2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 247

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Globalizing Media and Soft Power – The Case of China

Organizer and Chair: Ruoyun Bai, University of Toronto, Canada

Discussant: Ruoyun Bai, University of Toronto, Canada

In recent years, China has expressed a strong interest in harnessing new media and communication technologies to build a global audience for its messages, hoping to influence world opinion and enhance its soft power amidst the sound and the fury about China’s rise. However, little is understood about the role of media in China’s quest for soft power. What media strategies have been used? What are the possible implications and challenges? Papers on this panel address these questions from different, mutually enriching perspectives. Yuezhi Zhao provides a historical and geopolitical context for the panel’s discussion and focuses on structural challenges posed by the inherent contradictions between China’s elitist and culturalist approach to soft power and the political economy of its highly commercialized media industry. Xiaoling Zhang’s paper looks into a Kenyan-based media project launched by the official Xinhua News Agency, Xinhua Mobile Newspapers. Another most recent Xinhua-initiated endeavor is its global television network, CNC World, which will be discussed by our third panelist Joshua Neves, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto. The final paper, contributed by Shuyu Kong, interrogates the implications of China’s media globalization by focusing on the interaction between Chinese media and Chinese-language ethnic media in Canada, an example of which is Fairchild TV.

China’s Quest for “Soft Power”: Imperatives, Impediments, and Irreconcilable Tensions?
Yuezhi Zhao, Simon Fraser University, Canada

From establishing Confucius Institutes all over the world to mounting an advertising blitz in New York’s Times Square, the Chinese state’s multifaceted endeavour to strengthen its “soft power” has been highly visible and the subject of much recent journalistic and scholarly attention. This paper locates the Chinese state’s “soft power” quest within historical and geopolitical contexts and critically examines its profoundly contradictory underpinning political economy and cultural politics. While this campaign’s political and moral imperatives appear self-evident, its structural impediments seem to be insurmountable. Furthermore, there are irreconcilable tensions between a drive to pursue an essentially elitist, technocratic, and culturalist approach to global communication and a capacity to articulate and communicate an alternative global political and social vision that appeals to the vast majority of the world population in a deeply divided and crises-laden global order.

Success or Failure? China's Promotion of Soft Power in Africa
Xiaoling Zhang, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

The rise of China’s international influence is closely contingent on the growth of its soft power. With its rapidly growing economy, Chinese authorities have accorded increasing importance to strategies of gaining international influence and redressing the Western negative coverage of China’s engagement with such continents as Africa. The media undoubtedly plays an essential role in ensuring the success of the promotion of soft power around the world. Africa has been seen to be the most important testing ground for the promotion of Chinese soft power. A case in point is the recent launch of the first-ever mobile newspaper in sub-Saharan Africa, Xinhua Mobile Newspaper in Kenya. It enables about 17 million Kenyan mobile subscribers to receive the latest news released by Xinhua News Agency in politics, economy, culture, entertainment and other areas, pictures and weather reports via Multimedia Messaging Service. This paper is a report based on content analysis of major official Chinese websites for foreign publics and interviews with media professionals and officials conducted in Beijing in 2011 as an investigation into China’s endeavor in boosting its soft power through the expansion of its international communication in Africa. It explores China’s motivation in promoting it soft power in Africa, the mixture of offensive-defensive rhetoric employed when talking about its involvement in Africa, the challenges in winning the hearts and minds of the African publics in the face of established foreign actors and experiences such as those of the West, and the implications for the rest of the world.

Projecting Beijing: CNC World and “A New International Perspective”
Joshua Neves, University of Toronto, Canada

The globalization of Chinese cinema, alongside the recent emphasis on the creative industries—software, advertising, fashion, plastic arts—are key examples for thinking about China’s role in global communication, and have received increasing attention from media scholars. In the context of China’s globalizing media forms, however, television remains relatively peripheral. That is, much scholarship to date approaches global TV as something that happens to China—Star TV, TV formats, non-Western flows—or limits global TV’s importance to diasporic circulations or emergent regional configurations, including the flow of Korean TV dramas, “cool Japan,” Taiwanese popular culture, and the like. This paper builds upon such work by focusing on Xinhua New Agency’s 24-hour English-language television network, CNC World (China Xinhua News Network Corporation). Quietly launched in July 2010, CNC World aspires to provide “a new international perspective” to local and global issues, reframing established global broadcasters like BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. While mostly a gesture or experiment in its current fledgling incarnation, CNC World poses interesting questions about China’s ambitions to extend its image and viewpoints across a broader mediascape. Drawing on discursive analysis, attention to CNC content and theoretical approaches to global television, this paper considers the importance of TV to Beijing’s emerging role as a media capital—a concept that suggests not only the variegated social and cultural networks that exceed the imputed hegemony of “the West,” Hollywood, etc., but also the importance of being onscreen, of being consumed, and of functioning as a pivot in cultural communication.

Ethnic Chinese Television and China’s Television Globalization
Shuyu Kong, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Using its linguistic appeal to build affiliations with diasporic communities, the Chinese media overseas (haiwai zhongwen meiti) constitutes a central aspect of China’s media globalization. With regard to the globalization of Chinese television, a proactive government policy, new communication technologies and an expanding cultural-linguistic market for a growing diaspora population has led to rapid development since early 1990s, when CCTV first extended its reach through the global launch of satellite service and supply of content to local ethnic Chinese language networks all over the world. This paper is an empirical study of the current condition and impact of China’s television globalization from the perspective of ethnic Chinese-language television in Canada. The focus of my paper is the interaction between China’s media globalization and the development of local ethnic Chinese television through a case study of the Fairchild TV network in Canada, which provides a full range of Chinese-language TV programming through its two national networks. Cantonese Fairchild TV (Xinshidai dianshi) was established in 1993 and Mandarin Talentvision (Chengshi dianshi) in 1998. My paper will address the following questions: What are the media forces and institutions, besides CCTV, that constitute China’s media globalization? How does ethnic Chinese television programming in Canada balance the different, sometimes competing, demands of locally-produced programs and imported media products from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong; and what impacts have local government policies such as multiculturalism had on China’s media globalization?