In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section China’s Soft Power

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Conceptualization of China’s Soft Power
  • The “Official” Views on China’s Soft Power
  • China’s Soft Power in the Global South
  • China’s Soft Power Among Its Asian Neighbors
  • China’s Soft Power and International Cultural Exchange
  • China’s Soft Power and International Communication
  • China’s Soft Power and Global Governance
  • China’s Soft Power and Great Power Politics

Chinese Studies China’s Soft Power
Sheng Ding
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0162


The concept of “China’s soft power” has become increasingly accepted and studied in the fields of contemporary Chinese politics and international relations. In early 1990s, the Harvard Professor Joseph Nye Jr. initially coined the term “soft power” and illustrated it in his works as a conceptual approach to understanding US foreign policy. Since then, many China scholars and observers around the world have applied Nye’s concept of soft power to studying China’s national power as well as its foreign policy. During the early 21st century, the political leaders in Beijing have officially incorporated the concept of China’s soft power into their strategies for national development and international relations. Nowadays, the concept of “China’s soft power” is ubiquitous in China’s government papers and media, and its conceptualization and applications have gone beyond the traditional foreign policy domain. It is obvious that China’s soft power has departed from Nye’s original concept and become an established concept in the disciplines of China studies and international relations. As a rising power that struggles for its new international status, China has increasingly sought to develop and wield its soft power to advance its agenda and interests in global affairs. However, the consensus on the effectiveness of China’s soft power has yet to be reached among China scholars and observers around the world. On the one hand, some doubt whether Beijing has genuinely developed and wielded its soft power given the country’s lack of political reform and respect for human rights as well as its fast-growing military budget and constantly assertive foreign policy behavior. On the other hand, many have observed the growing evidence pointing to the effectiveness of China’s soft power—its abilities to utilize its attractiveness and agenda-setting capacities to shape the outcomes of some specific global issues and influence the policies of many developing countries. This article will review the conceptualization of China’s soft power as well as related policy discussions. Second, it will document those important analyses of how China has developed and wielded its soft power to strengthen its international communication, broaden international cultural exchange, increase its participations in global governance, handle its new power status amid great power politics, deepen its multilateral diplomacy in East Asia, and boost its trade and investment in the Global South.

General Overviews

Since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, from the ideas of “responsible power,” “China’s peaceful development,” “build towards a harmonious world,” “Chinese Dream,” to the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, Beijing has implemented many new policy initiatives and launched a series of charm offensives in its economic and public diplomacy. These soft power–based policy initiatives and charm offensives have helped to build a domestic consensus and to generate an international platform for the political leaders in Beijing to share their views on key international issues and garner more respect on a global scale. Many monographs and edited volumes provide accounts of this increasingly popular and important concept. Ding 2008, Li 2009, and Lai and Yiyi 2012 demonstrate that Beijing has not only accepted the concept of soft power but has also actively developed and utilized its soft power in its national development and international relations. Kurlantzick 2007, Barr 2011, and Callahan and Barabantseva 2012 argue that Beijing’s strengthened capabilities in attraction and agenda setting have, to some extent, led to the realignment of international relations in ways that contribute to China’s rise from the periphery to the center stage of the post–Cold War world. Since Beijing’s political leaders have embraced this concept, the Chinese government has generously provided funding for studying China’s soft power. Men 2007, Tang 2008, and Han and Jiang 2009 are three early Chinese monographs among a growing number of Chinese publications on China’s soft power. In particular, supported by the Chinese government, Peking University has collaborated with People’s Daily and launched an active online forum: China’s Soft Power Forum.

  • Barr, Michael. Who’s Afraid of China? The Challenge of Chinese Soft Power. London and New York: Zed, 2011.

    Discusses China’s soft power by focusing on international reactions to it. Examines how the Western countries’ own past, hopes, and fears shape the way they perceive and respond to China’s soft power.

  • Callahan, William A., and Elena Barabantseva, eds. China Orders the World: Normative Soft Power and Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

    From historical and philosophical perspectives, the contributors to this edited volume explain how China has explored and utilized its traditional culture (an important source of China’s soft power) to present its foreign policy strategy and vision to the world.

  • China’s Soft Power Forum (中国软实力论坛).

    Supported by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a macroeconomic management agency under China’s State Council, Peking University collaborated with People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese government to launch this important online forum.

  • Ding, Sheng. The Dragon’s Hidden Wings: How China Rises with Its Soft Power. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008.

    Examines the theoretical and conceptual connections between the rise of China and Nye’s original concept of soft power. Defines the concept of China’s soft power and discusses important related questions: what the sources of China’s soft power are, why Beijing has embraced the concept of soft power in international relations, and how to assess China’s soft power.

  • Han Bo 韩勃 and Jiang Qingyong 江庆勇. Ruan shi li: Zhongguo shi jiao 软实力: 中国视角. Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 2009.

    Provides some theoretical and conceptual discussions on original concept of soft power as well as China’s soft power specifically.

  • Kurlantzick, Joshua. Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

    As one of the earliest monographs on China’s soft power, this provides some important policy analyses and assessments of China’s soft power–based diplomatic strategies, foreign trade initiatives, and cultural and educational exchange programs.

  • Lai, Hongyi, and Yiyi Lu, eds. China’s Soft Power and International Relations. London and New York: Routledge, 2012.

    Provides some conceptual discussions and empirical assessment of China’s soft power. Investigates how China has wielded its own soft power in international communication, cultural diplomacy, foreign assistance, and other areas.

  • Li, Mingjiang, ed. Soft Power: China’s Emerging Strategy in International Politics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009.

    The contributors of this edited volume provide some critical analyses on the concept of China’s soft power by examining its perceptions, sources, and weakness as well as China’s opportunities and challenges in wielding soft power.

  • Men Honghua 门洪华, ed. Zhongguo: Ruan Shili Fanglüe 中国: 软实力方略. Hangzhou, China: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe, 2007.

    This edited volume consists of prominent China scholars’ essays on how to incorporate the concept of China’s soft power into the country’s strategic thinking.

  • Tang Daixing 唐代兴. Wenhua shili zhangyue yanjiu 文化软实力战略研究. Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 2008.

    Analyzes the development of soft power and components of cultural soft power from philosophical and historical perspectives.

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