breadcrumb

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell?

A ChinaFile Conversation

Jeremy Goldkorn:

Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is the same: if you have enough cash, you can buy guns, and respect.

Israel and Saudi Arabia are examples of the limits of such respect. Both countries are rich and in some ways very powerful, but people in other countries with no cultural connections don’t look at Israel, or Saudi Arabia and think: “Gee, I want to live like that and watch their movies!”

iconAFP/Getty Images
Open for business since 1905, the Daguanlou movie theater in Beijing.

But we, the rest of us, everyone who is not American, we all want to watch American movies. I am from South Africa, and I’ll confidently represent the entire Third World and the rest of the First World assure you that it’s true. We don’t want to watch Israeli or Saudi or Chinese movies, nor buy Chinese sneakers. Nor, with the exception of a few eccentrics such as myself, do we want to live in Chinese cities. The Saudis and Israelis do not seem to care about this, but China does, hence the endless hand-wringing about soft power.

The essence of Joseph Nye’s articulation of of soft power is the power to attract, to co-opt and to seduce. China now has enough cash to open Confucius Institutes, fund movies, TV stations, and schools, open art zones, buy aircraft carriers and islands, but China has not made itself an attractive place to live or work or dream.

Until Chinese political leaders would rather their daughters went to Peking University over Harvard, until Chinese people would rather buy Mengniu infant milk formula over the equivalent brand from New Zealand, until Beijing and Shanghai become as pleasant to live in as New York and L.A., China will find its soft power ambitions thwarted.

As the ancient American saying has it, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig—doesn’t matter how much you spend on the lipstick.

Responses

The reason China is having such problems with soft power is that it’s simply not something that can be ordered up on command by political leaders. Jeremy hits the nail on the head in calling it the power to attract; in a person, it’s akin to magnetism or charisma. And the reason the U.S. has it and China, Saudi Arabia, and Israel do not is not because U.S. political leaders came up with the right policies and leaders in the other countries didn’t. It’s something that has to come, if it comes at all, from the bottom up. Almost by definition, it’s something that governments are constitutionally incapable of promoting; China ends up looking like parents who desperately attempt to make their teenage children think they’re cool but always end up getting it wrong.
 
I was told, for example, about the recent opening of a Confucius Institute—the centerpiece of China’s official soft power project. The senior Chinese official present got up to talk … and talk, and talk, and talk. The speech was long, and the official’s English so poor as to be virtually incomprehensible to the audience. But of course the length of the speech, its content, and the identity of the speaker were all determined by internal Chinese political dynamics, not by considerations of where the speech was being given and who the audience was. And indeed, for it to be otherwise, China would in a sense have to stop being China. This is not something that inspires the desire to emulate.

Yesterday, Orville and I were flipping through an annual survey the public relations firm Edelman puts out about trust around the globe. Some telling numbers jumped out. Edelman found that companies headquartered in China were trusted by only 35% of informed publics (only 19% in developed countries) in comparison with companies whose headquarters are in places like Canada and Germany, which garnered trust ratings of 76% and 75% respectively. Also revealing: Chinese companies’ trust numbers have remained unchanged over the last five years. This despite the billions poured into new international news outfits, the piles of gold medals in Beijing and London, the kudzu-like spread of Confucius Institutes (a new one just opened at Columbia), sister cities, Zhang Yimou, Boao.

Do the rest of you think any of this makes a lasting difference to China’s reputation? Or is it all, as Jeremy says, lipstick?

Since 2008 the Chinese government increasingly has recognized the importance of its international image and building ‘soft power’ as part of the nation’s “comprehensive power” (综合国力, zònghé guólì). Since then, the various government and Communist Party agencies have been prioritizing this effort and pouring billions into various activities abroad—ramping up Chinese media presence overseas, cultural exhibitions, student exchanges, Confucius Institutes, corporate branding, and public diplomacy. This has been a global effort. In a short time, China has managed significantly to increase its “cultural footprint” overseas.

