The Vehicle and Driver of China’s Cultural Diplomacy: Global Vision Vs. Localised Practice

Liu, Xin orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8200-0412 (2018) The Vehicle and Driver of China’s Cultural Diplomacy: Global Vision Vs. Localised Practice. Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia, 17 (1). pp. 131-152. ISSN 2383-9449

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China’s cultural diplomacy is mostly understood as an endeavour to build and project soft power, which draws on three sources of ‘culture, political values and foreign policy’ according to Nye. This paper focuses on the debates about the vehicle and agents of China’s cultural diplomacy. It starts with a theoretical discussion of the competing views in the Chinese context, and develops an argument that the vehicle of China’s cultural diplomacy tries to project soft power on two wheels of culture and political values, to serve the purpose of reshaping China’s image away from being the ‘cultural other’ and ‘ideological other’ respectively. However, the state-led approach to driving this vehicle is generating some side effects with its sponsorship, censorship and presence in the driver’s seat. Then the paper analyses the inherent tensions existing in practice both between the two sources of building soft power and between the two means of doing so, attraction and persuasion, with empirical evidence through a comparative case study of the Confucius Institutes in the US and South Korea. The finding shows that China’s attempt at reshaping its image as an Eastern cultural contestant is often disrupted by its authoritarian political values, and the state-led persuasion is often reducing China’s cultural attraction. Following this, the paper finishes with some recommendations regarding evolving the cultural diplomacy approach from a vertical one that is government-centred to a horizontal one that is network-based with multiple agents, and localising its practice by engaging the target audiences as stakeholders.

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