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EXPERT AVAILABLE: Journalism Professor Offers Insight on Chinese Overseas Publicity Efforts

March 01, 2011

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­­­– In recent years, the Chinese government has poured millions of dollars into high-profile events like the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, and several publicity campaigns in the United States. According to a University of Missouri School of Journalism researcher, these actions were orchestrated by the Chinese to promote the image of China as a more globalized, metropolitan and modernized state to the world; these efforts are not likely to end soon.

Since the 1980s, the Chinese government has become more open to the Western world as their students come to Western universities and enter into alliances with businesses outside of their country. Yong Volz, an MU assistant professor of journalism studies, says that while the country has become more accepting of the West, both the Chinese government and the Chinese people still view Western media coverage as generally anti-China. Volz said he believes that as China ascends in global power and influence, it will continue its efforts to correct this perceived bias and to win influence in the global political arena.

“Now that China is rising as a superpower, the Chinese want to be perceived positively after so many years of isolation,” Volz said. “They care so much about how Westerners see them, and anger and nationalistic sentiment are so strong when they sense a critical tone in the Western media representation of China. They have the money to do all this overseas publicity work, and the government is investing in cultivating good feelings about China, particularly in America.”

Volz says such efforts are nothing new for China. China’s Nationalist government in the 1930s set up offices in major American cities with the goal of promoting a more favorable image of China. These offices employed both U.S.-trained Chinese intellectuals as well as American reporters to write propaganda materials and develop documentaries to be viewed in American theaters prior to feature films.

“At the time, China was facing Japanese aggression while continuing its national modernization,” Volz said. “The Chinese needed Western support, both morally and financially. When the Chinese Communist party first took over after 1949, they cut themselves off from the Western world. They didn’t care much how Americans viewed them.”

Volz says that now this view has changed, and the Chinese government is working to improve its image in America. One such effort is the establishment of “Confucius Institutes” in Western countries that, like the Chinese propaganda offices of the 1940s, is meant to introduce Westerners to the Chinese language and culture in a positive setting. Also, like the Nationalists before, the current government describes these activities as being part of a larger effort to combat imperialistic perspectives and to promote world peace.

Volz’s research, “China’s Image Management Abroad, 1920s -1940s: Origin, Justification and Institutionalization,” was published as part of the book, “Soft Power in China: Public Diplomacy through Communication.”

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