But, the question remains: is all the investment producing dividends? Thus far, the the answer must be “no.” China’s global public image is mixed at best, although there do exist “pockets of favorability” in Africa and Latin America—but even on these two continents, polling and anecdotal evidence indicates growing suspicions about China’s presence (mainly commercial and in the realm of energy and resource extraction) during the last 18 months. Elsewhere in the world, China’s image generally is mixed to poor and declining. This is probably a natural part of becoming a global power (critical views), but the czars of China’s “external propaganda” (对外宣传, duìwài xuānchuán) would be better served reflecting on the kinds of activities that give China a negative image abroad than simply investing in programs for cultural exchange. At the end of the day, if the “message” isn’t sellable, no well-resourced “messenger” can sell it.

So far none of the coverage of the media strategy for soft power has discussed what may be the fatal flaw in the government’s strategy—the media efforts are almost entirely focused on declining media like television, radio and print.

Not only has there been limited emphasis by the Chinese government on using the Internet to further soft power, but there also are major structural and cultural issues that make it extremely difficult for China to push its soft power agenda over the Internet. China has planned the soft power effort as a multi-decade effort, but the lack of effective products for the medium of future generations may doom the government’s efforts.

China is leveraging the media channels and distribution mechanisms it understands, and hiring, no doubt at great expense, Western old media hands as consultants. But as Google and Facebook and its more than 1 Billion users have shown, the future influencers globally are online. 

There are no domestic Chinese Internet firms that have a shot at developing the global impact of a Facebook, Google or even Twitter. First, the language barrier is a real issue; maybe the Confucius Institutes will eventually teach decent Chinese to millions, but that will take decades and even then there will still be vastly more people outside of China more capable of reading English than Chinese.

Second, none of the top Chinese Internet firms—Baidu, Tencent, Sina, Sohu, Shanda, Netease—have either the DNA or the credibility to succeed materially in major overseas markets. In most markets they will face the same kinds of difficulties that Western Internet firms face in China. They may gain share, especially in gaming, in parts of the developing world, but not in any significant way that would have a meaningful impact on the overall soft power goals.

China’s soft power push is likely a boon to Western media consultants, cable channel and radio station owners, and advertising sales people, but currently the strategy may be flawed to the extent that worries about China’s media soft power efforts are overblown.

Can you really win hearts and minds of current and future generations when you are known as a country that blocks Facebook, Google, Youtube and Twitter?

[Adapted from Can China Successfully Build Soft Power Without A Global Internet Strategy? ] 

I appreciate Bill’s two cents.  Indeed, let’s talk about the Internet—the medium of now and of the future. I spent years writing about Hollywood’s push into China and, recently, sensed that what each visiting studio executive really was interested in was online video gaming, not mucking about with obtuse Chinese censors and old-school theatrical distribution contracts on an uneven playing field. Sure, a Hollywood title on the marquee of a brand new second-tier city multiplex was great (censored or no), but being able to reach third-tier twentysomthing consumers uncensored and via the Internet, well, that would be priming the pump for the future, the real mother lode.

Playing devil’s advocate, I offer this observation: last week, at a Columbia Business School event I moderated in New York about the state of play in the Chinese social media landscape, the new head of North American business development for WeChat, the voice and text social media delivery platform of Tencent, China’s largest Internet company (and one partly owned by Naspers of Jeremy’s homeland, South Africa), laid out as clear a vision of a strategy for penetrating the U.S. market as has been articulated in English thus far by anybody from inside the Shenzhen-based company its spokeswoman described as historically “press shy.” 

To a standing-room-only crowd of about 100, mostly ethnically Chinese MBA guests, the WeChat spokeswoman said plainly that Tencent would would not—as was rumored—tax its users in China by imposing a proposed Chinese government fee, one floated online in recent weeks as a test-balloon remedy to bolster revenue lost by the Chinese state-run telecommunications companies now beginning to realize that Hong Kong-listed Tencent and its WeChat service might be positioned to undercut their core business.  (Increasingly, WeChat’s voice and video messages can and are being used instead of telephone calls and, what’s more, they’re free.) 

Now, back to soft power.  Bill Bishop says that no Chinese domestic Internet firm is likely to have, any time soon, a shot at cracking the global market. I would tend to agree, but not, as Bill says, because of the language barrier, among other reasons. 

