenure certainly would not be one-hundred-percent acknowledged by the Central Party School. Nevertheless, if thirty percent of it could be accepted, one decision alone could increase the knowledge source for Beijing’s decision makers. 


Professor and Director, East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore

The lack of its own knowledge system resulted in a narrow space for China to expand its international soft power, which cannot match manifestations of China’s hard power, such as economic policy. China has tried to build soft power ever since it realized this weakness. Confucius Institutes and Chinese media “going out” are two great examples of these campaigns.

Nevertheless, the misunderstanding between China and the West has not narrowed but has actually widened. Both Confucius Institutes and the Chinese media “going out” policy are instrumental—they are China’s so-called “external publicity” (外宣), which often lack substance and are sometimes counterproductive. This responsibility in mitigating misunderstanding does not lie in the external publicity department, since it is not in charge of creating a knowledge system for China.

China has long been “colonized” by Western ideas. Chinese scholars use Western epistemology to understand and explain China’s conditions, and borrow other states’ discursive power to promote China. The ability to explain the world is the premise for changing the world. A civilization cannot be powerful if it does not have its own knowledge system; western civilization gained its power through having its own knowledge system. A system that is based on one’s own conditions is crucial to having significant soft power in the international arena. China cannot become a real great power with GDP alone. More important is sustainable development, which would be restrained without an original knowledge system.

In order for China to liberalize its knowledge system, politics is key. Firstly, establishing a knowledge system requires fields of study to break away from political control. The control of ideology was very important to political rule in  traditional societies. However, in  modern societies, rulers possess various modern mechanisms (such as organizational structure and rule of law) to enhance  governance, rendering the control of ideas unnecessary. In addition, the reform of administrative management mechanisms is essential. In China, institutional control (体制) has significantly restrained the development of education and research. For instance, Chinese researchers derive half of their income from basic salary and the other half from government grants. This system ensures that the government has a strong leverage over how knowledge is being produced. If ideas are controlled by either material wealth or political power, innovative capacities would be significantly impaired.

The reality in China is: the wealthier the country, the more money the rulers control, the more severe the poverty of thought, and hence the more the civilization declines. If Chinese leaders cannot confront these realities in reforming their cultural system, encouraging innovation or building a knowledge system is just pointless talk.


Law Professor, Tsinghua University

Culture is a system of symbols inherited over thousands of years by a civil community. It deals with ethos and ideological structures. It is shown in lifestyles, systems, etc. Culture originates collectively from people’s lives and gradually transforms into cultural traditions. It is represented by knowledge, theories, thinking, and even beliefs. Furthermore, culture regulates customs, etiquette, morality, laws, and religion.

Comparatively, the term “culture” used by government branches is mostly focused on ideological work, which serves state power through historical and political ideologies. …Therefore, when the state talks about “cultural soft power,” “cultural engineering, and “cultural industry,” these terms are illustrated with reference to the construction of political legitimacy and nationalism, rather than with reference to civilization and human enlightenment. However, there is overlap between the two concepts and there are no prohibitions between having conversations about them.

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