Pressed as she was by the Columbia MBAs, the Tencent/WeChat spokeswoman didn’t give a straight answer about Tencent’s vision for its business in America.  What exactly would Tencent and WeChat be doing in the U.S. relative to, or in comparison with, Facebook and Twitter? It sounded to me and, dare I say to many members of the largely Chinese audience with whom I spoke afterwards, that WeChat is planning on trying to migrate its China business model to the U.S.  The trouble is that Tencent/WeChat’s China model seems to be defined by an ability to operate a giant social network of message exchange that official censors in Beijing appear less displeased with than they are with, say, weibo. (How else could they be confident they’d avoid the propose dtax?) Due to the set up of weibo, the generic term (singular and plural) for “microblogs” operated by Chinese companies such as web portals Sina, Sohu and Netease—and even by the Chinese Communist Party flagship newspaper the People’s Daily—users can share whole, dynamic online conversations about, say, human rights or sex with tens of millions of viewers at once…until the censors swoop down, that is. Which, often, is quickly. Despite the censors, weibo, for now, is the preferred social network of Chinese people interested in spreading information, sometimes sensitive in nature, far and wide and lightning quick.  WeChat, on the other hand, seems to me to be trying to meet the aspirations of China’s upwardly mobile, it’s MBAs, shall we say, by appealling to their reason and asking them to use a more exclusive network, one on which they’ll be less likely to rock the boat, having, as they do, more to lose if their online messages upset social stability.  

But can a Chinese Internet company whose very culture is to operate comfortably with the idea that ideas themselves are not for everybody survive in a country like the U.S. where ideas are free for every single body? There seemed to me last week at Columbia to be a sense of great doubt in the roomful of Chinese MBAs about WeChat’s chances in America, despite the fact that most of the (largely bilingual) guests in the room raised their hands to say they were users of the platform.  How, I wondered, could a company whose public relations department never in roughly five years of calling from my prior base in Beijing once returned my emails or phone calls with substantive answers to my questions, expect to survive in as transparent and competitive a business environment as exists the U.S.? 

Well, putting out a spokeswoman—I’ll spare her public mention of her name just yet—is a good start and I applauded her bravery for facing down the sharp crowd of Columbia entrepreneurs. Nearly every question at the end of the Chinese social media panel I hosted was for the Tencent/WeChat rep, despite there being five other guests there with me in the spotlight. And she didn’t blink and she spoke plainly, if not always with the greatest detail.  That, cynically spoken, is the beginning of the inkling of soft power.

If recent studies show that only six percent of consumers in the U.S. can name even a single Chinese brand, and China remains, as Edelman’s survey points out, among the least-trusted nations on Earth, then putting up some effort to speak openly and on the record about your work in the Chinese and now global Internet space is an important start. In the American spirit of welcoming competition and innovation, I hope Bill’s wrong and that Tencent manages to take my fortysomething understanding of the potential of social media to the next level and offers my bilingual and bilterare eight-year-old daughter a global Chinese alternative to the current quiver of social media offerings grown here in America, which, by many accounts are less dynamic by far than their Chinese counterparts—after one discounts for censorship, of course.

Ah, but there’s the rub—why do my daughter and her friends and I need Chinese social media at all when we’ve got a free press to tell us what’s going on in the world?

 

Jeremy Goldkorn is the Founder and Director of Danwei, a research firm that tracks Chinese media and Internet. Danwei has been publishing a popular website about Chinese media since 2003. After...
Donald Clarke is a professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in modern Chinese law, focusing particularly on corporate governance,...
Susan Jakes is Editor of ChinaFile and Senior Fellow at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations. From 2000-2007 she reported on China for Time magazine, first as a reporter and editor...
David Shambaugh is professor of Political Science and International Affairs and director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University. He is also nonresident Senior...
Bill Bishop is an American who lives in Beijing. He is the writer of the blogs Sinocism, where he collects links to news and interest pieces on China, and Digicha, where he writes about Chinese...
Jonathan Landreth reported freelance from Beijing from 2004 to 2012 for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The China Economic Quarterly, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science...

Blog

04.12.14

China, Japan, and the U.S.—Will Cooler Heads Prevail?

ELY RATNER, HUGH WHITE & others

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's whirlwind tour of China this week saw a tense exchange with his Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan, over the intention behind America's "pivot" to Asia, followed by a more measured back-and-forth with President Xi Jinping. Reactions to the...

Blog

04.06.14

Spy Vs. Spy: When is Cyberhacking Crossing the Line?

VINCENT NI, CHEN WEIHUA & others

Vincent Ni: For a long time, Huawei has been accused by some American politicians of “spying on Americans for the Chinese government,” but their evidence has always been sketchy. They played on fear and possibility. I don’t agree or disagree with them, but when Chinese...

Blog

03.26.14

The Bloomberg Fallout: Where Does Journalism in China...

CHEN WEIHUA, DORINDA ELLIOTT & others

On Monday, March 24, a thirteen-year veteran of Bloomberg News, Ben Richardson, news editor at large for Asia, resigned. A few days earlier, company Chairman Peter Grauer said that the news and financial information services company founded in 1981 by Michael Bloomberg "had" to...

Blog

03.19.14

What Should Michelle Obama Accomplish on Her Trip to...

ORVILLE SCHELL, VINCENT NI & others

Orville Schell:  Looking at the challenges of rectifying U.S.-China relations and building some semblance of the "new kind of a big power relationship" alluded to by presidents Obama and Xi at Sunnylands last year, will most certainly require a multi-stage ongoing effort....

Blog

03.10.14

Should China Support Russia in the Ukraine?

ALEXANDER V. PANTSOV, ALEXANDER LUKIN & others

Alexander V. Pantsov: The Chinese Communist Party leadership has always maintained: “China believes in non-interference in internal affairs.” In the current Ukrainian situation it is the most we can expect from the P.R.C. because it is not able to lean to either the Western...

Blog

03.02.14

A Racist Farewell to Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Gary...

KAISER KUO, HYEON-JU RHO & others

Reacting to departing U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke’s February 27 farewell news conference in Beijing, the state-run China News Service published a critique by Wang Ping that called Ambassador Locke a “banana.” —The EditorsKaiser Kuo: Banana or Twinkie for “white-on-...

Blog

02.27.14

How Responsible Are Americans for China’s Pollution...

DAVID VANCE WAGNER, ALEX WANG & others

David Vance Wagner: China’s latest “airpocalypse” has again sent air pollution in Beijing soaring to hazardous levels for days straight. Though the Chinese government has made admirable progress recently at confronting the long-term air pollution crisis, it will be years...

Blog

02.22.14

What Can the Dalai Lama’s White House Visit Actually...

ISABEL HILTON, DONALD CLARKE & others

On February 21, the Dalai Lama visited United States President Barack Obama in the White House over the objections of the Chinese government. Beijing labels the exiled spiritual leader a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who seeks to use violence to free Tibet from Chinese rule. The...

Blog

02.19.14

China in ‘House of Cards’

STEVEN JIANG, DONALD CLARKE & others

China figures heavily in the second season of the Netflix series House of Cards, but how accurately does the show portray U.S.-China relations? Steven Jiang, a journalist for CNN in Beijing, binged-watched all thirteen recently-released web-only episodes over the weekend. Donald...

Blog

02.13.14

Are Ethnic Tensions on the Rise in China?

ENZE HAN, JAMES PALMER & others

On December 31, President Xi Jinping appeared on CCTV and extended his “New Year’s wishes to Chinese of all ethnic groups.” On January 15, Beijing officials detained Ilham Tohti, a leading Uighur economist and subsequently accused him of “separtist offenses”; a fresh...

Blog

02.05.14

What Should the U.S. Do about China’s Barring Foreign...

NICHOLAS LEMANN, MICHEL HOCKX & others

Last week, the White House said it was “very disappointed” in China for denying a visa to another journalist working for The New York Times in Beijing, forcing him to leave the country after eight years. What else should the U.S. government do? How should Americans...

Blog

01.27.14

China’s Offshore Leaks: So What?

PAUL GILLIS & ROBERT KAPP

Two recent stories by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailed China’s elite funneling money out of China to tax havens in the Caribbean. We asked contributors to weigh the impact of the revelations.—The Editors

Blog

01.21.14

Time to Escalate? Should the U.S. Make China...

THE EDITORS, EDWARD FRIEDMAN & others

How should the United States respond to China’s new level of assertiveness in the Asia Pacific? In the past few months as Beijing has stepped up territorial claims around China's maritime borders—and in the skies above them—the Obama administration has moved to soothe...

Blog

12.17.13

Why Is China Purging Its Former Top Security Chief,...

PIN HO & RICHARD MCGREGOR

Pin Ho:[Zhou Yongkang’s downfall] is the second chapter of the “Bo Xilai Drama”—a drama begun at the 18th Party Congress. The Party’s power transition has been secret and has lacked convincing procedure. This [lack of transparency] has triggered unimaginably huge...

Blog

12.07.13

Will China Shut Out the Foreign Press?

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & others

Some two dozen journalists employed by The New York Times and Bloomberg News have not yet received the visas they need to continue to report and live in China after the end of this year. Without them, they will effectively be expelled from the country. Visiting Beijing earlier...

Blog

12.03.13

What Posture Should Joe Biden Adopt Toward A Newly...

SUSAN SHIRK

Susan Shirk:United States Vice President Joseph Biden is the American political figure who has spent the most time with Xi Jinping and has the deepest understanding of Xi as an individual. Before Xi’s selection as P.R.C. president and C.C.P. general secretary he served as vice...

Blog

11.27.13

Why’s the U.S. Flying Bombers Over the East China Sea...

CHEN WEIHUA, JAMES FALLOWS & others

Chen Weihua:The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is not a Chinese invention. The United States, Japan and some 20 other countries declared such zones in their airspace long time ago.China’s announcement of its first ADIZ in the East China Sea reflects its frustration with...

Blog

11.24.13

What Should the Next U.S. Ambassador to China Tackle...

MARY KAY MAGISTAD & ROBERT KAPP

Mary Kay Magistad: Gary Locke succeeded in a way that few U.S. ambassadors to China have—in improving public perceptions of U.S. culture.  Locke’s down-to-earth approachability and lack of ostentation certainly helped. So did the initiatives of shortening waits for U.S....

Blog

11.19.13

What Will the Beginning of the End of the One-Child...

LETA HONG FINCHER, VINCENT NI & others

Leta Hong Fincher:The Communist Party’s announcement that it will loosen the one-child policy is, of course, welcome news. Married couples will be allowed to have two children if only one of the spouses is an only child, meaning that millions more couples will now be exempted...

Blog

11.12.13

Spiked in China?

JOHN GARNAUT, SIDNEY RITTENBERG & others

Last weekend, The New York Times and later, The Financial Times reported that, according to Bloomberg News employees, Bloomberg editor in chief Matthew Winkler informed reporters by telephone on October 29 that Bloomberg would not publish their...

Blog

10.30.13

Trial By TV: What Does a Reporter’s Arrest and...

THE EDITORS, WANG FENG & others

The Editors: The latest ChinaFile Conversation focuses on the case of Chen Yongzhou, the Guangzhou New Express journalist whose series of investigative reports exposed fraud at the Changsha, Hunan-based heavy machinery maker Zoomlion. Chen later was arrested and then, last...

Blog

10.25.13

Can State-Run Capitalism Absorb the Shocks of ‘...

THE EDITORS, BARRY NAUGHTON & others

The Editors: Following are ChinaFile Conversation participants’ reactions to “China: Superpower or Superbust?” in the November-December issue of The National Interest in which author Ian Bremmer says that China’s state-capitalism is ill-equipped to absorb the shocks to...

Blog

10.22.13

Why’s China’s Smog Crisis Still Burning So Hot?

ALEX WANG, ISABEL HILTON & others

Alex Wang:On Sunday, the start of the winter heating season in northern China brought the “airpocalypse” back with a vengeance.Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province and home to 11 million people, registered fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution levels beyond 500, the top...

Blog

10.16.13

Uncomfortable Bedfellows: How Much Does China Need...

BILL BISHOP, DAVID SCHLESINGER & others

Bill Bishop:The D.C. dysfunction puts China in a difficult place. Any financial markets turmoil that occurs because of a failure of Congress to do its job could harm China’s economy, and especially its exports. The accumulation of massive foreign-exchange reserves, now at...

Blog

10.08.13

Obama’s Canceled Trip to Asia: How Much Did It Matter...

WINSTON LORD, SUSAN SHIRK & others

Last week as the U.S. Federal Government shut down, President Obama canceled his planned trip to Indonesia and Brunei, where he was to have attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bali. Some foreign policy analysts have argued the canceled trip will inflict...

Blog

10.07.13

Why Is Xi Jinping Promoting Self-Criticism?

STEPHEN C. ANGLE & TAISU ZHANG

Critics both within and without China have suggested that Xi Jinping’s promotion of self-criticism by Communist Party cadres has at least two motives: it promotes the appearance of concern with lax discipline while avoiding deeper reform, and it softens up potential targets of...

Blog

09.27.13

Can China’s Leading Indie Film Director Cross Over in...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, MICHAEL BERRY & others

Jonathan Landreth:Chinese writer and director Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin won the prize for the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Though the dialogue and its fine translation and English subtitles by Tony Rayns are exemplary, I found that as the screening...

Media

09.26.13

Execution or Murder? Chinese Look for Justice in Street...

TEA LEAF NATION

This morning, a Chinese street vendor named Xia Junfeng was executed. Xia had been found guilty of murdering two urban enforcers, known colloquially as chengguan, in 2009. Xia’s lawyers argued he acted in self-defense, presenting six eyewitness accounts and statements from...

Blog

09.24.13

A Shark Called Wanda—Will Hollywood Swallow the...

STANLEY ROSEN, JONATHAN LANDRETH & others

Stanley Rosen:Wang Jianlin, who personally doesn’t know much about film, made a splash when he purchased America’s No. 2 movie theater chain AMC at a price many thought far too high for what he was getting.  A number of knowledgeable people felt that the money could have...

Blog

09.17.13

What’s Behind China’s Recent Internet Crackdown?

THE EDITORS, XIAO QIANG & others

The Editors:Last weekend, Charles Xue Manzi, a Chinese American multi-millionaire investor and opinion leader on one of China’s most popular microblogs, appeared in handcuffs in an interview aired on China Central Television (CCTV). Xue is just the most visible blogger to be...

Blog

09.13.13

What Can China and Japan Do to Start Anew?

PAULA S. HARRELL & CHEN WEIHUA

Paula S. Harrell:While the media keeps its eye on the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute, heating up yet again this week after Chinese naval ships and aircraft were spotted circling the area, a parallel, possibly game-changing development in China-Japan relations has gone...

Blog

09.09.13

What Are Chinese Attitudes Toward a U.S. Strike in...

CHEN WEIHUA, VINCENT NI & others

Chen Weihua:Chinese truly believe that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, a U.S. air strike would only worsen the situation there. Chinese have seen many failures of U.S. intervention in the Middle East in the past decade.The U.S. clearly is...

Blog

09.05.13

To Reform or Not Reform?—Echoes of the Late Qing...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & others

Orville Schell:It is true that China is no longer beset by threats of foreign incursion nor is it a laggard in the world of economic development and trade. But being there and being steeped in an atmosphere of seemingly endless political and economic tension where questions of...

Blog

08.28.13

Beijing, Why So Tense?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & others

Andrew Nathan:I think of the Chinese leaders as holding a plant spritzer and dousing sparks that are jumping up all around them.  Mao made the famous remark, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”  The leaders have seen that terrifying truth confirmed in the pro...

Blog

08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa?

MICHAEL ANTI & SHAI OSTER

Michael Anti:Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs” communist campaign in southwest China's megacity Chongqing, is on trial today, live-Twittered from Jinan in Shandong province, east...

Blog

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit?

THE EDITORS, LEAH THOMPSON & others

The Editors: Recent news stories and industry studies show that fewer international visitors are choosing China as their destination. January-June arrivals in Beijing are down 15% from the same period in 2012 and more Chinese than ever before are spending their money to travel...

Blog

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling...

DAVID WERTIME, DUNCAN CLARK & others

David Wertime:Simon Denyer’s recent article (“In China, Communist Party Takes Unprecedented Step: It Is Listening,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2013) provides a valuable look at some of the ways that Chinese authority mines domestic micro-blogging platforms like Weibo...

Blog

08.01.13

How Dangerous Are Sino-Japanese Tensions?

JEROME A. COHEN

Sino-Japanese relations do not look promising at the moment. Obviously, the Diaoyu-Senkaku dispute is not the only factor in play but it does focus nationalist passions on both sides. Yet both countries are capable of wiser conduct if their leaders can manage to rise above the...

Blog

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER , DAVID SCHLESINGER & others

Arthur Kroeber:The environment for foreign companies in China has been getting steadily tougher since 2006, when the nation came to the end of a five-year schedule of market-opening measures it pledged as the price of admission to the World Trade Organization. Soon after the WTO-...

Blog

07.25.13

The Bo Xilai Trial: What’s It Really About?

THE EDITORS, JEROME A. COHEN & others

The Editors:China has charged disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai with bribery, abuse of power and corruption, paving the way for a potentially divisive trial. But what’s at stake goes beyond the fate of one allegedly corrupt official: Is it really a fight between factions in...

Blog

07.23.13

What Would a Hard Landing in China Mean for the World?

BARRY NAUGHTON, JAMES MCGREGOR & others

Barry Naughton:Paul Krugman in a recent post (“How Much Should We Worry About a China Shock?” The New York Times, July 20, 2013) tells us NOT to worry about the impact of a slowing China on global exports, but to be worried, very worried about the indirect and unanticipated...

Blog

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About...

DONALD CLARKE, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

Donald Clarke:When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched the web site of The New...

Blog

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for...

THE EDITORS, ARTHUR R. KROEBER & others

The Editors:Last week the U.S. Senate held hearings to question the CEO of meat-producer Smithfield Farms, about the proposed $4.7 billion sale of the Virginia-based company to Shuanghui International, China’s largest pork producer. The sale is under review by the Committee on...

Blog

07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About?

STEIN RINGEN, JEREMY GOLDKORN & others

Stein Ringen:I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is striking, in my opinion, how effectively and rapidly the system swung into action to interpret and...

Blog

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

THE EDITORS, FEI WANG & others

The Editors: Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the core provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act is not only “a stride toward greater equality in the United States, but also a shift that will reverberate far beyond our shores,” wrote novelist and...

Blog

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR, WINSTON LORD & others

Roderick MacFarquhar:Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader.  Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't...

Blog

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China...

MATT SCHIAVENZA

Matt Schiavenza:In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with Hong Kong to file a warrant for Snowden's arrest, a process which the U.S. hoped...

Blog

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China?

ARTHUR R. KROEBER & PATRICK CHOVANEC

Get Ready for a Slower ChinaThe recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will tighten substantially in the coming months, as the government tries to push loan growth from...

Blog

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on...

THE EDITORS, SHAI OSTER & others

The Editors: For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the Global Times about Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old American contract intelligence analyst who last week in Hong Kong...

Blog

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S.?

THE EDITORS, TAI MING CHEUNG & others

Editor’s note:Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei worries that China will use the U.S. as an example to bolster its argument for surveillance on dissidents....

Blog

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U....

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, SHARON HOM & others

Nicholas Bequelin:The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese citizenry itself. Such progress is neither the product of a gradual enlightenment of the...

Blog

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say?

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & others

As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their ideal Sunnylands summit and then write the joint...

Blog

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future?

DAVID WERTIME, ISABEL HILTON & others

David Wertime:The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a muted but latently powerful symbol of resistance.There’s no question that an...

Blog

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California...

SUSAN SHIRK, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Susan Shirk:It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and American presidents have been too short, formal and scripted for them to develop a...

Blog

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations...

MICHAEL KULMA, MARK FRAZIER & others

Mike Kulma:Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China in the early 1970s, the economic relationship and trade between the two...

Blog

05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

On Monday, within hours of the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to California on June 7-8, Tung Chee-hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, introduced former U.S....

Blog

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right?

MICHAEL ZHAO, JAMES FALLOWS & others

Michael Zhao:On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of science, or laying down a solid foundation for better science to come, things are...

Blog

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It?

ALEX WANG, JOHN C. BALZANO & others

The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.But 7 years later as we prepared to return to the US, what was once a joke had...

Blog

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East?

RACHEL BEITARIE, MASSOUD HAYOUN & others

Rachel Beitarie:Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of being involved in Middle East politics for years, its top leaders, so far,...

Blog

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese...

RACHEL LU, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold. Zhu, a brilliant and beautiful...

Blog

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm...

THE EDITORS, STEPHANIE T. KLEINE-AHLBRANDT & others

On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, What's Really at the Core of China’s ‘Core Interests’? The participants...

Blog

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core...

SHAI OSTER, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

Shai Oster:It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political system and social stability as core interests. This year, it has added a vast chunk of the...

Blog

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, YING ZHU & others

Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster Kung Fu Panda films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called Tibet Code, an adventure story based on a series of recent Chinese...

Blog

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-...

ORVILLE SCHELL & MICHAEL KULMA

Orville Schell:When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new $300 million program aimed at sending foreign scholars to Tsinghua University in Beijing the way Rhodes Scholarship, set up by the businessman and statesman Cecil Rhodes in 1902 began sending American scholars to Oxford...

Blog

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, BARRY NAUGHTON & others

Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have allowed a renewed explosion in credit in an effort to fuel...

Blog

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & others

To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department.  That’s the first...

Blog

04.03.13

Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time?

DAVID WERTIME, YANZHONG HUANG & others

David Wertime:A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has infected at least seven humans and killed three in provinces near the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, with the first death occurring on March 4. Meanwhile, in the last month, about 16,000 pigs, 1,000 ducks, and a few swans...

Blog

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on Danwei.com that concluded:“The signs are clear that regulators and establishment media would both...

Blog

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, DAMIEN MA & others

Patrick Chovanec:This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB). The belief, in many quarters, is that the renminbi is well on...

Blog

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “China shops”—small stores selling cheap clothing, bags, and kitchenware—that have become ubiquitous in Southern...

Blog

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption...

ANDREW J. NATHAN & OUYANG BIN

In his first press conference after taking office as China's new premier, Li Keqiang declared that one of his top priorities would be to fight corruption, because “Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water.” This put Li on message...

Blog

03.15.13

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure...

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ALEXA OLESEN & others

Dorinda Elliott:China’s recent decision to phase out the agency that oversees the one-child policy has raised questions about whether the policy itself will be dropped—and whether it was a success or a failure.Aside from the burdens only children feel when it comes...

Blog

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All...

SUN YUNFAN, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

This week, the ChinaFile Conversation is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James Palmer, a Beijing-based historian, author, and Global Times editor. The article, first published by Aeon in the U.K., “The Balinghou: Chinese...

Blog

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It...

DORINDA ELLIOTT & BILL BISHOP

Dorinda Elliott:At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old Shanghainese friend Robert thinks about that. He and his fiancée could never...

Blog

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign...

ORVILLE SCHELL, SUSAN SHIRK & others

Orville Schell:What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it...

Blog

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment...

DANIEL H. ROSEN, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Daniel Rosen:There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s currency is undervalued and intellectual property protection problems have...

Blog

02.27.13

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

ELIZABETH ECONOMY, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Elizabeth Economy:The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the information is a state secret. (The...

Blog

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink?

DONALD CLARKE & DAVID SCHLESINGER

Donald Clarke:I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want to know the answer to this question: what do we think it will tell us? This...

Blog

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, JAMES FALLOWS & others

Jonathan Landreth:With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, I turned to her colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Segal said that “the time for naming and...

Blog

02.15.13

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ELIZABETH ECONOMY & others

Dorinda Elliott:On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an elderly calligraphy expert to a middle-aged history professor. People seemed...

Blog

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How...

WINSTON LORD, TAI MING CHEUNG & others

China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile defense. For all these reasons the U.S. should lean on Beijing to—at last—not only help...

Blog

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, SUSAN SHIRK & others

Andrew Nathan:The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of plans to reduce the polarization of incomes.  Does this mean Xi is leading China in new directions? ...

Blog

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point?

ALEX WANG, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the United States during wildfires.All of the comparisons to London, Los Angeles, and New...

Blog

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

JAMES FALLOWS, DONALD CLARKE & others

James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of yours, I’ve seen the...

Blog

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & others

How did the Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel islands come to replace Taiwan as the main source of tension for maritime Asia? And how are we to explain the fact that China’s foreign policy toward its Asian neighbors has now morphed from such slogans as: “Keep our heads down, and...

DISCUSSION

Who’s Who in China

MARTIN BERNAL

Written Chinese is extremely difficult. Before the revolutions of the twentieth century, the literary language was a barrier protecting the Confucian elite. Anyone who could jump over that barrier by passing the official examinations immediately joined the ruling class. The...

John King Fairbank (1907–1991)

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR

John Fairbank, who died on September 14 at the age of eighty-four, read virtually all serious Western works on China. Reviewing them, principally for The New York Review in the last several years, was for him one way of keeping abreast of China scholarship. He never got into the...

My First Trip

07.09.11

Nandehutu

ANDREW J. NATHAN

In 1972, a man named Jack Chen showed up in New York. He was the younger son of Eugene Chen, who had been an associate of Sun Yat-sen’s and intermittently foreign minister for various GMD governments. Jack’s mother was Trinidadian. He grew up there and did not speak much...